A. LEE’S STRANGE CHINESE MOVIE ADVENTURE

First thing:

MONSTER RUN, the Chinese language movie based on my novel, MONSTER, is currently streaming on Netflix. Probably worth checking out if you’re the kind of person that would drop in on this site. And if you’re a new visitor drawn here by whatever strange forces of fate compelled you to visit an unfamiliar author’s website, you can feel free to check it out as well. I won’t stand in your way.

I’ve been a professional novelist for 16 years now, an aspiring novelist for another 13 years before that. Yes, I’ve been writing, professionally or otherwise, for nearly 30 years now. Which is pretty crazy when I pause to think about it. Fortunately, I don’t do that very often.

When first pursuing this career, I had simple aspirations. Write stories. Get paid for them. Hopefully earn enough that I didn’t starve. That’s no easy feat in this business, but I’ve managed to stay afloat. I’ve had really good years and not-so-good years, and like any job, there have been plenty of ups and downs. Plenty more to come, I’m sure. But I’m not broke, and I’ve managed to go from mostly obscure to slightly less obscure. And now, a movie!

This wasn’t something I ever imagined. I know many writers and their fans who get excited about the idea. And, certainly, I’m happy for the financial and creative rewards that come from having my ideas adapted into other media. From a mercenary perspective, it exposes me to people who might not otherwise hear about me. And from a money perspective, adaptations bring more money to my pocket. Both are good things.

But I’ve never written with movies or TV in mind. One of the things I love best about books is their unlimited nature. I can write anything and everything, and it doesn’t cost millions of dollars to produce. If I was thinking about practical limitations, I don’t know if I’d have ever written half the stories I’ve written. I don’t consider books a lesser form of media. I still think of them as an ultimate form that hasn’t really been replaced by anything else. Which isn’t a slight to other media. All media brings something to the table that it is best suited for, and that’s good. That’s why it all has a place. But the burdens and limitations of other media isn’t something I think about when writing my novels.

Nevertheless, I’ve had books optioned over the years. Some developments went further than others, but I’ve had nibbles and bites. Some cool people have tried to adapt my novels into other media, but up to this point, nothing made it into production. No surprise. Development is a long process, and the creation of a TV show or movie is a bigger commitment than a novel. And that first novel took me 13 years to crack.

So how did this happen? Take my hand, and we’ll talk. It’s not as exciting as you might hope, but it is still interesting.

My movie adventures started with my first novel, GIL’S ALL FRIGHT DINER. My debut was well-received, even fortunate enough to earn a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. This led to some option interest from a few parties. Eventually, GIL’S was optioned by Dreamworks Animation, and while the project went pretty far, it stumbled at the finish line.

I talk about luck in this business, and I don’t think it hurts to restate that it can make or break a project. Dreamworks Animation was near the final steps of beginning production when they released Megamind, which was a box office disappointment. (I love Megamind, but that’s neither here nor there.) One of the reasons Dreamworks Animation decided the movie underperformed was that it was released too soon after Despicable Me, another movie about a reformed evil genius. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but when word came that Sony Pictures was working on their own animated vampire movie, Hotel Transylvania, it was feared a Gil’s movie would suffer the same diminishing returns. So that was that.

The double-edged nature of luck, however, is that part of what sold the novel in the first place was that it was a vampire story. So I can’t complain about that, and I get that creating a film is a huge investment of time and money. Can’t blame anyone for being cautious about it.

Over the years, I’ve had other stories optioned. Some only once. Some several times. Some kept coming up, bouncing around to different production companies like these things do.

Monster was one that kept bouncing. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. It’s a relatively easy concept to pitch: a dog catcher for monsters who is only sort of good at his job set in a slightly magical version of the modern world. My agent even said to me more than once that she was certain something would happen with it eventually simply because of the steady stream of interest, so she called that one.

(That’s Sally Harding at The Cooke Agency if you happen to be a big deal TV movie person and need to contact someone to arrange to pay me millions of dollars.)

I’d say over the years that Gil’s All Fright Diner and Monster were my most consistent novels of interest for pretty much the same reason: a balance of the fantastical and approachable. And right now, there’s stuff going on with each that I’m not sure I can talk about, but that looks promising.

But you’re probably wondering how did a Chinese production company happen upon my novel Monster and decide to option it?

Short answer: I have no idea.

I mean, I have some idea. A few years before, Monster was published in Chinese, along with my novels THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE and DIVINE MISFORTUNE. That’s always welcome since more people being able to read a book means potentially more sales which means more money. As a writer, I’m constantly aware of money and eager for more sources of revenue.

So I can only assume at some point someone with Linmon Pictures happened upon the book and decided to option it for a growing Chinese market. They approached my agent, and after a bit of negotiation, a film option was agreed to.

Every option is its own thing. I usually have a phone call or two with interested parties, but perhaps it was the language barrier or perhaps Linmon just didn’t care to talk to me, but I never had a call with anyone there. No big deal. I was happy to be involved as much or as little as they wanted, and since I’d had other options, I didn’t assume much of anything would happen other than a little extra money in my pocket.

I’ll never forget when I found out that a movie was being made. I was hanging out with some friends (hey, remember when we could hang out with friends?) and received a phone call from my agent.

“They’re making it. Right now.”

She was as surprised as I was. The way this normally works is that there’s a lot of build up and development. But a movie doesn’t usually start production as a surprise. This might be how it is in China. I don’t know. Neither did my agent. Or perhaps Monster had a quick development cycle. Regardless, I went from a writer with a book under option to an author with a movie in production in a single phone call. It was surreal, but a lot of this business is.

I didn’t hear much for a while. Then it came back that the movie was completed and Linmon was excited about it, so they pushed back the release to spend more on the FX. That was good, right?

Well, never forget about luck. Because luck never forgets about you.

Along came the pandemic. The movie was pushed back. The pandemic continued. The movie was pushed back again. Until, eventually, it was released on Chinese streaming platforms. I have no idea how well it did. I’m assuming it wasn’t a massive hit since no one has come to offer me more money.

And now, it’s founds its way to U.S. Netflix, where it will probably dwell in obscurity because there are a billion-and-one things to watch on Netflix. But that’s that. No complaints. There was no guarantee that if the film had been released in theaters it would’ve done great, and there was practically no way it would make much of a splash in the Western market.

But it’s out there, and that’s pretty cool. And I wouldn’t hazard a prediction what comes tomorrow. My job as a writer is to write, and hope the rest sorts itself out. But now you know how this particular bumpy journey went.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT, WRITING THE GOOD WRITE,

LEE

5 Replies to “A. LEE’S STRANGE CHINESE MOVIE ADVENTURE”

  1. I am so happy for you. Without you I would have been stuck reading the same old thing. You made me aware of a whole new world of reading and fun. Love you nephew. Aunt Peggy

  2. Thanks for letting me know! Despite the genre of movies I watch on Netflix they failed to push this one my way. Looking forward to it!

  3. I enjoyed the Chinese version of “Monster” but the book version? Is always brilliantly written ! It makes my imagination come to life! And I look forward to reading future stories. The pandemic has stymied the acquisition of more of your tomes sadly. Will Constance Verity come out soon? Thanks you for your response,
    Julie Faden

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