INTERVIEW: Behind The Scenes of Movie Tie-Ins with Greg Cox

You already know who New York Times bestselling author Greg Cox is, but you might not know it. If you’ve read the novelization of the recent Daredevil, Man of Steel, Godzilla, Ghostrider or Underworld films, you’ve read a Greg Cox novel. Beyond those, he’s written in the Batman, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Iron Man,  Xena, Terminator, X-Men, among other universes, and over 14 Star Trek novels.  Greg is an expert, he’s been doing this for over twenty years!  And he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions  about his newest novelization of the recent Godzilla movie, the movie tie-in industry, and more!

Let’s get to the interview!


Andrea Johnson: About a week after reading your novelization of Godzilla, I went and saw the movie. Your novelization expanded many  portions of the film, including extra introductory material, and further development of side characters. When writing a novelization, how do you know what areas you can expand on, and when to “stick to the script”?

Greg Cox: In general, the studios prefer that you stick to the script in terms of the overall plot and dialogue, but there’s often room to flesh out the characters and fill in more of their backgrounds, especially with the supporting characters who might not get as much screen time and development as the leads. On Godzilla, I also had the advantage of seeing early drafts of the scripts, including scenes that were cut or shortened in the final movie.

AJ: And speaking of a script, do you get to see the films way ahead of time?  how much information are you given to work with (screenshots? screenplay? storyboards?) to write the novelizations?

GC: I have never seen a movie ahead of time. I’m usually writing the book while the movie is being filmed. The way it works is that I’m given the script and whatever visual reference is available at the time:  pre-production art and sketches, publicity photos, maybe an advance copy of the movie trailer. And I’ll be in touch with the movie studios, who will try to answer any questions I have. (“How big is the female MUTO compared to Godzilla?”)

I saw Godzilla the same way everybody else did– on opening day at my local multi-plex.

AJ: You’ve written media tie-ins in a number of franchises, including X-Men, Star Trek, Alias, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  What are some of the challenges of writing in an already existing universe?  How did you get past those challenges?

GC: Well, you need to familiarize yourself with the source material and absorb the voices of the characters. Few things seem to bother tie-in readers more than when the characters don’t sound like themselves. (“Riker would never say that!”)  And with the really long-running franchises, it can sometimes be a challenge to come up with something that hasn’t already been done several times already! :)

AJ: You’ve been actively writing media tie-ins and novelizations for over twenty years.  How did you get started with writing media tie-ins and what have been some of your favorite projects?

CG: I actually started out on the other side of the desk, editing novelizations and tie-novels for Tor Books. This brought me into contact with other tie-in editors who eventually started throwing work my way, starting with a Batman short story I wrote for DC back around the time of the second Tim Burton Batman movie.  I like to joke that I’ve been writing tie-ins since Michelle Pfeiffer was Catwoman!

I’ve been lucky enough to write for a wide variety of series and characters, across a wide range of genres: science fiction, horror, murder mysteries, crime thrillers, even a historical romance.  I really like hopping from franchise to franchise; it keeps things interesting and forces me to push beyond my comfort zone and learn new things. It’s hard to name a favorite, although, obviously, Star Trek has been a very important part of my career. Believe it or not, my fourteenth Trek novel comes out later this year–and I’ve already started work on the next one!

AJ: You’ve won two Scribe Awards and are on this years ballot for Man of Steel  and Leverage: The Bestseller Job.  Can you tell us a little about the Scribe Awards, and what it was like to win a Scribe Award two years in a row (for Terminator Salvation:  Cold War (2009) and C.S.I.: Head Hunter (2008))?

GC: The Scribe Awards are presented annually by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and includes categories for Best Novelization, Best Original Tie-In Novel, and so on. I’m very proud to have been recognized by the Scribes over the years since they’re awarded by my distinguished friends and colleagues in the field, who truly understand and appreciate what goes into writing a novelization or tie-in.  Alas, I’m not going to be able to attend the award ceremony at the San Diego Comic-Con this summer, but I’ll be on the internet that night, waiting eagerly to find out who won!

AJ: What advice do you have for writers who are interested in writing media tie-in material?

GC: That’s a tricky question. I’m not sure there’s a standard career track for getting into this odd little corner of publishing. There are probably as many different answers as there are tie-in writers. My best advice would be to make a name for yourself, as a writer or editor or both, and let it be known that you’re interested in tie-in work. It also helps to be a writer who is also an enthusiastic fan of your favorite series.  (“Hey, Greg, you’re a big Batman fan, right?”)

AJ: You’re very well known for your Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars novels, so I have to ask: what did you think of Star Trek: Into Darkness?

GC: I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was great as Khan. He wasn’t the same Khan I wrote about in my books, which were based on original Ricardo Montalban version, but I thought Cumberbatch made the character his own.  Kind of like the way Heath Ledger reinvented the Joker in The Dark Knight.

AJ: On the biographical area of your website, you mention you’ve “written more jacket and cover copy than he can possibly remember.  (‘They stood alone against galactic peril…!’)”.  Tell us a little about that. Is writing cover copy a necessary evil? is it fun?  How do you decide what to focus on when can only put a short phrase on the cover?

GC: Oh, I can go on for hours about this, but I’ll keep it short. The trick is to remember that you’re not writing a book report; you don’t have to mention every character and subplot. You want to identify what the core of the story is and boil it down to a couple of paragraphs and a tag-line–without giving too much away.

You also need to figure out early on what the main selling point of the book is. Are you selling the author (“the bestselling master of suspense returns with another nail-biting thriller!”), the writing (“lyrical prose captures the ineffable poetry of human existence”), or the plot (“Terrorists are out to destroy America–and only one sexy vampire can stop them!”)?  What do you want to focus on? What’s going to sell the book?

It’s advertising copy, basically.

AJ:  thanks so much Greg!