So, let’s talk about movies.
People tend to get really excited about news of my books being adapted—and rightly so. I’d be very excited to someday see one of my properties turn into a film, and I think it’s inevitable that some day, we’ll see it happen. However, the process of a book becoming a film or television show is a long one, involving the input of a lot of people. And fans tend to get very excited when something is being developed, but often don’t realize that the stages of development can often take a long time.
I thought it might be helpful here to go over what some of those steps are, so you can get a better idea of how far along my various properties are. Understand that this is a rough guide, and individual properties might follow a different route. This is also kind of an outsider’s take on it all, as I don’t consider myself an expert in Hollywood. Those who know more about the ins and outs of the business would probably consider this a gross over-simplification.
Step One: Producers Option a Story
In Hollywood terms an “option” is kind of like a rental agreement. The most common way a story starts on its path to an adaptation is with an option. (Sometimes, there’s even a step before this called a Shopping Agreement.) Basically, someone (usually a producer, but sometimes a studio) comes in and offers to pay an author every year to “option” their work, meaning the producer/studio gets exclusive rights to make a film on that work. They don’t buy the rights completely, however. Usually, they set a buyout price, then pay 5/10% of that price every year or so to keep the option locked up. This gives them time to put all the other pieces together for a film without needing to commit to paying the full buyout price until they’re certain the film is going to happen.
My agent once told me that about 1 out of 30 of the properties he saw get optioned eventually got made into a film or show. An option is absolutely an important step, but a lot of times fans see an option agreement in place and start expecting a film any day—when really, this is just the first exploratory step in the process. Sometimes, producers even option rights they never intend on making into films. (I once had a producer brag to me that he—in order to make sure nobody in town was trying to sell something similar to his property—had bought up all rights to similar books for cheap, with the intention of sitting on them for five years to make sure he didn’t have any competition. I was not impressed, to say the least.)
Step Two: Screenplay
Usually, after the option agreement is signed, a screenplay is commissioned for a film. For a television show, it will either be a screenplay for a pilot, or some kind of series bible or “treatment,” a kind of outline that talks about the process the group would use in adapting the property.
This screenplay, treatment, or bible is what the producers will take around town to try to get studios, directors, and actors interested in a property. A book being successful is interesting to Hollywood, but what they rightly want to see is if that book can be made into a workable screenplay. Often, this process takes years, as a screenplay/teleplay will be commissioned—then go through several rewrites. Sometimes, the producers will decide to hire a second or even third screenwriter to do a pass on the script, if they decide it needs another take or specific revisions.
Step Three: Studio Interest
With screenplay in hand, the producers will approach the studios or larger production companies. (Or sometimes content distributors, like Netflix.) The goal here is to get interest from parties with deep pockets and the power to actually make a film. This step can occasionally be skipped if a studio was involved from the beginning. (This has happened with several of my properties.) Sometimes, the studio might be interested—but send the producers back to step three to do more revisions before offering any kind of official deal or promise of distribution. Sometimes, the producers will need to secure promises from multiple parties—like, for instance, they might get a smaller studio in the US interested, then have to get a foreign partner interested to provide funding for overseas distribution promises.
Step Four: Attaching Talent
With a screenplay in hand and the backing of a studio or similar group, the producers can now try to get a director or actor on board with the film. This crucial step will have a big influence on how/if the film will get made. Obviously, if you get a major director interested, that makes the studios sit up and take notice. Likewise if a major actor attaches to the project. For television, this often involves getting an established show runner attached. (In my experience, with television, sometimes this sort of thing happens in Step Two instead—with the showrunner being involved in the pitch documents. In that case, Step Three is the big one: getting someone big in the business to fund a pilot.)
Step Five: Actual Green Light
Finally, if all the pieces come together, you get what is called a green light. The film is scheduled for shooting, the studio commits a large chunk of money to the project, and people start getting hired. This is when the option actually gets exercised, and the author gets the payment for the contract they likely signed years and years ago. Once in a while, a group of producers will decide that the property they hold is big enough that (once their option period runs out) they decide to pay the buyout price to get more time to try to get the film made. Sometimes, instead, they’ll just agree with the author to extend the option period for another payment.
Step Six: Film Gets Made
I’ve never gotten here, but I hear it’s a lovely experience.