Screenwriting

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get My Book Onto A Screen?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get My Book Onto A Screen?

This is a question I see a lot from new writers – “Yeah, sure, I want to write a book, but everyone knows that the real money is in screen adaptations. How do I get that?”

The answer (take it from someone who has had a few close calls) is “not easily.” It can happen, but it is a very long process, with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and nothing that you can control until you are already a multi-billionaire who can afford to pay other people to adapt your work as a vanity project. (And even then, you still have to convince a team that your property is going to make them money for them to make it and distribute it.)

So, first things first –if you’re writing a book solely on the hope that someone will turn it into a movie/TV show, I would encourage you to consider that maybe you should be expending your energy on screenwriting instead of novel writing. If that’s where your heart lies, then follow that!

If your heart is still set on the idea of writing a novel, then I’m happy to outline the steps that a book takes from page to screen.

  • Write a novel.
    1. No, seriously.
    2. Write it. Finish it. Edit it. Polish it.
    3. People don’t license adaptation rights for unfinished works/ideas unless you are very, very famous and a proven cash cow. You wanna sell a thing? It generally has to be a FINISHED thing.
  • From the minute you write that novel, you own the copyright on the Intellectual Property (IP) of the world, characters, individual and particular details of the novel. In Canada, you don’t need to register it, but I believe you may in the USA.
  • Publish the book.
    1. You can self-publish it, or go the traditional route.
    2. The book has to be published, or filmmakers will never know it exists. Again, you need to prove that you can finish a thing, and they need the whole story to know what they’re agreeing to. Usually the whole SERIES, if there’s more than one.
  • When you publish a book with a publisher, they will not be buying your book, but paying you in royalties (and maybe advanced royalties if you’re lucky) for the right to license your IP and create a product called “a book” out of it.
    1. There will be subclauses for “a print book” and “an ebook”.
    2. There may also be subclauses for an “audiobook” if the publisher has an attached audio production house and/or is willing to shell out to get it made.
    3. Most indie publishers do not have the money to make an audiobook, and won’t take the rights for that.
      1. In this case you can either pitch it to a house or produce or pay to/make it yourself.
  • HOWEVER, publishers are not production studios and 99.99% of the time will NOT ask for further rights.
    1. Though they may include a clause saying they get to participate in negotiations for those dramatic adaptation rights for your IP.
    2. If they do ask for more rights, consult your i) agent, ii) lawyer, or iii) a friend in the biz to make sure it’s all on the up-and-up.
    3. Again, most indie/small press publishers won’t even bother including a clause regarding dramatic adaptation because they have no connections and no intention to pitch it around for you.
  • Once the book is out in the world either:
    1. An interested party will contact you/your agent (acquisitions folks read review mags and sites all the time), or
    2. The Entertainment Lawyer/Agent at your literary agency will pitch the IP to production houses, or
    3. You the author will start pitching it to production houses/creators, or
    4. You the author will decide to write the screenplay and produce the whole production out of pocket. (In which case, skip down to the celebration part of the list).
  • If A, B, or C: in the event that you get a bite, the interested party (it could be an agent, an actor, a director, a producer, a screenwriter, etc.) will enter into negotiations with you/your agent for the rights to license your IP for a screen adaptation.
  • Like the publisher, the company/individual petitioning for the right to adapt your IP for the screen will arrange to pay you for the right to do so. Generally this comes in three segments – an Option, a Greenlighting Fee, and a Back End Deal.
    1. An Option is a set amount of money that the interested party agrees to pay you annually for exclusive access to your IP and your promise that you won’t sell it out from under them while they work to amass funding/interest/cast and crew to create the adaptation. Basically, they’re paying you to have exclusive right to use your IP, when they get around to it
      1. An option is not a guarantee that the production will be made – people lose interest, funding falls through, studios change hands, screenwriters quit, etc.
      2. But it’s a way for interested parties to ensure that you don’t go wandering away with the IP while they work to contract a screenwriter, audition actors, ask for funding money, and build sets/costumes, and basically revv up to make the thing.
      3. Not every creator gets an Optioning Fee, and sometimes there’s a statute of limitations – i.e. after 10 years, if it still isn’t made and you’ve collected 10 option fees, then you get to take your toys and go elsewhere with them. This is actually good for you, because it makes the interested parties be serious and not just buy your IP to sit on it.
    2. A Greenlighting Fee is a percentage of the budget as it stands when the production is ‘greenlit’ that is gifted to you as a thank you when the production begins.
      1. Not every creator gets a Greenlighting fee, and the percentage changes.
    3. A Backend Deal is a percentage of the box office/merch profits you receive as a royalty after the production has been paid off, and the cast/crew paid out.
      1. Not every creator gets a Backend Deal, and the percentage changes.
  • Once that contract is negotiated between you and the interested party, you can make additions like asking to be the screenwriter (can be a good thing, can be a not good thing), asking to be on set, asking to be in the writing room for a series, asking for input on casting, or to be the story consultant.
    1. Be aware that the interested party can say no. If you don’t like that, then you have to decide if you want to license it to them anyway and remain hands-off, or if you’d like to cancel the deal.
    2. They may ask you to compromise – if you have no prior experience in screenwriting, which is a very different beast, they may pair you with a pro. Or if you don’t know how productions are made, what an on-set script supervisor is or a writing room is, etc. then they may pair you with a teacher-buddy. It’s not an insult. It’s just to make sure you have a support system when new stuff gets tossed at you.
    3. They may say yes. Make sure you really, really, really know what you’re agreeing to.
  • Assuming everything goes well, and you/your agent ink a deal you’re happy with, then an announcement will be made that the screen adaptation is in the works!
    1. Yay!
    2. Productions falter or get trapped in pre-production hell. This is STILL not a guarantee that it will actually happen.
    3. But you have a greater chance now!
  • The production company/ interested party will then get onto the business of sourcing funding, hiring actors, hiring a screenwritier, etc.
    1. You may or may not be consulted in this.
      1. They may really want you there, and really want your involvement.
      2. They may really have a vision of their own and don’t want your input. You need to be ready to just take your money and butt out, if it comes to that.
  • In the meantime? Write something else.
    1. Seriously.
    2. Distract yourself. Making films/TV shows takes YEARS.
    3. Other people might reach out to you interested in what else you may have to license when your first deal is announced. Make sure you have something when opportunity comes to knock!
  • Okay – so, contract signed, production in full swing, adaptation gets made! Yay! Celebration time! Enjoy the premiere!
    1. Oh god, wear comfortable heels. Red carpets are long, and you tip all over the place in stilettos cause the carpets can be squashy.
    2. There’s a photo of me falling on my face. It exists and I cannot make it unexist.
  • You still own the IP.
    1. Unless you signed it away.
    2. Read everything you sign very thoroughly.
  • Start over!

