A year ago, I wrote a blog post about my ventures of turning books into movies. I stumbled across that post a few weeks ago and realized a lot has happened and an update might be offer more insight into how the whole film biz works.
What follows is part old post/part new post. My updates are inserted in italics.
I never intended to spend so much of my time ushering books into movies. Oh, I know that most authors pine to see their books turned into film. But I also know what an arduous journey it is. Thus rendering my enthusiasm lukewarm.
A Few Books into Movies
Knowing this is true of me, you may be surprised to learn that I’ve had a hand in the following:
- This year marks the third Christmas season in a row in which Robin Jones Gunn’s Father Christmas movies set new records for viewership on Hallmark’s Movies and Mysteries channel. Each year the latest iteration of Father Christmas exceeds the viewership of the film released the year before.
How the Film Industry Rolls–Or Doesn’t
- I’m one contract addendum away from being able to announce a client’s novel series being turned into a Netflix TV series.
So here’s the update. At the beginning of one week I received a call from one of the producers who announced that by the end of the week, we’d get the green light to start production. When she called later that week, I expected her to tell me the details about the production. Instead, she told me that Netflix nixed the film deal. New executives had been placed at the head of the Netflix division working on our deal. The new staff told the producers: “We can’t imagine anyone being interested in viewing this series.” Yeah, that’s how this industry rolls.
- Another project is close to being put into production by Reese Witherspoon’s film company, Hello Sunshine.
Update: A year later, this production is no closer to being green lighted. The problem? Funding. The producers envision this being a theatrical release, and that means a big budget. The production company just renewed the film option; so it’s still a viable project, but without funding, the pic is nowhere. So we wait some more. This film has been almost a yes for years now.
Here’s a peek behind the scenes of turning books into movies. I’ve learned the following lessons:
Patience is Imperative
Just because interest is expressed in your work, don’t expect quick results.
My client with the potential Netflix deal signed a shopping agreement with a production company in 2013. All parties involved hope shooting will begin on the TV series spring of 2019.
Update: The producers didn’t even hit pause when Netflix dropped out. Instead, they hit the rewind button and immediately made phone calls to get appointments to pitch the project to other venues. One plus of Netflix’s initial interest is that they funded getting a script written and hired someone to do so who is well-established in the industry; so having his name attached to the project plus having a script to hand to interested parties puts this project in a much better position to get picked up than it had when it was just an interesting concept.
The Father Christmas films began when I sent a copy of the novella Finding Father Christmas to a producer who worked regularly on Hallmark Christmas films. It took ten years to move from writing the novella to sending in that book to a movie being shot.
Get Rich Quick?
Considering the long haul to even reach the point of a film being produced, both the author and the agent have to keep a big picture perspective on not only the timing of a movie but also seeing financial gain. The largest payments tend to come when actual shooting takes place. Waiting five years or more for the book to be turned into a movie isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme.
And sometimes even when the book does reach the point of being made into a movie, the payout may not be what a writer would think. Depending on how the film is distributed, if a major film studio becomes involved, or a major actor attached to the work, the author’s payoff varies wildly. Ultimately, the possibility of getting rich at all is very slim.
Holding It All Loosely
An author must be prepared to hold his creative efforts loosely when it comes to turning books into movies. Once a scriptwriter is unleashed on your book, it’s his imagination and intent that lead the way. Details an author would view sacrosanct must be released.
When Robin and I had our first conversation with the producers about changes to expect in the Finding Father Christmas story, our jaws dropped. The novella takes place in England, with the Father Christmas character and the setting playing a significant role in the story.
But in the film, the story was set to take place in Vermont.
And Santa Claus would be the Christmas character, not Father Christmas.
After that phone call, Robin and I wondered why the producers had even bothered to option the novella only to cut the core out of the story.
Truth Shines Through
But eventually we came to see that the essence of the story was left in tact. The concepts of longing to belong, the search for identity, and the willingness to forgive survived to shine brightly when the film was done.
The scriptwriter, we noted, surgically removed all the faith elements. But the concepts of loving unconditionally, opening our hearts to others, and having the courage to ask hard questions were so embedded in the story that they remained through the script’s iterations.
But the author must accept that she is releasing her story wholeheartedly to be fashioned into a film that others envision based on the book.
Look for the Blessings
When Robin and I visited the set for the filming of Finding Father Christmas, we didn’t know what to expect. We were prepared to be viewed as always in the way, as the crew rushed about to meet the aggressive filming schedule.
Instead, we were given directors’ chairs and headsets, and positioned right behind the director, as we watched the monitors that displayed what each camera was capturing.
Then one of the actors found her lines in a scene not true to whom she thought her character was. The director, listening to her concerns, cast his eyes about and asked, “Where are the writers? They need to change the lines.” Just like that, Robin and I found ourselves offering suggested changes to the script. (The director didn’t always remember we weren’t really the writers of the script, but we decided not to correct him.)
Much to our surprise, when the climactic scene was filmed, Robin and I both cried–as if we had no idea what the scene contained. In actuality, we were overcome to see that powerful moment come to life before our very eyes. It’s one thing to read (or write) a novel. It’s another to see actors take words written by the author and make them their own.
Maybe This Isn’t Such a Bad Gig After All…
So, yeah, the road to a film is long, arduous. And full of moments when the author needs to let her creative work fly away to a land the writer never envisioned. But the joy of watching a book turn into a movie is unparalleled.
And Here’s One Final Update
Any day now I expect to receive a fully executed film option for another Robin Jones Gunn Hallmark Christmas movie based on Secrets,a book she wrote in 1994. Books into movies hadn’t even entered our heads as a fairy tale back in that day. Which just gets to show, you never know what God might choose to do with a good story.
Which of your books do you most long to see made into a movie? Do you think you could hold your creative work loosely enough to see others transform it into what they envision? What do you wonder most about how the book-into-a-movie works?
What’s it like to have your book turned into a movie? Click to tweet.
Books into movies. Is it as glamorous as it sounds? Click to tweet.