You need more than a little good luck and you have to watch out for lurking creatures with sharp teeth, but when it works, it sounds and looks like magic.
You have a be a little bit crazy to work in Hollywood, in my experience, and although I've never been more than a minor player in the world of visual media, I have had some interesting experiences Down There.
Um. Anyway, during the latest round of movie stuff, my head got jogged, and what floated up from the depths of the memoria pool was the story of the cabana boys.
I didn't have a ringside seat, but at the time, I wasn't too many rows back. Let me tell you about it.
First, the set-up: In the early 1980's, Bill Gibson wrote his seminal first novel, Neuromancer.
As it happened, he and I were exchanging letters back then, and I got to read the book in ms form and offer comments. (I take a tiny bit of credit for the subject of "meat" -- offering that the book needed some sex in it.)
So, Terry Carr bought, and Ace published the book in '84. It was one of the first cyberpunk novels, and it went on to win awards and acclaim, and to help establish Bill as a writer of note.
INT. - THE BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL - 1985 - THE POOL - ESTABLISHING
Here we see a couple of buffed young men working as cabana boys in a posh hotel. These are basically attractive fellows who cater to clients, fetching towels and drinks and whatnot.
In this instance, the young men had aspirations to be movie producers. As luck had it, they had occasion to speak to a client interested in the movie biz. who was the wife of a well-known and well-to-do plastic surgeon. While the Doc was off at a medical conference, his spouse was hanging around the pool. I believe her teenage daughter was also along, if memory serves.
During the -- ah -- whatnot, the boys floated some ideas. As I recall, the first notion involved Buckaroo Bonzai, but since those rights were tied up, the Gibson novel entered the discussion.
The client read the novel, liked it, and sought to interest her husband.
The surgeon had money, and was willing to fund his wife's notion about becoming an executive producer and screenwriter.
So the cabana boys, armed now with funds, became Cabana Boys, the production company. Gotta like their nerve for the name alone.
They approached Gibson's agent to secure movie rights to the novel.
Generally, how such things are done involves paying a few thousand dollars for a option against a larger amount once the movie commences production. At the end of a specified time, six months or a year, if nothing comes of it, the rights revert to the author and he gets to keep the money. If the movie gets a green light, he gets the big pay day.
So back in the eighties, when budgets were much smaller, an offer of, say, $100,000 for the rights to do a movie based on your midlist novel was a pretty good deal. These days, when budgets are much bigger, the deal is usually pegged to production costs rather than a flat number. The writer gets a small piece of what they spend to make the movie. Somebody wants to pony up fifty or a hundred million for a budget, this could be a nice piece of change for the book writer. Not to mention that a major movie sells books, too. Win-win situation -- in theory
But the Cabana Boys, not having any experience in the field, didn't seem to know about the few grand option against the hundred thou once-production-ensues deal. So when Bill's agent told them the price for the book was a hundred grand, they said, "Okay." and wrote a check.
Just like that.
As I recall, Bill's comment to me at the time, (after "Holy shit!") reflecting his agent's reaction was, "Hey, it's not our job to educate these guys."
With an option secured, the Cabana Boys had a hot property, and they went out to market it.
Now, as I understand it, this involved renting a house on the beach at Malibu, opening several offices hither and yon, and doing some serious entertaining. Actors, directors, agents, PR flacks, people like Timothy Leary, and even Gibson dropped by to party and listened to the buzz.
You can plow through a lot of money in a hurry this way, and in Hollywood, there are always people willing to help you spend money.
Things went downhill. Money evaporated in the warm SoCal sun, the movie wasn't getting made, and the Doc looked up and saw the vultures circling. He pulled the plug on the money tap.
Though they tried to get something going, Cabana Boys couldn't. Neuromancer didn't get made, and the company went belly up. (A lot of what Bill put forward, groundbreaking at the time, became standard cyberpunk tropes. The Matrix owes him, big time, as do a slew of other movies featuring that gritty, human/computer interface. Somebody did get "Johnny Mnemonic" made in '95, from Gibson's short story, starring Keanu Reeves, but it tanked big-time. Too little, too late, and what they call in the biz, a POS ...)
But back to Cabana Boys:
In a legal filing with the IRS later, the Doc and his wife allowed as how they had ponied up two million and change, and how this money was not repaid, so they wanted to write it off as a bad debt. The boys didn't necessarily agree that this much came their way, but nobody seemed to have paperwork on what started out as a handshake deal before it got tangled up in corporations and lawyers.
But the boys were kaput. Neuromancer, which could have been The Matrix, didn't get made. Gibson got some money, but like Brando in The Waterfront, he coulda been a contender, and wasn't, leastways not for his first novel.
Attend the lesson, children: The warm waters are full of sharks and barracuda down there in LaLaLand, and if you swim, be careful what shiny things you have glittering upon your person.