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Friday, July 01, 2016

Dragonflies: myths, meanings and mysteries

Dragonfly photo sent by my cousin when she heard the title
Happy birth day to my newest baby: Dragonfly Song. You've been a long time coming.

The dragonfly theme in the book began because when I first imagined the shape of the story and the questions I needed to answer, I saw them in an iridescent blue bubble - and the next day saw a real dragonfly, exactly the same colour. This kept happening: it seemed that whenever I made a significant decision about the story, I saw a dragonfly soon after. It became too much to ignore, and eventually I decided that my character's name, Aissa, meant dragonfly in the island's language. Her amulet - the carved name-stone around her neck, that she calls her mama stone - would therefore be carved with a dragonfly symbol.

Met a friend wearing this as I picked up the advance copy
I knew that dragonflies had many myths and symbolic meanings in different cultures around the world. Dragonflysite.com even categorises them by continent, so we can see that they range from symbols of purity to Satan, but suggests that the overwhelming belief is that they symbolise change and perhaps self-realisation. I didn't happen to read that summary until the book was finished, but it's particularly apt for Aissa.

However, despite all my reading on Minoan and Cycladic civilisations, I had no idea that the dragonfly was relevant to Aissa's own culture. Then a month ago, with the book safely with the printer, I went to Crete and had an amazing, mind-boggling day with an archaeologist as I started the research for my next book.

Of course I told her about Dragonfly Song. 'Of course,' she said, 'the dragonfly was an important symbol for the goddess, or her priestess.'

Fragment of fresco with dragonfly, from Akrotiri
On one of the most famous frescos from Akrotiri, on Santorini, the goddess is wearing a dragonfly necklace. A ring  from Archanes in Crete shows dragonflies hovering in front of the goddess; a dragonfly bead from Mochlos in Crete may have been worn by a priestess...

Life is full of coincidences and synchronicity, and sometimes story-making has more of them than the stories themselves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Launch! And Blog Tour.

It's finally here - Dragonfly Song will be in stores across Australia next Monday.  (The wait might not have seemed as long to you, but it's been on my computer for a long time, and in my heart for longer, and I'm actually having trouble believing that it's really going out into the world now.)

So if you're in Melbourne, I'd love you to come and celebrate its launch at Readings in Hawthorn, at 4 pm on July 2. Yes, election day - but wouldn't it be great to slip back to 1460 BCE for an hour or so and let present day politics slip away? I'm really thrilled to have Kirsty Murray launching it, so come and hear what she has to say.

And in the meantime, I'm hopping around a great bunch of blogs. Booktopia started off with 10 Terrifying Questions yesterday, and today was an interview on Creative Kid Tales. 

You can also read an excerpt on my website - and of course you can send me a question here! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

When Hollywood Comes Knocking - Part 3: Green Light!

So your film’s been optioned, it’s spent years in development and now the script has been approved, the cast and crew are pretty well set… and finally you get that call. I still have the recording of Paula Mazur’s message on my answering machine: ‘I’ve got good news, girlfriend. We’ve got the green light.’

Lea the pelican arriving on set
And from the moment of that green light, everything springs into action. Preproduction – finalising cast, crew, locations… all the details so that when it goes into production, the actual filming, no time is wasted. And when that unbelievably intense period of filming is over, there’s post production, with editing and any special effects.

As the author, even if you’ve been a consultant on the script, or even if you’ve written it, you’re unlikely to have any rights be involved with any of these stages.  But if you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to spend time on set.

You’re in someone else’s workplace, you have to obey their rules – but really, it’s not that complicated. This is not the time to suggest that they change something to the way that you envisaged it. And you can probably work out that if someone calls for silence and then shouts, ‘Rolling!’ you need to keep quiet.  The rest of it probably depends on the directors and cast involved – but my advice is: if you get a chance, take it. It’s like nothing else.  
Setting up in the rainforest

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of 3 day periods on set for Nim’s Island, and one for Return to Nim’s Island. It was phenomenal. It’s difficult to describe the emotion of seeing your characters embodied in flesh and blood. The first time I arrived in the middle of the scene with Abigail Breslin as Nim, running down the mountain with a bloody bandage on her knee and Fred on her shoulder. It’s exactly as I described it in the book – and there it was. It was surreal. Of course it also quickly demonstrated the perils of filming with animals: every time Abbie turned her head to speak to Fred, played by the Australian Bearded Dragon Goblet, he’d crossed to her other shoulder. Goblet was more interested in staying in the sunshine than the camera.

Later I met Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler … and they were so like the characters in my imagination that it was overwhelming, though I didn’t cry till I met the sea lion playing Selkie. In fact the human stars were much friendlier than the sea lion, who I’m pretty sure only kissed me because of the fish in his trainer’s hand. And a few years later, when I met Bindi Irwin playing Nim, it was the same – there, the storyline was different, but Bindi embodied the older Nim just as Abbie had the younger version.

I was also an extra in Nim’s Island – I couldn’t think of a better way to understand a bit more about the whole procedure.  So if you’re watching the film, when Alex Rover is going through security at San Francisco airport, I’m the first person in the scene, putting my bag on the Xray conveyor belt. You won’t see my husband, who went through first and ended up on the cutting room floor, but you’ll see the book’s illustrator, Kerry Millard, behind me, and then the producer’s two children. (In fact you’re unlikely to see me, because your eyes won’t have adjusted yet from the brilliant blue sky and sea of the previous scene, to see the somber airport colours.)

