The Boneyard: Fifty Shades of Lame. Should Nepotism Trump Talent?

We didn't want to watch the movie either...

We didn't want to watch the movie either...

The Boneyard features the best of the Writer’s Bone crew's daily email chain. Yes, we broadened the definition of “best” to make this happen.

Sean Tuohy: E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, forced the studio to hire her husband Niall Leonard, a well-respected screenwriter in his own right, to pen the next movie in the series. As a writer, how would you feel if you were given a high-profile assignment because who you were married to and not based on your talent or skill?

Dave Pezza: Well if you're a writer and you have an opportunity to get paid for your writing, no matter how shitty your writing may be, you take it.  A gig is a gig is a gig is a gig.

However, I'd feel someone was totally giving me a leg up, but then again don't we all need a leg up.  No one ever really "makes it" on their own.  All I can hope is that if I am ever given an opportunity like this, it isn't to write something as embarrassing and as god awful as Fifty Shades of Middle Aged Regret.

Sean: I agree with you on the "no makes it on their own" point, but I would feel weird if I got a high profile gig not based on my writing at all but who I decided to put a ring on.

Did anyone here see the first “Fifty Shades of Grey?”

Dave: You'd feel weird, but you'd totally write though, right?

Sean: To be honest, I don't really know. Going with my gut, I would say no. I don't feel like I would deserve it. Yes, it’s a paying writing job but it’s not all about money. I want to be hired for my work and my skills as a writer.

Then again, my credit card payment is due in two weeks...

Daniel Ford: I couldn't even make it through the boring trailers.

Part of me really enjoys the fact that a writer has this much control over a movie. Or this much power in general. I don't begrudge any writer making money, but this wasn't the case of someone hitting it big for something they labored over for years. It was a marketing plan from the beginning, so I'm not surprised that the writer is acting more like a media mogul as opposed to a creative collaborator. I'd like her to use some of that money to buy some writing classes or, at the very least, a dictionary or grammar book.

Her husband apparently worked on the first film, and doesn't seem to have a problem getting his own piece of the cash cow. I don't think I'd mind getting a leg up, but I'd want to work on a project of my own. Then again, if my wife asked me to do anything, I'd probably do it, especially if she's making way more money than me.

Stephanie Schaefer: Well, the only reason Dakota Johnson was cast as the female lead was because of her famous parents, so nepotism all around.

And no, I did not see the movie or read any of the books. The awkward lack of chemistry the two leads had at the Golden Globes, among other things, deterred me from spending $14 for a movie ticket.

Daniel:  And led to media coming up with posts such as “15 Inanimate Objects With More Chemistry Than Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.”

Anne Leigh Parrish: Oh, I don’t know. I’d probably take the job. But, as to the book itself, didn’t read it, didn’t see the movie. It’s set in Seattle (where I live) so that may be why I couldn’t quite take it seriously. Also, the movie reviews were scathing.

Daniel: I don't know, people make a big deal about selling out, but hanging on to integrity and principles when you're buying Chinese food with the spare change in your piggy bank (which I was doing religiously at one point) is stupid, right?

Dave made a good point to me just now, that most of us on this chain don't have the money to make some kind of noble stand for our integrity as creative types. And what does a stand like that look like nowadays? George Clooney took the money he made from “Batman & Robin” and became a "serious" actor and director. Is it possible to dip your toe in the water of commercialism just so you can do your own thing, or does that mark you for life so that people never take your work seriously (in Clooney's case, it helps to be handsome and talented)?

I think if someone said to me, "Daniel, we think your novel would sell like hotcakes if you added in 12 more sex scenes and killed off 75% of the characters during the first act," I would tell them to go pound sand. But if my work gave me the opportunity to jump to a different, more lucrative project that may or may not be helmed by my significant other, I think I'd be more inclined to go for it. 

A question for Sean though, if you've got a few credits under your belt and your spouse picks you for a project, would you really think you didn't deserve it? What would have to do in your career to feel like you can write a third-rate soap opera starring two actors Joey and Rachel on Friends look like a power couple.

Sean: Yeah, if my spouse bitched and moaned that I should get the job to write the movie and she wanted me to do it because she knew she could control me I wouldn't take it. That is the feeling that I am getting from E.L James. She wants complete control of the project.

If my spouse was helping me, giving me a leg up like Dave said, I would work extra hard on it because I still would feel like I didn’t deserve, but I’d work three times harder to prove to everyone that I do.

Lisa Carroll: From the Fifty Shades of Grey peanut gallery:

1. I read all of the books. And, I didn't hate any of the books for the same reason I tore through the Twilight series; there's something exciting about having a window into the world of these girls who are the obsession of a hot guy (Team Jacob, by the way). As a plot-driven reader, I skipped over most of the sex stuff because it was just the same thing over and over and over but I did get lost in the storyline and I did enjoy the guilty pleasure of reading the series just like I used to enjoy “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital.” Classic literature? No. But, it had exciting moments. It had a few (sometimes obvious) plot twists. It was entertaining and frivolous and sometimes that's enough.

I saw the movie with my 72-year-old aunt who also read all the books (she would make a great book character but that's for another day). The movie was okay. I didn't hate it. But the truth is that the book is always better than the movie and when the book is just okay, the movie doesn't have much of a chance. The chemistry was pretty bad (and Daniel, I laughed at the intimate objects link!) and because much of the story is internal, the presentation of it was meh. But again, entertaining and frivolous and sometimes that's enough. Oh, and it was the first movie I've seen without my 14-year-old daughter in 14 so I think there was also something about being at an adult movie that made me a little giddy and light-headed from the moment I sat down with my own popcorn. If there are any movies I've missed since October 2000, please share so I can watch them on Netflix. Thanks.

As an aside, these are two books that I carry in my middle school and I have had more than one kid ask for Fifty Shades of Grey when they really mean Between Shades of Grey. It gives me a good chuckle. Although, I did have one boy who asked for Fifty Shades and really meant Fifty Shades and he seemed rather disappointed that his middle school library didn't carry it.

2. The writing job. I have no context here. I haven't read about it or looked into the circumstances around which this hiring took place. So did he get the job because she figures he will listen to her when it comes to maintaining the integrity (if that's even a good word to use for the book) of her story/plot? Does she think he'll be easier to manipulate than another writer? Does she figure that since she's sleeping with the screen writer she'll have more say?

And if she's a good wife, she thinks he's a helluva screenwriter because that's what we wives do. We believe in our spouses. So I'd assume she's picking him because of his talent and skill and because of the ring on his finger and maybe because he's the person upon whom Christian Grey is based which is more than I want to think about...

And let's be honest, there are people who make money writing frivolous crap so I pose the question: is it always good to make money at your craft and to earn your living doing the thing you love to do? Or is there a line of integrity that you wouldn't cross? I give you the trained ballet dancer who is making a living on a pole, the singing waitress, the actor who is doing Viagra commercials. How low is too low? How many of you would just love to write for a living?

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