Best-selling mystery novelist Walter Mosley (“Easy Rawlins” series) moves his characters from the page to the screen this weekend in “Always Outnumbered,” an HBO original film starring Laurence Fishburne (Saturday at 9 p.m. EST). But even if this New York writer’s first produced screenplay is a hit on the Left Coast, don’t expect him to go show-biz: Mosley’s priorities differ from those of most people in the movie industry. “The problem in Hollywood,” says the 46-year-old author, “is that everybody wants to make too much money.”
For the HBO film, Mosley adapted his book “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,” a collection of short stories about a struggling ex-con in Watts. Mosley is known for his gritty, realistic writing style, which may explain why his two prior screenplays were turned down by producers, who said they liked them but couldn’t film them. “They just say, ‘The script is so sad,'” explains Mosley. “And I say, ‘Right, but don’t you think it’s true?’ And they go, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know if anybody would really go to see this.'”
The novelist thinks few studios are willing to take a chance on realistic, character-driven stories like his, preferring instead to make big budget features with simple storylines and elaborate visuals that attract millions of viewers. Case in point: James Cameron’s Oscar-laden sea saga. “‘Titanic’ — a good movie, I’m not dissing it — is a movie that’s very large but is not necessarily going to challenge your view of the world,” says Mosley. As an alternative, he recommends such deeply-affecting character dramas as the John Cassavetes’ classic “A Woman Under the Influence.” “Great movie, but so sad you can’t watch it twice.”
Even when character-driven films get green-lighted, laments Mosley, Hollywood execs often assume that spending more on them will attract a bigger audience. He saw this firsthand in 1995 with TriStar’s “Devil in a Blue Dress,” the Denzel Washington detective flick (written and directed by Carl Franklin) based on Mosley’s novel. It was trumpeted as the beginning of an “Easy Rawlins” film franchise, and Mosley was thrilled with Franklin’s portrayal of black Los Angeles in the 1950s. But the $20 million film made just $16 million and was widely considered a financial bomb. If the studio had spent less on “Blue Dress” and expected less return, Mosley says, it would have been perceived as a bigger success.
“Always Outnumbered” seems to have been made on a lower budget (HBO wouldn’t disclose the film’s cost), and the experience of working with director Michael Apted (“Gorillas in the Mist,” “Seven Up”) left Mosley optimistic about more film work. “It’s not like you can’t do good work in L.A. There are a lot of good people,” he says. “But some people need to have mink curtains. And if you need mink curtains, you can’t be making a low budget movie.”