Write a book–any book–and I promise someone will say “is there going to be a movie?” Or “Why don’t YOU make a movie” (I guess because I bought that Flip video camera…)
There are a lot of misconceptions about the book business, but nothing compares to the misconceptions surrounding the book-to-movie process.
I’ve had three different film options with three different studios/production companies, and yet I still don’t know everything there is to know about how and why movies happen. But I’m going to share with you today what I do know in the hopes that maybe some of these misconceptions might go away for a day or two.
The very first thing you need to understand is that no two situations
are the same. This is where a lot of
the misconceptions come from, I think.
I say “authors don’t have the power or money to make a movie themselves” and you say but I read James Patterson is doing that!
I say “authors don’t have any input in the casting process” and you say but what about JK Rowling?
I say “authors have no control over the script” and you say but Susanne Collins wrote the screenplay for Hunger Games!
All of these are excpetions to the rule. All of them. And they’re all very good examples of…
TWO KINDS OF OPTIONS
Type 1: If the book is an established blockbuster on the scale of Harry Potter or Twilight when the movie deal is done then that author has far more control than usual because in that situation Hollywood NEEDS THEM.
If, like Susanne Collins, the author has a background in screenwriting then he or she might even get a shot at the script. (note: the Hunger Games script has been given to a Hollywood screenwriter for rewrites.)
These types of blockbusters are, by definition, very rare. So these types of movie deals are even rarer. They are anomolies, outliers, flukes. And they are the function of power and timing. If the deal is done before the book becomes a world-wide phenomenon, then the usual rules will likely apply (because those were the rules when the terms were negotiated.)
Type 2: If the book is not a mega-success at the time it’s negotiated or if the author is not a well-established movie draw (like Nicholas Sparks) then chances are that the author is not in a position of power.
Of course, sometimes there will be multiple studios interested which certainly helps the author, but for the most part things like script approval or producing credits are completely, 100% off the table.
Why? Because we’re book people, not movie people. Also, frankly, because Hollywood already has too many cooks in its kitchen. It takes millions of dollars to make a movie and with that come about a million hoops to jump through and people to please.
As my film agent explained to me during the Heist Society movie auction “No studio is going to invest millions of dollars in something and let the author keep the right to pull the plug on it.”
That’s why script approval is laughable for someone like me. That’s why–with VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS–no author is ever going to be involved in casting.
Really, it all depends on the terms of your…
If there is a studio or production company who likes your book and wants to make a movie from it, they can either buy the film rights outright or they can “option” the film rights.
A film option is like putting the book in layaway. They aren’t buying the right to make it into a movie; they’re buying the right to THINK ABOUT making it into a movie.
They don’t have to make it–not at all. But they have a set period of time (usually a year or 18 months) to think about it and, most importantly, work on a…
The script is king.
It doesn’t matter how well a book is doing; it doesn’t matter how awesome a book is; what matters in terms of getting a movie made is getting a script that people like and are willing to sign off on.
Because until the script is right, then there’s nothing to take to…
This is one more example of how things in this process can and will vary. After all, sometimes books are optioned with some kind of talent “attached” to the project. (Example: Miley Cyrus was attached to WINGS very early on.)
Sometimes the book is optioned with no talent officially attached and, instead, the producers will get the script just right then possibly take it to directors and then the director will work on casting.
There is no right way or best way or “guaranteed” way to get a movie made. Hollywood is not Oz. There are a whole lot of yellow brick roads and every one of them–every. single. one–is at the mercy of…
HEAT and TIMING
Let’s say there’s a really great script based on your favorite book… Let’s say there’s an actress who is amazingly talented, very charismatic, and utterly perferct for the role… So that actress is going to get the role, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. You see, if that actress is already booked up for the next three years, then odds are the studio isn’t going to wait on her.
Or maybe they can get their first choice actress but only at the same time as their third choice leading man?
Maybe your favorite actress had a movie bomb last weekend and the studio now sees her as box office Kryptonite?
Maybe the studio has three projects in the pipeline with another actress, so they’re far more concerned with making HER a big star…
What most people fail to see is that movies aren’t magic. Movies are very expensive investments and very practical endeavors. The producers, executives, and people in charge are going to make their decisions off of more than hair color, is what I’m trying to say.
Who’s cold? Who’s getting good buzz for a project that no one has seen
yet and who had a movie that tanked overseas? These are just a few of the factors that will go into the decision. And besides, the odds of the right director, the perfect
actress, the ideal location and leading man all being
available at the exact same time are pretty rare.
Talent matters, don’t get me wrong. But it seems to me that availablity and heat matter more.
SO WHY OPTION ANYTHING IF YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE FINISHED PRODUCT?
I can’t speak for every author, so I’ll just speak for myself.
I love movies. And walking into a dark theater and watching one of my stories up there on the screen is a dream I’ve had for ages. Do I want that movie to be GOOD? Of course. Do I personally have the power to make a movie happen (good, bad or otherwise)? No. I just don’t. And very, very, very few authors ever do.
The other reason most authors are willing to option their material is simple: a movie is basically a 2 hour commercial for the book. And
it’s in most author’s best interest to give the books the chance for that kind of
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Movies are made by hundreds of people doing just as many different jobs. And the odds of any movie getting made are oh-so-incredibly rare.
Of the writers I know, a fairly big percentage (I’d say maybe 75 or 80%) have things under option in Hollywood. Only a few will ever see anything actually made. Even once they finish a script and start talking to directors or signing stars, there are still a ton of factors that have to fall into place.
Basically, the odds of getting a movie made are long. The odds of getting a GOOD movie made are miniscule.
But we keep trying…
We keep trying all the time.