James Patterson wrote 13 books in 2012, after 14 in 2011, including adult-targeted novels and books aimed at kids and teens. In an interview with Jeff Sneider at the Hotel Bel-Air, Patterson addressed the industry perception of his work, his non-Hollywood style (“I don’t do meetings. I just go and do it”), his production company and his children’s org, Read Kiddo Read.
JS: What’s on the agenda during your visit to Los Angeles?
JP: We’re coming out here with stories that we think can make good movies. We need to modify the perception that we have or had, which is a little bit of a caricature, that I’m just an airport author or a factory, that kind of thing, because it’s inaccurate. If you come to my office, what you’ll see are 40 manuscripts, and they’re all active.
JS: Who runs your production company, James Patterson Entertainment, while you’re writing?
JP: Steve Bowen, but I’m very hands-on. I used to run J. Walter Thompson and write a couple of books on the side every year, so I’m just used to producing stuff.
JS: Does producing give you more control over the adaptations of your work?
JP: It depends. With (novel adaptation) “Maximum Ride” (in development) at Universal, we’re not really involved with the production at all. It’s a very pricey movie. (With) “Alex Cross,” we’re very involved on the production side. “Witch and Wizard,” which is another kids’ thing, we have a script we like and a couple of partners involved in terms of special effects and possibly foreign sales. (Novel series) “Private” is television, and we have reasonable rights in terms of approving directors and things like that. Same with the (adaptation of the) Michael Bennett(book) series, which is pretty far along at Gaumont. We have a very good script.
JS: James Patterson Entertainment is partnering with Sonar Entertainment on “Private.” Is there a studio or network involved?
JP: No, and I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say about that. John McLaughlin, who co-wrote “Black Swan,” is writing it, but I haven’t spoken to him yet because he’s just working on the treatment now. I’ve produced 2,500 commercials and while that’s not moviemaking, it is filmmaking and has its own degree of difficulty. It does make you very efficient about the use of time. And that’s one of the things that we’re trying to communicate. I’ve done a couple of screenplays just to kind of get these things off the ground. I co-wrote the first “Cross.” Not a lot of it wound up in the movie, but it did get it going and it got people interested. I did the same for “Witch and Wizard,” and I may do the same thing for “Middle School,” which is another one of those kid things. I just don’t work the way a lot of people seem to work. I don’t do meetings. I just go and do it.
JS: That’s what Hollywood is, right? Meetings?
JP: Yeah, a lot. In come the studio notes on the screenplay or book and they’re like, 50 pages! Fifty pages of “take the stripes off the pillows,” etc. If you really understood the story, you would know the real problem is that a plane is going to come through here and kill us in 12 seconds, but that’s nowhere in the notes, which are about all this little stuff. It’s not that it’s wrong and it’s not that it’s right — it just doesn’t matter, or we would work that out in production. The first question (in any movie script) should be, why do people want to go see this?
JS: Anything else close to coming to fruition?
JP: “Witch and Wizard” is close. We have a script and a special effects house and two foreign rights people. (Rights to upcoming young-adult novel) “I Funny” we’ve sold to a producer and they have it financed, but that’s another TV thing. “Postcard Killers” we’re working with a European producer, and we’re doing the script for that now. There’s quite a lot actually that’s active.
I tend to be very efficient about stuff, very cost-conscious, and one of the things that initially scared people about “Witch and Wizard” was the (relatively low) budget. They’d say, ‘You’re going to produce that on what?’ So ultimately, I had to put more money into it just because no one believes we can produce it for what I know we can produce it for.
JS: Can you address the casting of Tyler Perry as Alex Cross in Summit’s upcoming movie?
JP: I met Tyler in Atlanta and you can just sense the willpower that he has. He said, ‘I would not do this if I wasn’t 100% sure I could pull it off.’ He threw himself into it and allowed himself to be an actor rather than a director, and he pulled it off. I wound up taking a piece of the movie, which I don’t normally do. It was a piece of the equity, which came up late, but at that point I knew this was golden, because the break-even is relatively low. I knew the script, I knew (director) Rob Cohen and what he wanted to do, and everybody was hungry. I knew that Tyler really wanted to show that he could do a dramatic crossover role.
JS: They don’t make enough of those mid-budget thrillers anymore, like “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls.”
JP: I think they really make them badly. I don’t think they understand that the audience for those is not male, it’s slightly female. My audience is 70% female; that’s one of the reasons why, when we did “Women’s Murder Club” on TV, which I hated, it was ABC’s biggest Friday in five years. We brought the audience.
JS: Can you address the Read Kiddo Read initiative, because I think that’s important.
JP: As individuals, we can’t solve global warming or the budget crisis. But we can, in our own household, get our kids reading. You just have to establish that reading is one of the rules of the house. If you’re a parent or a grandparent, it’s your job, not the school’s, to go find books for your kids and to make them read at home and during the summer. The summer slide thing is very real. My son Jack is a smart kid but when he was 8 years old, he didn’t particularly like to read, and we said you’re gonna read every day for an hour. The good news is, we’re going to go out and find cool books for you. So we found “Percy Jackson,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” more than a dozen books, and by the end of the summer, he’d read seven or eight books that he loved.
JS: How do you prefer to see films? Netflix, iTunes store…?
JP: I go to the movies, man. It’s so loony. When I first left advertising, I was living in New York City and I’d just get worn out writing, so I got into the habit of going over to Lincoln Plaza if I wanted to see something arty, or the 12-plex on Broadway, and I’d watch a movie. Sometimes I’d only watch half, even when I liked it. Then I’d go back and watch the other half, but it’s hard because they don’t want to let you in.
JS: You’re always working on several books simultaneously. How long does it take you to write each book?
JP: The adult books wind up being close to a year, but it depends whether I’m writing with somebody. I do a fair amount of research. The kids books depend, but now they take closer to five to eight months. The reviews have been interesting, any chance to take a shot, I guess. What’s here isn’t what people think it is. (I’m) not a factory and if (I am) a factory, it’s one where everything is hand-tooled.
JS: You review movies on your website. What movies have you seen recently that you liked?
JP: I liked “Chronicle” up to a point, before it got too dark, and I thought “Insidious” was really well made, but the best thing I’ve seen this year was the Iranian film, “A Separation.” That was great. The way it would’ve gone if it was a studio movie, it goes the opposite way. That thing, to me, was just brilliant.