Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Film! They want my book! This is good, right?

I work in the film industry - specifically theatrical marketing, producing movie trailers and promos. A few colleagues and friends, who work on the production side for major studios, have expressed serious interest in reading my manuscript once it's complete. They are interested in possibly optioning it as a movie. I feel that if a film studio is interested in my manuscript, it might be easier to get an agent. At the same time, I'm hesitant to send my completed manuscript to a major film studio without having an agent representing me. It's a conundrum for me and I was hoping to get your thoughts on the matter.

Does this situation fall into the same forbidden category as 'Pitching to Editor / Publishers First' or is it different since it's film?


DO NOT SEND YOUR MANUSCRIPT OUT TO ANYONE until you have secured representation, particularly to anyone in the world of film.

I'm sure your friends have the best of intentions. I'm sure they're honorable folk. Sadly, y'all work in a snake pit and I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

It is NOT easier to get an agent if there's "film interest." If anything it's harder here cause we have a film department and they don't want something people have already seen. Other agents also want a fresh slate. Something that's been seen is NOT that.

And unless your friends have the money and connections to actually get films MADE, optioning your script is just useless twaddle. I can't tell you the number of people who've slunk by my office hoping to option my client's books. Asked how much they're willing to pay, the answer is often "ummm....pay??" and that's a total non-starter.

Finish the book.
Get an agent.
In that order.

There are exceptions. You're not going to be one.


Amy Johnson said...

I haven't had any film folk express any interest in any of my stories. Still, I'm struck by how fortunate we Reiders are to have all the do-not-do-thises and here-is-what-you-says that we get here. Thank you, Queen.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My kid is in the film industry too, on the production side, and she would give this same advice. It’s a cut-throat industry and an option means diddly. In fact, even promoses that sound sincere - less than meaningless. Everything must be in writing in legally binding language. You need an agent and one that knows the film industry well. It is a nest of vipers best approached with a shark with a very large bite radius.

I am so glad the kid is back in New York. At least we’re back in same time zone. Good luck, OP. Write your book, get a good agent, and move on from there.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If ever there was a book that should be made into a movie it's our Donna's THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET.
Since I am the first to say this here, I want a front row seat at the screening.

Kathy Joyce said...

Agree on BITTERSWEET. I love that there are so many outlets for books to movies/tv now. When will books to games/apps be a thing?

With film/tv rights sales, do authors get a take of the box office? Or, is their money in the rights sale and increased book sales? My real question: do movies make authors rich? (Once upon a time, I thought publishing a book made someone rich. Now I know better.)

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Yes on Bittersweet!

John Davis Frain said...

Some of the best movies are made from short stories since you can stay more true to the original story. Shawshank Redemption is a perfect example.

However, (okay, Stephen King is an exception) many short story writers don't have an agent because an agent is going to rep a short story unless that's an author they already rep, right?

So, this just makes me wonder about movie options for short stories. Not hamster-wheel worry, just curious.

I don't tend to answer phone calls when I don't recognize the number, and now I'm assuming several of those were from studios interested in optioning one of my stories for a feature film. (I mean, they couldn't be scams; I did the DNA thing, and we don't have any Nigerian princes in our family.)

Steve Stubbs said...

Great post. Publishing apparently is an unique exception, but the business world generally is a snake pit. I DO NOT approve of unethical conduct and do not play games, but have had some hilarious conversations with businessmen about the schemes they use to beat employees, customers, and vendors out of their money.

Business is business.

One local fellow grew arrogant enough to try to beat the tax man and ended up in prison.

Business Rule #1: Play square with the tax man.

An option should be worth a few thousand dollars more than OP will receive from any publisher. Elise is mistaken that "an option means diddly." The diddly part is, there is almost zero likelihood it will be produced, and film rights are where the serious money is. If OP does not have an agent, s/he will probably get screwed out of the option money. I heard one story from days of yore (details redacted) in which they tried to CHARGE actors for the privilege of starring in a a hit TV show instead of paying them a salary. So yes, anyone who deals with these characters needs an honest and competent agent.

Business is business.

One thing that should be added is that authors sometimes get offers on the phone from producers who are trying to do an end run around the agent. OP should be careful of that even if s/he is agented. Be polite and say, "Please call my agent. The Shark handles money matters."

Julie Weathers said...

My mother and I were talking about Hollywood last night. One of the foster mothers she lived with had been an actress back in the early 30's. She had an affair with the director, got pregnant and that was the end of her career. She sat around crying all the time and blaming her beautiful daughter for her ruined life even though a very good man married her and gave her and the baby a home.

