Connelly’s Road to Hollywood

Michael Connelly’s crime novels regularly top the best-seller lists.  His Harry Bosch series has sold more than 2.6 million
copies. His website gets one million hits a
month, and his email list boasts about 30,000 names. Connelly is a certified celebrity in the mystery book world. 
You’d think studios would be scrambling to make movies based on his books. But so far, only BLOOD WORK has made it to the screen…and was a critical and box-office dud (but was something of a dry run for the creative team that would make MYSTIC RIVER an Oscar-winning success).
Although Connelly co-created the UPN TV series LEVEL 9, his involvement was minimal and the show tanked( a writer on the show, Paul Guyot, has a nice appreciation of Connelly on his blog today).

Over the years, his Bosch books have been optioned several times and countless screenplays have been written…and yet, no movie or even a TV pilot have been produced  (having read a couple of those scripts, I can understand why).  VOID MOON reportedly began as an original screenplay before Connelly turned it into a book…and yet, no movie there, either.

What’s the problem here? I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s the same curse that has kept Thomas Perry’s books from being made into films.  But now there’s buzz that Connelly’s new novel THE LINCOLN LAWYER is generating heat in Hollywood and is big-screen bound.

Let’s hope.

34 thoughts on “Connelly’s Road to Hollywood”

  1. I have a couple of Connelly’s novels on my TBR shelf, but Hollywood doesn’t do many traditional mystery movies, do they? Mysteries are much more likely to find joy on the tube.
    That’s how it has seemed to me.

  2. I do think it’s hard to tell a good detective story in a feature film. It can be done (witness L.A. Confidential, a very unconventional mystery), but stories like Connelly’s don’t necessarily lend themselves to big screen treatment. I read the script for Concrete Blonde some years ago and, while it was a good adaptation, I don’t know if it would make a good film. Detective stories are solitary and internal and rely upon voice and narrative in such a way that is very hard to translate to film.

  3. I visit your site almost everyday and of your last three posts, they were the most valuable (for me). Just wanted to say, keep up what you’re doing because some of us lurkers are being schooled by great examples. Thanks again

  4. If two of Elroy’s incredibly complex novels can be suceessfully translated into the outstanding LA Confidential movie, then you’d think the simpler Connelly would also be a commericial and artistic success.
    Maybe it’s his call?

  5. It is odd, considering Grisham, but I guess law stories are easier to translate to film. Of course I get the same response for my revolutionary war film. “We can’t sell that,” they say. Yeah tell Gibson.
    Only one entry for Carl Hiaasen too.

  6. There are quite a few mysteries and thrillers optioned by Hollywood every year. Religiously read the trades, or the site Done Deal. A project in the development system has a chance until the first “no.” Then, depending on the passion involved, after going through a couple re-writes, most of these deals eventually collapse. Usually, because the screenwriter’s “take” on the book ultimately does not capture the sprit of the novel the producer or studio bought. Some of these takes are patently ridiculous, and justifiably appalling to the original authors. Screenwriters mostly want to re-invent the novels they adapt because that’s how they put their stamp on it. It’s an ego thing. Hollywood is a hive of narcissists. Do you detect sarcasm? Yeah, I’ve been burned a few times.

  7. Lee, I think this is one of the strangest pieces you’ve ever written. Despite all of Connelly’s publishing success, he’s actually just a big Hollywood failure? You know how this business works. It’s a lot harder to get the stars to align long enough for everyone to agree to make a $50 million dollar movie than you imply in your post. There are also extremely complicated rights issues at work here due to the fact that many characters overlap in Connelly’s novels. Some of the books become unavailable for purchase due to producers owning underlying character rights from previous deals.
    But my question to you is why is this supposedly a big problem? And how do you feel there is a possible curse at work here? Mike’s a novelist by profession. (And he’s at the very top of that profession.) He merely dabbles in Hollywood. And for a dabbler he’s done quite well. Hollywood success is not the be-all, end-all experience for him. I think you may be confusing your POV with his. But the producers in this business court him like he’s royalty and throw large wads of money at just about anything he wants to do. We should all be failing like this.
    Considering the quality of most movies kicked out by the system today, I would look at Mike’s film career as one of the luckiest of anyone in the game. He’s been able to option most of his books, for top dollar (which allowed him to write full time years before book royalties would have), and he’s had only one mediocre film to live down. And I think most writers out there would be happy to have a Clint Eastwood movie on their resume, even if it was one of Clint’s lesser efforts. (If Clint and his screenwriter had remained faithful to the book in the last third of the movie everyone would have been better off.) Elmore Leonard has had dozens of his books made into movies. How many have been good? Just a few. Does Connelly really need that?
    Mike’s had one TV series come and go, sold a few other pilots and spec screenplays, and optioned and re-optioned most of his books. And that’s all in his spare time between knocking out sixteen bestsellers (many of them now considered modern classics) over the last fourteen years. But yeah, let’s hope that Hollywood finally comes to his rescue and makes some of his work into movies.
    And let’s hope that the quality of the next movie is more on the level of MYSTIC RIVER and not V.I. WARSHAWSKI. Movies like that do more harm than good to an author’s career.
    Sorry, but I just can’t see the dark lining on this silver cloud.
    The Other Lee
    P.S. – I think Connelly might take offense to the statement that his involvement in LEVEL 9 was minimal. What are you basing that on?

