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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 24
May
2013

Dear Pirates: This is How to Help

What Max Reckons Sometimes people pirate my stuff. Then sometimes they write to tell me they pirated my stuff, because they feel kind of bad about it, and wonder if they can pay me somehow. (Except one time when a guy said he’d pirated a compilation of “100 Great E-Books” and he just wanted to let me know I was in it, as a compliment. A kind of compliment.)

For example:

Now I had read your latest blog post about the movie the other day saying it had been released on iTunes and some cable websites, so <pirate pirate pirate>, so right now Syrup is 42% completed, and with my guilt (and procrastination, as I’m still typing this email) growing with every percentage, I thought to ask your opinion.

I’ve been looking forward to the Syrup movie since I read the book and thought “This would make a damn good movie!”, and then came the first rumours or it actually becoming one, so of course I want to support the production company and in turn future movies/series (I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Jennifer Government), but I can’t wait.

Would there be a PayPal donation link I can use to throw you the cost of a movie ticket? Or should I watch it now and when it eventually hits theatres and see you as a waiter on the big screen? Buy the DVD?

What, as the writer of the source material for a movie, do you think is the most beneficial method (to whoever you think deserves it. I of course, thought you) of paying for my viewing pleasure?

The general answer is that you should tell people you watched it. Or that you read it, if it’s a book. You should tweet, “Just finished <whatever>, highly recommended,” assuming you liked it, or “Just finished <whatever>” if you didn’t. Or post on Facebook. Or write a nice review somewhere. If you do this, you are all square in my eyes. In fact, I’d bet most artists and content creators feel the same way. Because the major problem they face isn’t that people pirate their work; it’s that nobody knows they exist.

Getting people talking is massive. Enormous amounts of time and energy are poured into getting people talking about every single book and film and song ever released. You, talking about a book/film/song, is really valuable. I can’t emphasize that enough. It can galvanize all kinds of great outcomes.

A Pirate Tip Jar (Jaarrrrr), on the other hand, would be a bad move. Lots of people work on books and films, not just me; even on a novel, I’m due no more than 15% of what you pay. I don’t want anyone thinking they can cut those people out and pay me directly. Also, I suspect the number of people who say they’d love to pay for X if only there were a more convenient way of doing so is far greater than the number of people who would actually pay. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment. But we generally pay for things because we have to. That’s just how it works.

So instead of wishing you could tip an artist for something you pirated, talk about it. That’s good for everyone involved. If you have nothing good to say, even a simple mention is helpful. Not a bad mention. That’s not helpful. But the difference between pirating something and saying nothing vs. pirating something and mentioning it to other people is really, really huge.

Of course, piracy is kind of wrong. I feel I need to say that explicitly. It’s kind of wrong because people who create something like a book or movie or song should be able to decide if and how they’ll sell it. Just because it’s more than you’d like to pay doesn’t mean it’s fair to pirate; everything is more than you’d like to pay. If Justin Timberlake made a CD and priced it at a thousand dollars a copy, such would be his right.

But it would be pretty silly of Justin to think people wouldn’t pirate that. Especially fans, and especially if that CD was only released in one country at a time and didn’t work on everyone’s players. I would be surprised if Justin wasn’t fully aware that this situation would provoke quite a lot of piracy. I have no idea why I’m using Justin Timberlake as an example. That just happened. But what I’m saying is that while piracy is generally bad for artists, and we want you to buy real books/tickets/MP3s/downloads, I recognize that piracy happens sometimes anyway. And if it happened to you, and you want to say thanks, you can do a lot of good by spreading the word.

Thu 02
May
2013

Thoughts As My Movie Comes Out

Syrup

Official Syrup WebsiteTrailerWatch on iTunes (US)Cable On Demand (US)Early Theater Screenings (US)Clip Where Max Tries to Act

People are about to watch my movie. Seriously. This is happening. Until now, I’ve been able to say, “Oh yes, I have a movie,” and no-one could say, “Yeah, I thought that SUCKED.” Because no-one had seen it. That time is over.

Today, May 2, 2013, Syrup launches as a “sneak” on Video on Demand, which is something I had no idea about until very recently, but I have since learned is how you release an indie movie to generate buzz ahead of its theatrical release. If you live in the US, you can rent it right now from iTunes. Also, if you have some kind of premium digital cable thing, you can use that. I’m not sure of the details there. I don’t live in the US. But it’s something like that.

The dream here is that Syrup breaks into the Top 10 Movie Rentals on iTunes. That would be huge. So if you are in the US and want to help push it up the list, today is the day.

But back to me. Over the last few years I’ve thought a lot about what happens if, like, the movie turns out to be so bad that they write newspaper articles about it and people come to my house asking why I would visit such an abomination upon the earth. Also, what if it becomes the breakout hit of the year and they write newspaper articles about it and people come to my house asking can I help them sleep with Kellan Lutz.

Because movies get seen by a lot of people. And those people have strong opinions. That’s a little daunting. Also, some people who read the novel have been amazingly supportive of my career over 10 or 15 years, and I don’t want them to be disappointed. Yet that’s kind of unavoidable, when adapting a book, since a film can never match what’s in your head.

On top of this, I still haven’t seen the movie. A while back, I decided to wait until I could see it in a theater, since it’s kind of a big moment for me. But I didn’t anticipate this on-demand sneak thing. I’m in Australia, where the film isn’t released until November, and now I have this slightly awkward scenario where a lot of people will see it before me.

So the movie is suddenly here and I don’t know what people will think. Before I have a book published, I’ve at least seen some early reviews, and the publisher has completed a print run (thrillingly high or alarmingly small), which gives me a general idea of what to expect. But today: nope. Which is kind of scary.

But I am going to try not to become lost in that, and remember to enjoy how awesome it is to, you know, have a freaking movie. I’ve seen authors do this: they dream of being published, but when it finally happens, they’re so preoccupied with whether it will be a hit that they don’t seem to actually enjoy the moment.

The reality is most books and movies aren’t breakout hits: they are read or seen by some people, and some of those people love it and some don’t. And that’s it. This isn’t very romantic, not the kind of thing you imagine about when you dream of being an author or actor or filmmaker. But it’s still pretty great.

One of my favorite moments as an author is an email I received from a 14-year-old who said Jennifer Government was the best book he’d read in his life. It was so cute. I mean, obviously he hadn’t read that many books. But no-one could be more gushingly, genuinely enthusiastic than this kid. I will never get a more delighted email, no matter how many books I write, or how many people read them. As far as creating something that connects with people, that’s as good as it gets.

This movie process has been awesome all the way through. I got to write scripts, swap ideas with the director, hang out on set, and try not to strangle Amber Heard with a necklace. These are all amazing moments that I would have killed for as a 23-year-old, writing the novel in my car during lunch breaks from my sales job. And today is another one.

ONE MORE THING: How similar is the movie to the book?

Although I haven’t seen it, and don’t know how much of various scripts I wrote are in the final movie, I do know I wrote a lot of stuff that departed heavily from the book’s plot. I didn’t change the characters or the world much, but I changed what they did. I mention this because I don’t think you should go into the film expecting it to be exactly the same. I never wanted the film to be like the book only with all the parts you imagined now filled in. I wanted it to be something new.

Wed 01
May
2013

Max Barry, Act-or

Syrup A clip from Syrup featuring my big-screen debut. Look at me rocking that role. You could totally believe I was a waiter. Some assistance provided by Amber Heard.

Here is the blog I wrote about filming that day, by the way, if you’d like to relive my gut-churning terror.

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