Filming in the airport
The filming was in the Gold Coast international airport, so we were going through the real security setup – over and over, to have it right by the time Jodie Foster appeared.  And when she did, as I headed back to lay my bag on the belt again, she looked at me and called, ‘So you’re doing it today? Isn’t it boring?’ 

There were another 200 extras in the room, and I swear there was a single, group intake of shocked breath. Later that night a young man came up to me. ‘Are you family?’ he asked.

‘I wrote the book,’ I said. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Hollywood Comes Knocking: Part 2 - Development Hell

Continuing from last week’s post: now you, your agent, your publisher and your film lawyer are all happy – you’ve signed that option agreement and have a nice little chunk of money, probably 10% of the sale price.
And you’re going to get the rest of that money very soon, because the movie’s going into development!
Well, they say Hollywood is made of dreams, and that’s one of them.
Even if it goes straight into development, and the rights aren’t simply locked into some mysterious vault until it’s too late for anyone else to want them, there are a few steps in between.
1)    The script. Unless you’ve got screenwriting experience, the studio is unlikely to want you to write the script. They will choose someone they want. If you want to be involved, you may be able to be a consultant to the script, which should also earn you another small fee.
A bright spot: traveling to Santa Monica to meet the producer and studio execs

If you are involved, be prepared: writing a screenplay is not anything like writing a book. This is not your baby any more: there will be many, many meetings and quite a lot of compromises. Only when everyone (ie the studio) is satisfied with the outline can the script can be written.

2)    Firings. If the studio isn’t satisfied with the screenwriters’ attempts, the writers may be fired once they’ve submitted the negotiated number of drafts. The whole procedure will start again with new writers. This is true even if the independent screenwriter is the person who took the project to the studio.
The independent director or producer can also be fired. So can studio executives. Their replacements may make more changes. Any of these changes will stall the process to some extent, may take it back to the beginning, and possibly stop it all together.  

Santa Monica beach
For Nim’s Island, my first contact from the producer Paula Mazur was 3 June, 2003; we agreed the terms of the contract with Walden Media Christmas Eve of that year, and I think I signed the final version of the contract in March 2004. We got the greenlight to go ahead around March 2007 – so that was three years of development. I had no idea how lucky we were! During that time there were three lots of screenwriters, and one change of studio executive. And much angst. Return to Nim’s Island I think took a year longer, with much more complicated changes. This is why it’s popularly known as development hell.

3)    Funding. Movies cost a lot of money, incomprehensible amounts. Apart from changes that need to be made to the storyline to meet the budget, changes in funding will obviously affect whether or not it goes ahead.

4)   Casting. This is intertwined with funding, and unless you are so amazingly successful and famous already that you probably aren't reading this blog, you won't have much to do with either. There needs to be a certain level of funding to get the right actors - but the right actors will also influence the funding. They'll also influence who else wants to get on board. (And yes, I'm talking about Jodie Foster. When she said she wanted to play Alex Rover the writer, good things happened, though not as easily as I would have thought.)

A bit of advice: It’s a lot of fun to be thrown into a totally different creative world, but going back to the question of whether or not to quit the day job – you could probably write another book, or two, during that time. I was a consultant on the Nim’s Island film, and I think there was only one week during the three years of development that Paula Mazur and I didn’t have at least one phone call or email each day. It was very intense, and very rewarding ­ but I don’t know if I would feel the same way if the film hadn’t been made. 

Just a reminder again that everything here is my personal opinion and does not constitute any form of legal advice. 

Friday, June 03, 2016

When Hollywood comes knocking: Part 1

It may sound like a dream come true – but don’t quit the day job

So, someone is asking for the film rights to your novel. But what happens next?
By all means, crack the champagne – but then, take a deep breath. Who is asking and exactly what are they offering?
Can a letter like this change your life?
Taking this
A freelance producer or screenwriter may request the exclusive right to pitch the book for a specified amount of time. That’s what I initially signed for Nim’s Island. There was no fee but producer Paula Mazur’s vision coincided with mine, and I believed in her commitment to the project. I’ve signed eight other such agreements: one became the film Return to  Nim’s Island; one eventually progressed to script development for a TV series, paying a total of $3000 before cancellation. The others went nowhere and paid nothing. 
What the independent producer is pitching is an option: a contract giving a company the right to create a film from your book. There should be a fixed time period – they’re leasing the rights, with an option to buy. The option price is likely to be 10% of the purchase price, with the balance paid when filming starts.  But the only three things an author absolutely needs to know first are:
        1) This is still a very long way from a film.  I haven't been able to find a figure on how many film options eventually develop into films, but the percentage is small. Very small. It's a bit like being given a lottery ticket. 
to this
        2)  You need a specialist film/media lawyer before you agree to anything. As a VP at Fox said to me when Nim’s Island’s green light looked unlikely, ‘Just remember: some films do get made.’ You want to be sure that if yours goes ahead, you have no regrets about your contract. If it’s a Hollywood deal, get a Hollywood lawyer. Don’t be shy of asking questions, from how their fee structure works to every part of the contract. Never take anything for granted: if you want to go to the red carpet premiere, ask for it to be put in your contract.

         3) In signing the option you are handing over control – discuss their vision first. (eg I was warned that the budget would mean radical changes to Nim at Sea; that respect gave me confidence to sign.) If they take up the option to buy and produce it, your opinion will have no more legal weight than when you sell a house and hate the new owner's renovations. 

This is an edited excerpt from an article first published in the SCBWI journal in 2013. These thoughts are drawn from my own experiences and are not legal advice. 

Subscribe or tune in next next week and I'll post on the next step. 

On our 5 year journey: Wendy Orr & Paula Mazur