Writing, Money, Auteurs

I’ve spent decades now doing my own writing, while trying to get paid for it as best I can, and also “writing for hire,” where payment is agreed upon and the work is not my own, despite the fact that I’ve done it. I’m not in any practical sense the author of the work I do for hire: copyright, control, and other aspects of authorship are held by somebody else, per contractual agreements. I just write it.

Legally, that is, “authorship” refers not to who did the work but to who owns and controls the product and the rights in it. You’ll see this at the end of closing credits on a movie: “Columbia Pictures [say] is the author of this motion picture for the purpose of copyright and other laws.” It means that the Hollywood studio that distributes the film has become its author, per contract, regardless of the degree to which the film was actually made by others. Assigning authorship is a price of getting film distribution.

My work-for-hire contracts often involve restrictions on disclosing anything I know about the work and how it was done, including the fact that it was done by me. So details will naturally be lacking here.

But it’s interesting to me that film directors don’t have this issue: A director might pitch his or her own favorite idea for a movie he or she wants to make or be approached to take on a directing role in a project that’s already in development. Either way, unless the director funds the thing himself, or otherwise has a producing role, or unless there’s a very unusual deal involved, if the project is underway, the director is in a way working for hire. Successfully pitching your own film idea doesn’t get you copyright on the resulting film; it gets your idea bought and you hired to do it.

The supposed downside, compared to book deals, is that the director is legally not the author. In a book deal for something I pitch, with my name on it — unlike in my writing for hire — I retain copyright, control, and many of the subsidiary rights.

The upside for filmmakers, though, is huge. Continue reading

The Strange Case of “The Surrender of Washington Hansen”

[or: “I Wouldn’t Give a Hoot in Hell for My Journey Now” (Cash)]

[UPDATE: Part Two of this thing is here.]

In a break from my usual topics, this is the strange history of the one novel I’ve written, The Surrender of Washington Hansen. At some point soon I intend to find an interesting way to publish it. Probably for reading on a digital device and/or using the Espresso process for print on demand. Given that I publish books with actual publishers, given the time that’s elapsed since I wrote the novel, and given the novel’s progress through a Hollywood film-rights process, without yet seeing screen or page, this post might be seen as one of those things that get hyped on book reissues this way: “with a new introduction by the author!” — But in this case it’s for a book that few people have read.

But I think the book’s progress, or lack of same, makes a bleakly interesting saga of the ups and down of the writing game. Also, the novel’s themes (or whatever), which developed well before I ever thought I’d write or publish any real American history, or write or publish any nonfiction at all, connect with and reflect on my current history themes (or whatever) in ways I never could have perceived when I started writing history, but are pretty glaring to me now.

If I self-publish the novel, some readers of The Whiskey Rebellion, Declaration, and Founding Finance may agree. Or not. Continue reading

“Declaration” on C-SPAN “Book TV” 7/31, 8/1

... and she never / hollers cuckoo ...

The talk I gave on Declaration at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to air this weekend on C-SPAN “Book TV”: Sat. 7/31 at 4:00 PM and Sun. 8/1 at 8:00 P.M.

A minor note for the record: I seem to recall the very able Doug Swanson, who put the event together, saying in his introduction to the talk that film rights to my novel The Surrender of Washington Hansen are under option to Warner Brothers. Not so — they were under that option, for many years, and in my bio I use the past tense, but the Archives’ edited version missed that.

Just don’t want any filmmakers thinking the novel’s film rights are encumbered, as they say. They’re free and clear — as are Declaration rights so far!

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