*

Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

 

No comments
JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get My Book Onto A Screen?
Read more

To A Stranger – Film Festival Wrap Up

It’s now been a year and a half since I first posted “To A Stranger”, based on Mad Lori’s Performance in a Leading Role, on Archive of Our Own. The response was phenomenal and the comments and kudos from the Sherlock Fan Community have been heartwarming. I talk about the process of writing the script/ fanfic here, if you’re interested.

(I’m currently struggling with the rewrite of one of my non-fic novels, and sometimes when I’m really bummed about it, I go back to the TaS comments and read through them all again to remind me that my work is loved and that people can be generous and kind, and that the hard work is worth it.)

It’s now also been just over a year since I decided, with Lori’s permission and the encouragement of Kelley, Random Nexus, and the rest of the Sherlock Community, to tighten the fanfiction up into an original script and start submitting it around to film festivals and screenplay competitions.

Yesterday, I heard back from my final competition, so I thought I would give everyone a snapshot of what has happened with the script.

Here are the competitions I submitted to:

Toronto International Screenwriting Competition
The Carmesi: International Screenwriting Contest for Diverse Voices.
2016 Launch Pad Feature Competition
Depth of Field International Film Festival
Vail Screenplay Contest
California Women’s Film Festival (Summer)
Hamilton Film Festival – Canadian Film Market
2nd Annual Stage 32 Happy Writers Feature Script Contest
Shore Scripts Screenplay Contest
Neu World Studios International Film Festival
Script Pipeline Screenwriting and TV Writing Competition
Toronto Independent Film Festival
Slamdance Screenplay Competition
Vancouver Lift-Off Film Festival
Canada International Film Festival
The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

Now, what happens when you submit is that someone – usually an intern, a volunteer, or a jury member – sorts through the submissions and organizes the selections for the first-round readers to take a crack at.  At that point they either reject the entry for being incomplete or incorrect, or at the next stage, decline to include it in the festival/competition. The screenplay (or finished film if it’s a film festival) is then moved out of consideration.

But if they select it for consideration in the competition, then the screenplay is called an “Official Selection” and you get laurels to use on posters, on your website, and in media packages. Like this:

To A Stranger was named an Official Selection / Finalist of the four festivals above.

