J. Michael Straczynski, the creator/writer/producer of Babylon 5 and Crusade, has been writing for television for twenty years. He’s been pretty successful at it, too. He doesn’t just write for TV, though. He’s also writing for comics (currently The Amazing Spider-Man, among others), and has published anthologies, short stories, novels, articles, and just about anything else you can imagine. The guy literally writes all but three days of the year, if I remember correctly. Plus he’s extremely active on USENET, where he is known as JMS (or at times, Joe), and is very open and accessible to fans.
He’s very well known in sci-fi/fantasy circles, and in the world of TV scriptwriters, but he’s not a household name. In fact, even within Hollywood he’s apparently not well known within movie studios. TV studios, yes; movie studios, not so much. As a fan of his work, sometimes that’s hard to remember. I tend to picture him as much more visible professionally than he actually is.
Recently, one of his stories, “The Changeling,” was picked up by Ron Howard and will be made into a movie. This is a huge deal for him. Even he was not prepared for the whiplash this caused as his career was catapulted from near obscurity (within the movie world) to A-list screenwriter. As he wrote on rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated:
And then the offers started. Rewrite offers. Original film offers.
Adaptations. I’ve had no less than one and in many cases two or three
studio meetings every day for the last several weeks, and my calendar
is one big mass of black type for the next four weeks. A big-budget
feature that Sony wants me to rewrite because it has to go into
production fast, one that Universal wants developed, on and on and
on…all I have to do is say yes to whichever ones I want and they’re
mine. Everything I’ve ever written is suddenly being pored over and
I have never seen anything like it. I’ve read about this sort of
thing, but to experience it personally is…strange, so strange. The
stuff I’ve had out there before, the novels and short stories and the
like, are all exactly what they were before this…the words didn’t
change on the page, the stories didn’t alter, but suddenly the
*context* in which they are being seen has changed radically.
This is really interesting to me. First of all, it reminds me that not everyone who has their name in the credits of shows or printed on books is “living large” – most are toiling in relative obscurity like the rest of us. Even, oddly, some of the more successful ones. Secondly, it’s an indictment of how fickle and political Hollywood can be. That’s certainly not a revelation, but the end of the above quote does bring it into sharper focus for me. Suddenly, things that have been written for quite some time are getting a whole new level of attention because one guy liked one story, and the author is now getting a whole new level of respect. As he says, the content didn’t change, just the mindset of the reader.
Sadly, that kind of thing goes on all the time, all over the world. If you don’t have a “sponsor” in the corporate world, it’s really hard to climb past a certain level on the ladder. Once you get one, suddenly people start listening to everything you’ve been spouting off about for the last umpteen years. The content of what you say hasn’t changed, just the expectation of the people listening to it.
When you think about it, that’s really disheartening. It implies that your ideas have no value until one of them are endorsed by someone in power. Then, and only then, can you be labled a “genius.” Without that endorsement, you are just some schmuck who has a lot of hair-brained things to say, some of which may sound good, but will ultimately fall on deaf ears and go nowhere.
Hey… did anybody notice that the focus of this post took a wild left turn?
Congrats, JMS. I wish you much success in the wake of your newfound notariety. It’s about time.