Friday, October 09, 2009

Books as Movies

I am writing because my father has recently written a book that I think would make a terrific movie. I would like to help my dad, however I am not sure what the proper procedures are in getting a book made into a movie. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

While you didn’t say this in your question, I do want to point out that I know somewhere along the way we’ve discussed that books and movies are two separate worlds and writing a book that would make a great movie does not necessarily mean it will make a great book, just as great books don’t necessarily translate into movies (let alone great movies).

However, if you are unpublished and want to hit two markets at once, both the book and the film market, then what you’re going to have to do is write the script and submit that, separately from the book, to film agents and production companies. I’m sure there are people who read this blog who can give much better advice than I can on this subject, so I’ll avoid saying anything further.

When a book is published and picked up by a film company the company typically hires a scriptwriter to make your book into a film. When you are unpublished that’s typically your job. Either you need to pay a scriptwriter to turn the novel into a script or you need to learn scriptwriting and do it yourself.



Kimber An said...

I suggest the book

SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder to get this person started.

It's an awesome book on screenwriting. It helped me as a book writer because structuring a story is a huge weakness for me. For some reason, it just clicked for me. Here's the website too-

Kimber An said...

P.S. I have no interest in becoming a screenwriter and couldn't care less if my stories make it into film.

Malia Sutton said...

I second Kimber An...learning to write a screenplay isn't easy, but there are a lot of books out there that help you do it. And it really does help you as a writer, especially when it comes to dialogue.

Amalia T. said...

The timing of this post is genius. My uncle called me up and said the same thing about one of my books. I wasn't sure what to make of it-- but I know that if I had to choose, I'd rather have a book than a movie.

Anonymous said...

I'm honestly confused by the advice in this post. The writer is unpublished, and has written a novel. It seems to me the most logical advice would be to submit to agents, concentrating on those with good film sales records if the writer feels strongly about that. But to try to get a screenplay accepted, with no experience, and based on the "my daughter really likes my story and thinks it would be a great movie!" evidence seems an unlikely route to success.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 11:16:

There's no guarantee of success in any form. Just because the author wrote a novel doesn't mean the novel is any good either. I'm not trying to imply it's not, I'm just saying that just because you wrote it doesn't mean it will sell.

If the author truly believes the book would make a great movie then maybe the movie route is the one to explore. Maybe it's a great movie and not a great book.

Trying to get a book accepted without any experience isn't much easier then trying to get a screenplay accepted.


Laura Cross said...

Writing a screenplay requires a completely different set of skills then writing a book. It can take years of scriptwriting to churn out a good screenplay. And trying to sell a spec script in this market is challenging. I suggest getting an agent to sell the book, and then working with the agent to sell the film rights. If the film rights are optioned, the studio, or production company, or producer will hire a professional screenwriter to create the script.

All the best with your endeavor!

Anonymous said...

Jessica, I absolutely agree there is no proof the novel is any good. But the writer has finished that, at least, and if it is good, then it should find an agent and a publisher. And then if it truly is movie-worthy, screenplay etc. can go from there. (And there's not any reason the writer must sell rights if he believes he'd be the best person to write the screenplay, after all. The writer retains whatever rights he doesn't sell.)

I guess since he has a finished product, which might not be good, it makes sense to try to find an agent (and therefore publication) rather than starting the new and entirely different endeavor of working on a screenplay next. Especially since, as you correctly pointed out, that might not be good, either. It strikes me as saying, well, I made this blueberry pie, but I think it would make a terrific cake, so the baker makes that without ever cutting into the pie.

My point is, the book is done, and the screenplay is merely an idea with a lot of work ahead. Why not see if the book is any good first? Sure, it might not be, and yes, either way is a tough road--but the first part of one tough road has been traversed. Might as well follow that out at least a ways before going back to the beginning. (Not to mention that writing novels and screenplays are entirely different skillsets.)

Haste yee back ;-) said...


First, take a look at William Morris/Endeavor agency. They have a dept specializing in finding lit projects they can turn into film! But you may as well spit into a Hurricane, cuz your chances are slim. UNLESS you're already a big money draw. See, Hollywood likes guaranteed sales, meaning, assured butts in the seat before they shoot one frame of film. (And you get a guaranteed sale by having a following, J.K. Rowling syndrome).
There are other agencies in H'wood that handle literary works. Some Guild Sig, some not. Look them up. Research carefully. You, may, or may not be able to pitch your idea, AND they may buy it! Chances - near zero to minus, but, hell, take a chance. All they can say is no. And no don't hurt - at least to me anymore!
Hollywood has Signatory Agencies and Indie producers. Sig Agencies abide by the WGA rules and there's less hanky-panky. But, they're much harder to approach. (Will Mo/Endeavor is guild sig).
Now, there are all kinds of indie production companies. Which means you have all kinds of opportunities to get screwed, abused, mislead, lie to, etc... This is true SHARK territory where play is fast and loose!
As I see it, you have two choices.
1) Write the book, see if you can get it successfully published! ie... makes money, lots of it!
2)Write the screenplay. Hope you can find a Guild Sig Agent to take it on... Chances - about as good as a tomato turnin' into a teapot!
I wish I could be more hopeful, but this is the reality of your undertaking.
HOWEVER -- YOU may be the one out of a million capable of turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. I dunno! Write the thing in the format most comfortable to you and get on with it.
Run from anyone who says, "Hey, I know someone or have connections who can set you up, just give me XXXXX $$$'s and you're golden!
Neither publishing or screenplay production is EASY!
Do your research and I really wish you had a brother or sister who happens to be an Entertainment Lawyer who owns Dobermans or Pit Bulls!

