Alumni Andrew Chapman Talks House of Cards

Alumni Andrew Chapman Talks House of Cards

Writer Andrew Chapman, ’83, isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. When he received a rewrite of a script he had sold for $1 million, he poured vodka on it and set it on fire. Chapman’s latest project was born out of a desire to “write whatever the hell I want.” His new book, “The Ascendant,” tells the story of an underground economic war between China and the U.S.

A veteran of television writing and a self-proclaimed “noob” when it comes to book publishing, Chapman’s career has given him unique insight into the entertainment world.

House of Cards

Netflix original series like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” have been met with critical acclaim. But is this new model of programming sustainable?

“House of Cards is very successful if you count awards and buzz. But you have to remember they spent $100 million to create the first season,” Chapman said. “And they will not release numbers on how many people actually watched it.”

But, according to Chapman, Netflix doesn’t care about ratings. They are counting on buzz to gain subscribers. So when you are talking about how great House of Cards is, they expect your friends to give them their money the next day.

Niche Programming

 Chapman wrote an ABC spy series series called “The Assets,” but even with 2.9 million viewers, it was pulled from the air (it will return in May). But platforms such as Netflix can be good for both writers and viewers.

“You are going to get more and more niche broadcasting … You’re going to to be able to find  that very specific show that you’re interested in. That’s the future.”

After The Assets returns to ABC, it will make its way to Netflix. And according to Chapman, that’s when the show will find it’s real audience.

Being a Michigan Student

Chapman was a history major, with a minor he can’t quite remember. But his most valuable learning moments were outside the classroom, with the other educational opportunities being a Michigan student provides.

“I spent almost all of my four years there (Michigan) at the Michigan Daily, as a reporter and then as an editor. I just loved it … What I was majoring in was immaterial– it was always just about writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

In his senior year, he wrote a series of articles exploring the admissions process for student athletes. It won “a bunch of awards,” but according to him, it didn’t make him very popular on campus.

The Story of the Sea Wolf

One screenplay Chapman remembers in particular is “The Sea Wolf,” a modern retelling of the Jack London story of the same name. In Chapman’s version, a Wall Street executive is picked up by a modern-day pirate off the coast of Long Island after a fishing accident.

After a few years of the screenplay being under option, Columbia Pictures bought it in a bidding war for $1 million dollars.

“I was 28 years old and all of sudden I had made a million dollars. It was a totally freaky situation for me, it blew my mind.”

But when the studio brought in the director, Chapman was fired right away.

“In a classic Hollywood fashion, the director never even met me–never even talked to me–he just fired me right away. I was like ‘What? You just paid me a million dollars, you can’t just fire me!’ But they can.”

The screenplay has been undergoing re-writes for over 15 years, and even though Chapman will stand to make money if it ever hits theaters, he won’t like the finished product.

“God only knows what the script looks like now. I remember reading one of the drafts and just being completely devasted. I poured vodka all over it and set it on fire.”


Check out Andrew’s new book, “The Ascendent,” and look for a show based on it to premiere on FOX in the future.

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