For years I have been getting queries from writers, published and unpublished, who inquire how they can get their books made into movies. Most of them are unrepresented by agents or are self-published aspiring and hopeful writers new to the game.
It is, of course, a crucial career question since it does represent the proverbial home run for a writer to have his or her work adapted into a movie, and disseminated through such a ubiquitous and all-powerful medium, especially if it is a hit.
The questioners are often absolutely certain that they have written a book that is a surefire movie hit if only they can get the right person to read it and validate their judgment.
It is a typical “hopes and dreams” question, sadly unanswerable, and in the same category of those who ask for the magic formula that will make one “rich and famous,” as if such an outcome is assured if they could only be pointed in the direction of the “yellow brick road.” Never mind that we all know where that road ends up.
While there is no metric available, I know for certain that there must be thousands, perhaps multi-thousands of books circulating throughout the entertainment industry along with an equal number of scripts, treatments, plays, and outlines, their eager authors determined to blast their way into a viable film deal.
Their objective is to get the attention of agents, stars, producers, financiers, or anyone that might have the clout to push the go button and get the green light for a traditional theatrical film or television program. To add to this mix are the thousands of actors, writers, producers, and others with their own deals with studios and financing entities who choke the pipeline with their pet projects to keep their careers viable. Many of them have multiple projects in “inventory,” and there is an army of so-called “scouts” hired to feed these entities with material that may or may not be ready for development. Many of these projects have been on the back burner for years or lost in the maze of what is called development hell.
An army of energetic agents with industry connections are in the first line of this sales attack and are certain to get the first bite of the apple with buyers of material, while the remainder of wannabes fight for scraps.
What keeps the system alive is that it cannot operate without what every entity thinks is viable material for adaptation, a subjective opinion that is too often based on what has just made skillions of dollars in box office receipts, a trend subject to copy cat production that too often ends in financial disaster.
It is no secret that the major studios lose money on most of their offerings, and hope that a single hit will bring home the bacon to feed the entire machine. The same is true of television. If a series doesn’t catch, it’s bye-bye time no matter how great the idea was in the mind of the greenlighter. They are often wrong, not because they are fools, which they might be, but because the public is constantly in flux, like bees flitting from flower to flower in search of the most alluring nectar.
None of these facts will daunt the true believers in their talent and material that will join the free-for-all until they are bludgeoned and bloodied and run out of time or energy. I often advise those who come my way to bolster their psychological immune system to ward off the deadly virus of rejection and press on. Surrender, as my hero Winston Churchill opined, is never an option.
After all, someone does win the lottery and such knowledge, despite the odds, sustains a wannabe or a has-been. It is true that a listed best seller has a better chance to be considered for adaptation, but many such choices, despite their notoriety, have bombed at the box office.
It is difficult to explain this reality to an eager questioner who believes he or she has created a work of genius. My usual answer is to advise them to find a way to attract the attention of the “Hollywood agentry,” those intrepid and seasoned soldiers whose experience and contacts are geared to gain the attention of stars, producers, studios, writers and the entire gaggle of entrepreneurs who put their judgment on the line and find the money to reach the entertainment marketplace. But they, too, are subject to the whims of a fickle public.
It is at this point that I must take a sharp u-turn and point out that I have been discussing how tough it is to get into the giant razzle-dazzle big tent of Hollywood. It just may be that the future for story adaptation lies within the little tents, perhaps millions of them world-wide that have sprung up beyond that big tent, spaces filled by imaginative creative people, filmmakers, writers, actors and others in the trade who are finding myriad ways to circumvent the system with inventive new ideas requiring new material from creative writers. Indeed, the real future for novelists may be in venues yet to come made possible by technology that might be just beginning to emerge.