Paulo Coelho: the alchemy of money and film

(ASHRAF AL AMRA)                   



Novels and films. Both tell stories. And while a successful book can bring in a lot of money for an author, it is only when the story is adapted into a movie that the big bucks truly start rolling in. 


However, to transform a book into a movie is not an easy task and distortions are inevitable. Add to this the prejudices and “creative vision” of those who actually make the films, and the result is a movie that bears little relationship to its origin.


But this is something Paulo Coelho is not worrying about. Business 24|7 met him to find out more.


Paulo Coelho, Writer


Coelho is not only one of the most widely read, but also one of the most influential authors writing today. His work has been translated into 66 languages and he has sold more than 100 million books worldwide – that’s not counting the 20m pirated editions sold. “This total means I have reached a readership of about 360 million and this is what matters to me.”


Born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Coelho worked as a theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist before dedicating his life to literature. His fascination with the spiritual quest dates back to his hippy days, when he travelled the world learning about secret societies and oriental religions. In 1982 Coelho published his first book, Hell Archives, which failed to make an impact.


In 1986 Coelho did the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella - an experience documented in his book The Pilgrimage - and in 1987 he published The Alchemist.


You’re best known for your worldwide hit The Alchemist, which is currently being made into a movie produced by Laurence Fishburne. How involved are you with the project?

I have heard it is going well, but I try not to get involved with it. In fact, the less I know, the better. I am excited to have a movie done by Laurence Fishburne, but that doesn’t mean I try to get involved with them, because my personal dream was to be a writer. That said I have a project I implemented, which is to make a movie with my readers. I chose the latest book The Witch of Portobello.


How are your readers involved?

Well, I felt my readers should participate, because it is the reader who creates the imagination. So I put an advert on my website asking for participants. So far I have received more than 2,000 applications from all over the world, and we’re going to select 15 by May 31, 2008. It will be an interesting experience – a writer making a movie with his readers.


Let’s talk about the business behind the art. What does a bestselling author like yourself spend his earnings on? Do you invest in any particular projects?

Personally I have a foundation called the Paulo Coelho Foundation, which takes care of underprivileged children in Brazil, my home country, but other than that I am very conservative with my money. No big investments. Yes, I have a house in Dubai, but I’m not going to invest in major property developments anytime soon. I just put the money in the bank. One day I am going to need it. For the moment, I am working hard not because I need the money – thank God I have money that I can live on for three generations – but because my passion is being a writer. I was rich when I was a hippy and I had $200 (Dh734) in my pocket, when I could travel from New York to Mexico on that amount. It’s not how much money you have, it’s what you do with it.


You’re referred to as the top best-selling author. So are you richer than JK Rowling?

(Laughs) No, she’s definitely richer than me. She is number one; I’m number two.


What do you think of books like The Secret, in which the authors have been accused of making money out of vulnerable readers?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with making money out of art. There is the idea that to do art you have to starve to death, but why should this be so? What I think is important is you have to be responsible for what you write and know God is watching. If you’re manipulating people, you’re going to pay the price.


So, you participated at the fourth Dubai International Film Festival’s Cultural Bridge Panel where you were the keynote speaker. What did it involve?

One of the few bridges left intact today is the cultural one, and at the moment nobody is capable of understanding each other because there are a lot of prejudices going on around the world. When people talk about the clashes of civilisations, I think it is just an invention of the media. I don’t think there are any clashes. And thanks to the Cultural Bridge segment at the festival, we can show this through art. I may not understand the political system or economics, but I understand things through stories.


What made you agree to take part?

I use my position as a writer to voice my opinion and try to make a difference. It’s easy to knock the [political] system, but at the end of the day, the system is me, it’s you, it’s everybody. Unfortunately things are not easy at the moment, thanks to politicians such as George Bush. But I have to stress that is not the Americans in general, because you cannot blame Americans for what is happening in the world. You should blame America’s CEO. Thanks to him, everything is a mess.
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