  8. Lee, I think this is one of the strangest pieces you’ve ever written. Despite all of Connelly’s publishing success, he’s actually just a big Hollywood failure?
    Whoa, my friend, I think you’re completely misunderstanding me. I don’t think Michael is a Hollywood failure by any stretch. I think Hollywood has failed Michael.
    As for the comments about LEVEL 9, I was basing that on a long conversation I had with him…and how, after his experience on the show, he’d decided he wouldn’t do another series unless he had the time to be actively involved on a day-to-day level.

  9. Lee, there’s a big stretch between not being involved on-set or even day-to-day and “minimal.”
    I know you are a friend and fan of Michael’s, as am I, but the tone of your post came off as very Hollywood-centric.
    And I’m not sure how Hollywood has failed Mike. “Hollywood” doesn’t exist. It’s not a person. Or even a place, as it is used in this context. It’s a collective of corporations and individuals with wildly varying tastes all trying to figure out what next year’s fourteen-year old will want to pay to see.
    Who does it not fail?
    But again, as Rob implied, I’d like Hollywood to fail me like they have Mike Connelly.

  10. I find it hard to believe that a check wouldn’t clear under contract. Just how low and fringy are we talking here under the umbrella of “Hollywood?” Hell, I got the union to get me back wages but it was a small commerical producer from Japan, not a major deal. I still got it though.

  11. I was kind of joking, marky, but to answer your question seriously, the Writer’s Guild has a department devoted strictly to collections. And they get a lot of work. Getting paid has always been a bit of a problem in this business. Just because you get a signed contract from a production company, that is no guarantee you will see all you are owed when it is owed to you, or even at all.
    And it’s not just a problem in the “low and fringy” arena. This is epidemic across the board. You’d be surprised how slow to pay producers, studios and networks can be, especially after they have what they want from a writer.

  12. But again, as Rob implied, I’d like Hollywood to fail me like they have Mike Connelly.
    I still think you’re not getting me–or I am doing a bad job of expressing myself (which is likely).You’re talking about dollars. i’m talking movies being made off the books.
    Using Thomas Perry as an example, he’s made a ton of money off options on his books…but no movies or TV shows have yet been made based on them. Yes, financially, Hollywood has been very kind to Tom. But why can’t the studios get any of those movies off the ground? His books are very cinematic and lend themselves to franchises… you’d think they’d be a slam dunk.
    Another example: There were lots of movies made off of Elmore Leonard’s crime novels…and they all sucked until GET SHORTY. Did Elmore Leonard make a lot of money even though the movies sucked? Yeah, but I’d still argue that until Scott Frank and Quentin Tarantino came along, Hollywood failed him, creatively anyway though at least the movies got made.
    What has kept BLACK ECHO (and the whole Bosch series for that matter), THE POET, or Michael’s other fine books off the screen? That’s what I’m wondering. Why can’t producers, screenwriters and execs find a way to translate his bookstore success into boxoffice revenue?
    Am I making any more sense this time?

  13. Well, I’ve never had a writing contract in this town, mine was for acting, but if it’s like that I can more than imagine it. It seems to me it shouldn’t be the case with the big companies though. It took SAG over a year to get my money. Triple damages they called it. And yes for all practical purposes I never worked on screen again. I’m big on principles.
    Sorry about that tiff before Terrill. It got out of hand before I could explain it sufficiently.

  14. For what it’s worth I’m reading you loud and clear Lee, but I have my own version of communication problems with TLL. I’m hoping for a moment of clarity where the language translates properly.

  15. Thing is, I think it’s a GOOD thing that Connelly hasn’t made it to the screen. As great as Mystic River was as a movie, I still think it couldn’t hold a candle to the book and no movie ever can (with the possible exception of Silence of the Lambs, which I think was better than the book).
    Connelly is probably better off that Hollywood hasn’t grabbed hold of more of his books and done their usual butcher job on it. His books have a unique quality to them, a mood and tone that simply cannot be captured on screen.
    As much as I admire Clint Eastwood, the movie version of Blood Work was a huge disappointment and I think the world and Connelly would have been better off without it.
    I think it’s kind of funny that Connelly got his revenge of sorts in (I believe) The Narrows, when he poked a little fun at Eastwood and how he didn’t follow the final act of the book.
    Anyway, I think it actually works in Connelly’s favor that Hollywood has “failed” him.

  16. I’ve understood you from the start, Lee. And I think I addressed a lot of those issues in my first response. Including the Elmore Leonard comparison. And I stick to my opinion that NOT having a lot of (possibly bad) movies made from his work has probably been lucky for him.
    Again, the various deals are complicated. And once rights have gone to certain producers those producers bring their own baggage – and ability to get things made – with them, for better and worse.
    There have been many production near-misses for Mike’s books, when all the elements were just about in place: script, star, producer, director, financing, and then one thing or another fell out and the whole house of cards came tumbling down. There were even a few times when regime changes screwed things up.
    But I’m sure there will eventually be many, many films and TV shows based on his work. I just hope he fares better than Elmore has when it comes to the quality of the productions.
    And there’s another thing we are overlooking here: once Harry Bosch is portrayed by an actor, it will very hard for some readers to not picture that actor when reading the books. Harry no longer becomes an image unique to each reader’s imagination, but a specific image based on a movie they’ve seen.
    That worked okay for Ian Fleming, less so for Sara Peretsky.

