An exclusive extract from Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin by Pierre Assouline.
Chapter 12: The End of a Life, the Culmination of His Work 1973-1983
From then on, Hergé did not want to hear about film options. His position was expressed in a letter he wrote to a young reader unhappy after having seen the animated Temple of the Sun: “I don’t like Captain Haddock in the film. He doesn’t have the same voice as in the book.”
This remained Hergé’s stance in 1983 when he received one of those offers that, seemingly, could not be refused. At thirty-six, Steven Spielberg already had an impressive filmography—Duel, The Sugarland Express, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, and ET had all been international successes with record-breaking attendance and receipts. Despite his reservations, Hergé was impressed enough to give Spielberg’s proposal serious consideration and be flattered by the project.
Negotiations went on for months. Spielberg was European only in his passion for François Truffaut. About everything else he remained completely American. The contracts went back and forth between Los Angeles and Brussels and between their respective lawyers. Hergé was anxious lest Spielberg would Americanize his story too much and lose the spirit of his books. These fears were premature, because it was not at this point a question of the script nor of adaptation but only about business.
As Spielberg was to be both producer and director of the film, Hergé conceded more and more at the commercial level to give the project the best chance of succeeding at the artistic level. Making less was less important than making sure Tintin came out triumphant. Alain Baran, his private secretary, and Eric Osterweil, his lawyer in Brussels, did everything possible so that the Americans, represented by Kathleen Kennedy, would advance the project.
Spielberg’s demands were draconian. He wanted total control of the merchandising of the film, thus of the characters created by Hergé; he wanted to keep for himself the rights from the comic strips and any television series derived from them; and he wanted sole artistic and commercial control of the whole project. Hergé agreed.
At the moment of signing the contract for a thirty-month option, Hergé’s advisors realized that the Americans had added a new clause, stipulating that in case the screenplay ordered by Steven Spielberg from his collaborators was satisfactory, he, Spielberg, reserved the right to assign the making of the film to someone else. For Hergé such an eventuality was unacceptable. He had made all the financial concessions because Spielberg himself would be in charge of the film. It had been difficult enough for him to accept the fact that Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock would appear on hundreds of millions of objects, articles of clothing, and gadgets without Hergé’s receiving any benefit. But it was unthinkable that he would consent to allowing anyone else to make the film. Both parties went their separate ways. However, the business would not be a total loss.
Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin by Pierre Assouline is a brand new biography being launched this week in the UK and in the USA in a couple of week’s times. Published by Oxford University Press. It is available on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon.com.
Text (c) Pierre Assouline and used with permission.
Tintin is a registered trademark of Moulinsart, who are not associated with this book or this blog.