August 27, 2020
Joanne Harris has revealed that she was paid only £5,000 for the film rights to Chocolat. So why do some authors get the big bucks and some have to settle for the crumbs?
No aspect of writing makes you rich – why do authors get a pittance for film rights?
When Charles Webb, who died earlier this year, sold the movie rights to his 1963 novel The Graduate for $20,000, it earned him a place in one newspaper’s list of “the world’s biggest mugs”. (Mike Nichols’ 1967 film version grossed more than $100m.) Where does that leave Joanne Harris, who admitted this week that she let Chocolat go for £5,000? Presumably, she would be excused “mug” status by virtue of having also negotiated a £100,000 cut of the film’s box office. Even so, flogging Chocolat so cheaply surely qualifies it as the Milk Tray, rather than the Amedei Porcelana, of movie-rights deals.
The promise of wealth from film and television is the pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow. There is the $5m that EL James pocketed for selling the screen rights to the Fifty Shades trilogy and the $1.3m that JK Rowling got for the first four Harry Potter books alone. Dan Brown received $6m for allowing The Da Vinci Code to be adapted, while John Grisham landed a $3.75m Hollywood deal in 1993 for The Chamber when it was still at outline stage – the most ever paid at that time for anything scribbled on the back of an envelope.
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