Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jonathan Lethem's Promiscuous Materials

American author Jonathan Lethem has come up with a new approach to selling options to his work. In a project he's calling Promiscuous Materials, Lethem is offering the right to adapt any of a selection of his stories for the price of $1. The main condition is that "films be held to the length of half an hour or less, keeping them firmly in the category of 'short'. Similarly, I'd ask that playwrights keep to a 'one-act', or forty-five minute, limit."

The options are non-exclusive but if the adaptors do make money Lethem says he'll be owed nothing.
If someone working from one of these stories does find distribution or other support that brings financial reward, I'm delighted, as I would be for any artist. For me, while I'm happy to make money from partnerships elsewhere, The Promiscuous Stories aren't about that.
He sees it as a literary equivalent to Open Source software.

With his new novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, Lethem has taken an even more innovative approach.
On May 15th I’ll give away a free option on the film rights to my novel You Don’t Love Me Yet to a selected filmmaker. In return for the free option, I’ll ask two things:

1. I’d like the filmmaker to pay (something) for the purchase of the rights if they actually make a film: two percent of the budget, paid when the completed film gets a distribution deal. (I’ll wait until distribution to get paid so a filmmaker without many funds can work without having to spend their own money paying me).

2. The filmmaker and I will make an agreement to release all ancillary rights to the film (and its source material, the novel), five years after the film’s debut. In other words, after a waiting period during which those rights would still be restricted, anyone who cared to could make any number of other kinds of artwork based on the novel’s story and characters, or the film’s: a play, a television series, a comic book, a theme park ride, an opera – or even a sequel film or novel featuring the same characters. For that matter, they can remake the film with another script and new actors. In my agreement with the filmmaker, those ancillary rights will be launched into the public domain.
Whatever you think of the terms that Lethem is seeking, at the very least he is attempting to wrest some control back for the author in the optioning process. As his Promiscuous Materials project shows, his interest is in getting work made and the terms of his option for You Don't Love Me Yet are surely a welcome change from the complete control normally sought by buyers in these circumstances.

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