My rodeo champion uncle went to Hollywood and made one movie at the request of producers who found him at Madison Square Garden. He took one look at Hollywood and went back to Montana. Couldn't wait to get away from those people.

Hollywood has always been a pit one way or the other.

It will surprise few to know the film rights to Outlander have been optioned for years. Diana did retain some control over what was done with her work and people would come and go with ideas about how to produce it. Ron Moore finally "got" the story.

I think an author having much say is probably unusual.

Norman MacLean turned down all movie offers for A River Runs Through It for years.

Bittersweet most likely needs to be a movie.

I wonder if a person didn't want their book made into a movie if that would affect if an agent wanted to offer representation.

Regardless, I wouldn't swim in those shark infested waters of Hollywood without a bigger shark advocating for you.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Steve What I meant by option is worth diddly is you better get it in writing and make sure everything is properly negotiated. That is why it is best to go through an agent to make sure you don’t sign away your brain child for a $100 and find it twisted into something else to which you get 0 cut.

My kid understood going in and made sure she had everything in writing. It is why she got properly paid both in front and behind the camera. Hollywood is ugly. My daughter said LA made New York look like the freaking Garden of Eden. Although that may have more to do with her love of New York more than her distaste for Hollywood. There are snakes on both coasts and they do require something bigger and scarier than them to deal with the intracacies of film rights.

CynthiaMc said...

I know of one screenwriter who made a living optioning his scripts (make sure they pay you for it - never let them have it for free).

Winston Groom, who wrote Forrest Gump, is from my hometown (well, a couple of tiny towns over, but considered part of the overall area). Word around town is he got screwed as far as the movie was concerned. I don't know him, but I wouldn't be surprised. It is a snake pit.

Be very careful of any project that says you get paid "once expenses are met." They never will be.

Sam Mills said...

I also know somebody who used to make money dashing off scripts--lots of options, nothing ever went into production as far as I'm aware. It was generally one studio grabbing them up cheap just in case, rather than see them go elsewhere. He didn't care, as none were heart projects.

Nothing pains me more than seeing one of my favorite books languish in option-land. Peter Jackson optioned Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels (Napoleonic War with dragons, draaaagoonnss) and as far as I'm aware nothing's happened since 2009. Agony!

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks a lot for this OP's question and the advice on it. Definitely very helpful!!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Kinda related but I'm so happy that Artemis Fowl is out of option purgatory and now greenlit for movie production. Judi Dench will play Commander Root! Yeah, baby :)

Steve Stubbs said...

E.M. Goldsmith said...
Steve What I meant by option is worth diddly is you better get it in writing

Hi Elise,

Well, yes. Lawyers have all these little proverbs I like. One of them is, "A verbal agreement is not worth the paper it's printed on."

That's why you need an egent.

One of their others I have always liked is, "What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."

Make sure you have an agent with good eyesight. And never sign a blank sheet of paper ("We'll fill in the details later.")

I think it is important not to be bitter. I don't approve of what people do, and choose not to be that way. But they see it as a game. What's theirs is theirs and what's your is up for grabs.

If you want a hilarious read about the business world, read Robert Ringer's bestseller on how to win in business by intimidating everybody.

It's not a theory. That book is autobiographical.

AJ Blythe said...

Cecilia, Artemis Fowl movie with Judi Dench (brilliant choice) - didn't know, but will tell Heckle when he gets home from school. He will be thrilled to hear!

Elissa M said...

Ohhh, yeah. I worked on a film once. Big studio. Big stars. Filming on location near where I lived, so I didn't even have to go to California. I thought I knew how bad it could be, but knowing isn't the same as actually experiencing. Never again.

And then there was the time my brother was the Dive Master for the film, "Men of Honor". The Hollywood folks literally fawned all over him because he was the real thing. They know their world is illusion, and they crave authenticity. But did my brother get anything for working on the movie? Nah. He was active duty. He got his regular Navy pay. And he had to shell out some money to join a union to actually get his name in the credits.

I'm not the least bit worried about anyone wanting to option anything I write. But you can be darn sure I'd have my (future) agent deal with that mess in any case.

Colin Smith said...

I am not one to get excited about books being made into movies. Not anymore, at least. I read the books, and my imagination is my director, producer, special effects designer, and handles the casting too. All for free! :) Not to say there's no place for movies in the arts. But I much prefer when the movies make original stories.

That said, I'm all for studios paying authors and their agents big bucks for film rights and royalties. Anything that enables writers to spend more time writing, and agents to spend more time agenting, the better!

Stacy said...

The snake pit actually looks better than my current industry. :(