That Entrepreneurial Spirit

[Video shamelessly stolen from Shane Jones’s Facebook feed]

Of course sometimes the hippie with his feet up on the desk actually does have good taste — the example is too often used, but, well, Gordon Lish. (There must be others; good books do still get published.) Still, up until all that “Punker” and “tennis” business, right, right? And allied to this brand of toybox-tyrant naivety is a penchant for pushing lots of little piles into one or two rather large, rather capriciously chosen piles. I’m thinking especially of the whole Mark Z. Danielewski serialized-novel business. I liked House of Leaves fine, but I couldn’t help but think: why not buy 50 books with that $1 million? (And yes, I realize that Pantheon got 10 books for their Publishers Clearing House-sized check.) Now that the ink has dried, it doesn’t much matter whether the cigar-chomper in question has made a good bet or not — Pantheon will be throwing money at the book(s) regardless. Is it significant that so many of the “Biggest Box-Office Bombs” were produced after 2000? Are we getting worse at this? When Plan 9 from Outer Space bombed, J. Edward Reynolds despaired of losing $60,000, got out of the movie business. When Cutthroat Island bombed, Carolco lost almost $140 million, went bankrupt. Too big to fail? Not in art, I guess.

2 thoughts on “That Entrepreneurial Spirit

  1. Hm. Danieliewski’s advance is at least based on his previous success. It’s the half a million advances for first time young authors- even if it’s a two book deal- that really irks me. It’s mostly envy on my part, but it’s also bafflement.

  2. You’re right, Paula, and I don’t begrudge Danielewski his success. But I find the oversized advance–no matter its signatories–bizarre. Zappa’s remarks put the Danielewski story in mind because The Familiar hasn’t even been written yet. It is, using Zappa’s metaphor, a start-up–all art is, isn’t it? It’s an investment for everyone: writer, publisher, and reader. Who knows what will succeed? And when you consider that investing so much in one artwork means that other, potential artworks will of necessity be eclipsed, these decisions seem naive, buffoonish.

    Zappa’s vitriolic on the subject; I’m just sad. That is, I’m glad that Plan 9 was made (it was cheap, relatively speaking — that’s part of its charm), but I would throw up my hands at the thought of a modern-day “reboot,” complete with hundred-million dollar budget. If someone was to find that, let’s say, Carolco’s next project had been a Walter Murch edit of Orson Welles’s Don Quixote, based on some newly-discovered memo/letter/etc., who would defend the executive who signed off on Cutthroat Island? And on what basis? Did the world need a Cutthroat Island? Or, more to the point, did the world need to expend so many resources on a Cutthroat Island? Given the choice, Zappa would, I think, join me in asking, why not do both, just on a more human (i.e., smaller) scale? It’s the expensive stuff that fades the fastest.

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