Haste yee back ;-)

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

If you've got a finished book, I would try to get it published first. For one thing, more books are published per year than movies are released. (Approx 170,000-190,000 versus 700-800, according to a quick and unscientific google search.) For another, as much time and effort goes into making a book, it's still cheaper than the 20 to 60 million it costs to make a mid-level Hollywood movie. That's assuming your book isn't a sci-fi or fantasy extravaganza that's going to cost hundreds of millions in special effects.

A studio or production company is much more likely to risk money on you if you come with a built-in fan base. And if you're approaching producers, you'll get more respect as a published author than as a wanna-be screenwriter.

If you want a crash course in screenplays, there's a whole library of them over at that'll give you an idea of structure and format.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

There's no reason to perpetuate negative stereotypes of pits and dobies just to make a point.

Anonymous said...

Agree with anon 11:16 AM. The first question should have been whether the dad has been able to get an agent or a publisher with this "book?" And then, let the agent sell the film rights. But it is probably safer to assume the writer meant that their dad wrote a manuscript that wasn't good enough to get an agent to rep it and so now they're thinking of turning it into a screenplay.

Or worse, they're hoping some talented film student will write it for free.

Bad thinking.

The recession has made publishing a bit tougher but it has made the film industry MUCH tougher. Article today about how Sony has stopped buying scripts. Indie filmmaking is also dry due to lack of funding and distribution.

People, the way the film business works is this - you do not sit in some state in the middle of the country and mail in screenplays. It is a meeting business. If you start your career with winning some contest, you'll be expected to move to a major film center.

And if that is your dream and you're young and starting out, pursue it. But stop with this "oh, it's not selling as a book so I'll sell it as a screenplay." Big waste of your valuable time.

Anonymous said...

Well, let me very nicely say that production companies and film agents generally don't care if YOU think your book will be a great movie. They have literary scouts employeed at their companies who bring these things to their attention.

Usually a book has to be very commercial and also have a huge folowing.

There are thousands of poeple with film school degrees in LA that can't get a producer or agent to sign them or read their screenplays. To act as if you, who hasn't even gotten a book deal yet, can get a movie deal too is sort of a bizarre way of thinking.

Regardless, its one of those things where THEY come to you, not the other way around.

On the other hand, writing an orignial spec script is indeed a different skill set (as others have stated) but finding an agent for a spec screenplay is much harder than finding a book agent.

Amalia T. said...

I just want to add something that I don't think has been touched on at all, and really, to me, has been a key issue:

If you want to try to turn your book into a screenplay, it can be an INCREDIBLE exercise. When my family member mentioned the idea to me, my first response was, I don't have any idea how to write a screenplay. That isn't my thing. But I'm also trying to do revisions, and if there's anything we all know, it's that revisions can be hard when you're too close to your work-- when you've read it and reread it a million times, it's hard to see the errors and the things that have to go. But altering the format of the book into a screenplay as a challenge (which may or may not result in something viable) can be a great way to see the book in a new way, through a new lens, and help you to find the changes you need to make to create a better book and tighten up your plot!

I can't tell you how helpful it's been for me, as an exercise. So maybe your serious about trying to get something made into a movie or maybe you're not, but the Writing Exercise, and the Challenge of seeing your book in a new way is, in my opinion, worth taking on to help improve yourself as a writer, and your book as a story.

Mira said...

I agree with many of the above posters - I don't know for sure, but I think it is even harder to sell a screenplay than a book. You'd probably have a better chance of turning the book into a movie, so if he could get published, that would help.

But I have another suggestion.

I think you may want to celebrate your father's story.

If you don't care about the money and fame part of things, you could set up a blog about your father's life. Include audio-visual. You could even create a video yourself and post that on a blog or you-tube. I know that's not as 'block-buster' as a movie, but it would still reach people, and touch them, and be a wonderful acknowledgement to your father.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Anon 1:22...

1)Dismiss my point then!

LOL, I was recently called a "Hick" because I have a German Shorthaired pointer - yer everday bird dog - which I intend to hunt! (But then, she and I were using our real names), so we sorta understood each other. Who knows, if you come out, maybe we could be friends - Love new friends...

Have the courage to stand behind your words. If you wanna take a shot at me, at least let me know the caliber your usin'! :)

Haste yee back ;-)

Lorelei Armstrong said...

AstonWest said...

Myself, I'd recommend The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier.

Cat Spaulding said...

The cart before the horse. As a journalist, people hand me manuscripts every week for an evaluation, saying, "This will make a terrific movie." Very sad.

Anonymous said...

I have to draw attention to this part of Jessica's post, which is bad advice:

"...Either you need to pay a scriptwriter to turn the novel into a script or you need to learn scriptwriting and do it yourself..."

Nothing wrong with taking up screenwriting, but you do not "pay" a screenwriter (they aren't called scriptwriters) to turn your book idea into a movie. Screenwriters are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by movie studios to adapt (already published) books into screenplays. Books that those studios have paid moeny to obtain the options rights, with contracts and lawyers involved.

Unless you have a spare hundred thousand dollars lying around, no serious screenwriter is going to do this for you, nor would they do it for an unpublished book that a movie studio is not involved with. Sorry. At least you had the balls to ask, though. Most people don't.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

It is not necessarily true that you have to pay a screenwriter hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yes, if your book has been optioned by a studio or top producer, they will have to pay a screenwriter their going rate to get a screenplay. Those are the rules of the WGA (I'm a member). However, it is entirely possible to find a non-WGA writer and pay them little or nothing to have a screenplay written. If your story has an extremely low budget, there are even systems in place within the WGA that will allow a WGA writer to work on a script for little or no money.

What is worth remembering is that writing a good screenplay is vastly harder than most people realize. There are reasons that top universities offer master's degrees in screenwriting. It's harder than it looks.