Artistry in High Places
As I was headed to the airport in Bilbao a week ago tomorrow to fly to Amsterdam, my taxi driver languidly pointed to the left and said, “Calatrava.”
I looked over at the Zubizuri, as it’s called by the Basques, the “White Bridge” designed by Santiago as a kind of triumphal arch to Frank Gehry’s incredible Bilbao Guggenheim. What a lucky river is the Nervion, I thought to myself, with this soaring bridge and one of the most celebrated art museum designs in the world.
Then the cabby said, “Red Bull.”
“Sorry?” I asked her.
“Red Bull,” she said. “I’ll slow down so you can see.”
They were cliff diving off the Zubizuri in a #RedBullCliffDiving competition that’s now reached the Top 3 countdown for the male competitors in Spain. Gorgeous Basque-country afternoon, massive crowds, spectacular setting, and a lot of clearly experienced drop-dead physiques flying off that bridge, festooned with logos and signage for Red Bull. Here’s the site. View it with caution: You may never get back to your writing.
The competition, which moves to various parts of the world, has been in play since 2009. As one wag running the Red Bull twitter account put it about the Bilbao session last weekend, it reminds you that all art isn’t inside the Guggenheim.
— Red Bull CliffDiving (@cliffdiving) September 15, 2019
The reason I found myself spending part of a Friday with near-naked athletes in Bilbao–no complaints about that–is that I was asked to speak to the Union of Basque Writers in a conference expertly organized by Beatriz Celaya. It turns out that the program draws publishers and editors as well as authors (which I like). Planeta was there, as was Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, the Stockholm-based audio subscription service Storytel, and many more companies and independent writers–a good mix with super questions and comments.
And I wanted you all with me. Because I know that cliff diving is your life, as it is mine. No, actually, I wanted you there because the last time I tried this idea out on you, I got lots of pushback. But I found an author in our audience in Spain who said it all to me this time.
We’d started talking about the “books to film” trend, as it’s called. By coincidence, there’s a significant television festival in nearby San Sebastian each year, and that might have something to do with the writers’ sensitivity to this. But this author explained that he’d taken some courses, done some studying to add a few skills to what annoying human resources people call your toolkit, and he now is juggling the reactions of producers to three TV series for which he’s written television pilots.
“I may end up being a show runner on all three shows, the way it’s looking,” he said.
There was a lot of appreciative support for what he’s doing in the room, maybe some envy, too. This is a book author who’s “screening up,” a much more positive development than when White House staffers start “lawyering up,” but something of the same concept: This writer is positioning himself for where the industry is trending.
He made it clear that in some ways he feels as if he’s jumped off a cliff without his Red Bull, but he’s braving it–and liking it. He’s hearing promising noises about his work from production people, getting his legs, learning the ropes, and admitting that it’s changing him as an author in terms of how he works and understands his own creative development.
So I’m here as your friendly provocateur to say this again to you. The successful writers of the future are going to be comfortable in a wider mix of modes. channels, tasks (choose your human resources term) than many authors have been in the past.
Byting the Book in London: Monday Night’s ‘Picture This’
A couple of days later, a note came over from Justine Solomons, who you may know, the founder of the UK’s Byte The Book industry network for writers, agents, publishers. and suppliers, a proven career-service outfit with a fine track record in London for its change-leading programming that’s responsive to the issues. We in fact had a panel debate about books-to-film with Byte The Book before the opening of London Book Fair two years ago. This is now a maturing, going topic for the organization.
On Monday evening (23 September), the group will gather in Covent Garden for a session called “Picture This: How Can You Write and Adapt for Screen.” They’re producing the session with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, which collects public-usage fees for authors’ work and pays those fees to the authors.
The main thrust of the evening is a kind of introduction to writing and adapting for the screens, with Jason Solomons, an on-air presenter; author and screenwriter Emma Jane Unsworth; film director Lucy Bryden; film producer Mia Bays; and scriptwriter Shai Hussain.
As much as I know you love me to yammer at you, I thought it might go down better if I asked Solomons to tell us why this very well put-together authors-and-others organization in UK publishing is started to work “screening up” into their program.
“One of Byte The Book’s primary intentions is to connect writers with other industries that can use their stories. I mentioned the idea of a screenwriting event to ALCS and they were keen to sponsor, as they do a lot to support screenwriters. Writing books is often not that well paid but with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, demand is increasing for original content. Authors, the commercially savvy ones at least, can see how it can help them make money.
“Byte The Book is all about making connections within publishing but also connecting with other industries. It’s about opening the doors to publishing both to a diverse range of authors but also to other businesses that can use stories in innovative ways. We want to support authors and help the think about different ways to make a living from their ideas.”
I’ve chartered a Writer Unboxed plane over to Heathrow for Monday night, holler if you’re in.
Seriously, let’s take another whack at this. I’d like to know from you how ready–or not–you feel to contemplate the idea of “screening up” your career as a writer? Would thinking this way, trying a few moves in that direction, make you a better or lesser author? As always, nobody gets pushed off the bridge for not agreeing with me. But I’d like to know where your head is, here in the era of streaming entertainment and screaming politics: How nimble are you feeling this weekend?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!