Dreams of a #Writer: Insight on Turning a #Book into a #Movie

One of my life’s ambitions is to turn at least one of my stories into a movie. In my head, I’ve cast characters, picked out background music, and envisioned settings that would make anyone wish to live in the neighborhoods.  Then there’d be the fans that post rave reviews which prompt others to rush out to buy the book.  But somehow the shelves can never stay stocked.  And there’s the plethora of interviews with news outlets and nominations for awards.  The thrill and possibility of it all gives me goose bumps!

While it’s great to dream and I am a positive thinker, I’d be remiss if I didn’t consider the quirks and adversities that could come.  So to understand the book-to-movie progression, I did some digging.   Below is what I’ve learned.

The most important piece to this endeavor is an intriguing story that grabs the attention of readers and hopefully book-to-film agents.  In addition, Monica M. Clark (The Write Practice) offers the following advice:

•  Describe your setting in great detail
•  Create memorable minor characters
•  Don’t write a novel so that it will become a movie

The last point stumped me…or maybe it just shocked me.  At any rate, I see this from varying perspectives. One, it can be disappointing (and very time-consuming) to write something and it goes nowhere – no book deal, no movie, no nothing. Two, even if the book is successful, it doesn’t mean Hollywood will bang down the door.  Three, what’s wrong with having a dream or mission of turning a book into a movie?  At the very least, a writer could make a low-budget production and upload to YouTube.  This could fulfill the dream or it just might spark the attention of an agent.  You never know.

After the compelling story is complete, it’s time to move through the book-to-film process (as outlined by Jane Friedman). There are four steps, which are:

•  Pitch
•  Option
•  Development
•  Production

Just like it sounds, this is where the book-to-film agent is wowed with your story.  Your literary agent will navigate the waters and pitch the story to their resource (i.e. an agent with a production company or studio).   If the agent is interested, on to the next steps.

For those that self-publish, it may take more hobnobbing and creativity to get an inside connection or the attention of a book-to-film agency, but it’s not entirely impossible.  Look at Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  Both were originally self-published.

Production companies/studios will either buy the rights to film or go the option route.  An option is when the production company/studio pays an amount to the writer while they consider making the movie or not.  As Jane mentioned, “very few options ever result in movies, meaning the option payment is rather like free money”.  While the writer may not balk at a pocket full of free money, it’s still disappointing when the book doesn’t make it to the big screen.  It’s like telling a kid you’re going to Disney World – watching the hope and excitement in his/her eyes as you hand over the tickets.  Then come back a week later to say you’re not going.  That’s so emotionally deflating, it’s like a balloon losing air.

In the chance that the production company/studio is ready to move forward, there are terms and conditions to consider. When negotiating, be wary of the rights you give. If you plan to write another book, make sure the contract you have with the production company/studio spells everything out.  Otherwise, they may attempt to gain access to your future work which could conflict with your publishing rights.

After the contracts are signed, the next step is finding a screenwriter who will work magic on the book by adapting it to film. This can be a cumbersome process and in most cases the writer is not involved (unless the heavens opened and a beam of favor falls down). 🙂  In all seriousness, many literary agents do not advise their clients get involved.  I imagine this is because the production company/studio has a vision, and the writer may derail this with input.  Then again,  a writer could get upset if certain things from their book are stricken or altered in a way almost unrecognizable.  So to keep the peace, it may be best for the writer to take a backseat.

Once the production company/studio gives the green light and financial resources procured, it’s time to put more pieces of the puzzle together.  This include the selection of talent (i.e. actors), finding or creating the set/props, ensuring appropriate permits are obtained, and so on. Now the cameras can roll.

With everything mentioned above and further research, it hasn’t deterred me from considering a book-to-movie deal.  I feel more aware of what is needed should the opportunity arise, which is a good start.  However, my focus is more on my writing and getting it on shelves. So for now, I’ll keep dreaming of the big screen.


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