"HOW I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE VERSION BUT WHAT I THINK OF IT ANYWAY"
Joseph Heller Talks About Catch-22
For me, turning Catch-22 into a film was quite easy since I had nothing to do with it. I solved the problem very quickly back in 1962 by stepping out. I really didn't give a damn what happened to it once i sold it to Columbia Pictures and the first check cleared.
That may sound surprising, and maybe even corrupt, but I don't really think there are so many good movies made that I could have realistically expected a good one to be made out of my book. So I didn't care if they never made it at all, or if they put the Three Stooges in it.
Of course, I had to do a great job of acting during the next four or five years because most people I met were desperately concerned that "they" not spoil my book, or that "they do justice to it," and I had to pretend that I was equally concerned. But I really wasn't. I was so little concerned, in fact, that even though I had the right to do the first script - the studio didn't have to use it, just pay me for it - I very early waived that right. I didn't want to do a movie script of Catch-22 because then I would have to be concerned with what came out. And I knew that the script writer has very little control over a movie.
When the novel was published in 1961, inquiries about the stage rights and movie rights began to come in. There would be calls from producers and directors to my agent asking, "Are the movie rights available?" and she would say, "Yes" and they'd say, "I'll get back to you" and then she'd never hear from them again.
The truth was that nobody at any of the studios really wanted the rights to Catch-22 because the people who read for studios really don't read. They just read the best-seller lists, and what they like to buy are best-selling books or hit plays. Well, Catch-22, which never did make the New York Time's best-seller list, was like a blight to all of these studio executives, a plague, a swarm of gnats, because actors and directors began calling up in growing numbers and insisting that the studio buy Catch-22 and that they be allowed to make it. But the studios didn't want anything to do with it. In the first place, as I said, it was not a best seller. Secondly, these people at the top couldn't figure out what sort of book it really was. If any of them did try to read it, I'm sure they stopped at about page eight and said, "There's no love story here. What's missing from the plot is a girl who dies from leukemia in her early twenties and makes millions of dollars for us."