One of the most groundbreaking Hollywood movies of the last 20 years is a film almost no one knows about.
It’s called Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, made by two highly talented brothers – Kerry and Kevin Conran – and when the movie came out in 2004 it redefined how people make big-budget movies. Every big-budget special effects movie since then, from Avatar to 300, owns some kind of debt to it.
For a brief moment, the Conrans were in the spotlight – their producers loved them, George Lucas invited them to Skywalker Ranch for a summit that included guests Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron – but just as quickly everyone forgot about them.
This may partly be because the film didn’t sell well at the box office, but the main reason seems to be that the Conran brothers didn’t take advantage of their opportunities. They got to meet some of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers at the Skywalker Ranch summit, but Kevin Conran says they didn’t stay in contact with any of them. “The brothers have never been good at self-promotion,” Olly Richards noted in a 2015 article for The Telegraph, and according to NY Times writer John Hodgman, the first things Kerry Conran told him when he interviewed him in 2004 were, ‘I’m shy’ and ‘I am basically an amorphous blob of nothing.’” Any professional writer – even most writing students – will tell you that these were poor business moves.
It’s not always easy for writers – especially introverted ones – to get involved in the business side of writing and promote themselves. It’s very tempting to just focus on the art and hope that will be enough. The problem is if people want to be successful writers – to make a living at it, have a body of work to display, avoid being a hobbyist or a Vincent Van Gogh – they have to hustle a little. They have to know how the publishing (or movie production) system works, how to network with people who will help them get their work out there, and how to make shrewd business decisions to succeed in the writing market. This is one of the basic differences between a writers who is only a hobbyist (writing for fun) and a professional (trying to make a living at it).
Even the classic writers which literary students love tended to have good business sense. Edgar Rice Burroughs submitted his Tarzan stories to two competing magazines to get the best price. Ray Bradbury didn’t plan on turning some of his stories into a book until his editor suggested he convert them into The Martian Chronicles. Raymond Chandler based his novels on several short stories he’d already published in pulp magazines. They were artists, but they had some businessman’s knowledge too.
It isn’t easy to balance business and artistry. But it’s vital to do so.
Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. HarperCollins: 2006. Print. pg. ix
Taliaferro, John. Tarzan Forever. New York: Scribner, 1999. Print. Pg.98-99
Widdicombe, Toby. A Reader’s Guide to Raymond Chandler. Pg. 36-37. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. Web.