  17. Well, I don’t know about that last one, Other Lee – the different actors playing Jack Ryan haven’t hurt Tom Clancy none –
    I guess that I kind of agree that Hollywood (or the film industry) hasn’t done right by Mike – King was very unhappy with most of his movies (including Kubrick’s) until he met Rob Reiner and in fact refused to option Misery to anyone until Rob sold him on it (and Stand By Me helped). But that’s news just about anyone knows.
    And I do think Hollywood exists, in some form, if only for the reason that so many people believe that it does – it’s like God, whether or not he really exists is moot, since he obviously exists in the eyes that believe. So in that way, it’s there.

  18. You did make the same observation about Leonard as I did — sorry about that. I should have gone back and reread your original comment.

  19. Well, while I was scribbling my last post, Rob came along and said what I was trying to communicate from the start. And probably said it better. And now Joshua has perfectly clarified what I was trying to say about “Hollywood.” It’s a mythical thing that is as powerful (or weak) as any individual wants to make it in their own world.
    So maybe you’re right, marky, and I just can’t communicate clearly in this forum.
    After that last dust-up I promised myself I wouldn’t post here again, but I thought this subject could use a little clarification and a few facts. I guess I just muddied it up instead.
    Sorry about that.
    I’ll be quiet now and leave you fine folks to it.

  20. I think the biggest failure of Blood Work was Eastwood playing a part meant for a younger man. But then, he’s notoriously tight so I guess he figured he’d save some dough.
    Oh, one other thing-how does one get a mailing list of 30,000? 🙂

  21. Well, I was speaking about my ability to get through to you in a clear way.
    “As great as Mystic River was as a movie” Huh? What does Dennis LaHane have to do with Connelly?

  22. Lehane has absolutely nothing to do with Connelly other than the fact that they’re both excellent writers.
    I was using Mystic River as an example of how, no matter how good the movie version is, it will never be as good as the original work.
    The book, in my estimation, was a masterpiece. The movie much less so simply because of the shorthand required to make a movie.
    Now imagine what it would have done to Lehane’s career if the movie version had been a POS bomb? He’s very lucky the translation worked as well as it did.
    Connelly is better off without Hollywood interpreting him.

  23. And as Lee mentioned in the post that started all this, the creative team behind the only Connelly adaptation to date then immediately went on to make MYSTIC RIVER from Lehane’s novel.

  24. Hey Other Lee,
    Don’t be so hard on yourself, I think you’re communicating fine . . . posting in a chat forum string isn’t a term paper or a spec script being sent out wide and so everything has to be perfect – it’s a discussion, which goes back and forth, backwards and forwards – I mean, if we were sitting in a bar shooting the bull about books and movies and all that jazz, I can guarantee you that not every sentence or statement out of my mouth will hold up to fact-checking scrutiny or maybe even make sense – but that doesn’t make it less valuable or enjoyable.
    It’s like jamming with a band – we’re just following the tune wherever it may go, and if one of us (usually me) looks a key or tempo, we pick it up again – we’re not setting down a track in a studio, we’re playing jazz to a bunch of drunks in a dark club, and playing for ourselves more than anyone.
    So I hope you do come back and comment.

  25. I thought Eastwood, et al improved Mystic River significantly with the film version. While I found the book to be tedious and impossible to finish, the film was entertaining.
    In the right hands, Connelly’s work could also prove to make for fine film adaptations… but the limitations inherent in any film version of a detective story would be considerable. Because of that, I think it’s more likely that one of the other stories (like Lincoln Lawyer or Void Moon) would have a better chance for success.

  26. I thought Eastwood, et al improved Mystic River significantly with the film version. While I found the book to be tedious and impossible to finish, the film was entertaining.
    I am so glad to hear you say that. I was beginning to think I was a minority of one. While I really enjoyed Lehane’s PI novels…I was underwhelmed (to say the least) by MYSTIC RIVER. The film was a big improvement.
    Speaking of adaptation, I loved Larry McMurtry’s book TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and John Irvings CIDER HOUSE RULES… and thought the film versions, which deviated significantly from their source material, were fantastic, too. Masterful adaptations, in fact. The movies captured the tone and voice of the books and their characters if not the exact plot moves (TERMS combined several characters into one and dropped significant subplots, CIDER condensed years and events as well as dropped significant subplots and characters)

  27. I also really enjoyed CIDER HOUSE RULES , book and movie, and agree with you completely – I don’t know if you’ve seen it (you probably have) but Irving wrote a book about the experience of adapting it (called MY MOVIE BUSINESS) which I found interesting and, for Irving anyway, very succint and to the point.


Leave a Comment