However, only three of those announcements were made public as it turns out that the Canada International Film Festival had accidentally included and judged categories that it had intended to eliminate. We finalists were informed and shouldn’t have been. (You can read more about that small disaster here.)

From there the judges read the scripts and suggest their winners. Rejected scripts often, at this point, receive notification that they weren’t selected as a winner, and sometimes get suggested editing notes. My notes were… wildly contradictory. One reader said they loved the distinct voices of the characters, and another said they were unrealistic and that people never have such distinct voices. Some were mad that it was a gay love story where gay issues weren’t the central topic of the film, and some were relieved that it was a gay love story where gay issues weren’t the central topic of the film. Some loved the mood and tone of my descriptions, and some said there was too much “authoring” happening in the descriptions.

From there, To A Stranger was given two awards:

(The latter being the “Rising Star Award” at the Canada International Film Festival that I was informed I had won, and then immediately told that actually, they were eliminating the category. Oops, sorry.)

In summary, I entered 16 competitions over the length of one calendar year, was made an official selection four times, and won two awards (sort of).

However, what I really wanted out of the competitions – a producer to contact me to discuss options – never happened.

The producer who DID contact me about it, though… well, that’s a story for later. Once the discussions that are happening can be made public and contracts are signed.

I’ll keep you appraised of what’s happening there. My hopes are up, but as they say in the world of film:

Everything is nothing until it’s actually something.

Thanks for taking this journey with me, Fandom. I can’t wait until I can tell you about what happened next.

 

JM FreyTo A Stranger – Film Festival Wrap Up
Read more

A Summary of My 2015

I wrote two novels, a novella, a few shorts; two novels I wrote launched; five anthologies in which I had shorts or essays launched; I signed and announced two new book series (whaat??); got injuries that I am still recovering from (come on, me, being immobile is so 2006); had my heart absolutely crushed to sludge twice; moved back home with the rents (best. roomies. ever.); made my comic-writing debut; and made some amazing new Tumblr friends that I adore to pieces (one of whom just proposed to me last night. I’m moving to the Deep South, y’all. I hope she realizes that I’ve decided her joke was serious. :p ).

So in short: I’ve had lots of amazing things happen on the professional side, some really awful stuff happen on the romance side, so absolutely crappy stuff happen on the health side, and have had some amazing friends and family helping me through it all. Really am blessed in that category, and I won’t forget it.

Now onto the granular breakdown:

January

  • Announced that my two comics “Bloodsuckers” and “Toronto the Rude” had been accepted into Toronto Comics Vol 2. (I got a great pair of illustrators assigned to my stories, too!)
  • Midway through the month I took a slip on the ice outside of my house and (though I didn’t have a full diagnosis until November) herniated a disc, got micro-tears in the muscle of my back, wrenched my knee, tore the muscle at the top of my ankle, and tore the squishy stuff in the socket of my hip. Slept for the rest of the month with the really good drugs.

February

March

April

May

  • Unable to work full time due to my injuries, I moved home to live with my parents, and focus on getting better and meeting my contracted writing deadlines.

June

July

August

September

October

  • Attended EerieCon17
  • The War of the Worlds” happened, and I realized I was really, really not healthy enough to be treading the boards yet. It was interesting and extremely painful.
  • Began writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Second round of edits for “The Untold Tale” begins

November

  • NaNoWriMo: wrote two short stories,one novella, and finished writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Wrote and Launched “Ivy”, an Accidental Prequel
  • Finally got all the diagnosises for my slip and fall. Have now had enough MRIs and XRays to glow in the dark.
  • Finished line edits for “The Untold Tale”

December

 

Goals for 2016

  • Finish a short story for Peggy (so close to being done!)
  • Finish the second Accidental Novella (so VERY close to being done!)
  • Write two more Accidental Shorts
  • Write “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 2” (And possibly 3, we’ll see.)
  • Write “The Silenced Tale”
  • Assemble all my Peggy Barnett short work into a short story collection, add a few new stories
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike

Goals for 2017

  • Publish the Peggy Barnett short story collection
  • Write “The Skylark’s Search”
  • Write “The Skylark’s Sacrifice”
  • Finish some short stories set in the Skylark world
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike
JM FreyA Summary of My 2015
Read more

Words for Writers: The NaNoWriMo “Keep Yourself Accountable” Checklist

Sched

NANOWRIMO The Keep Yourself Accountable Schedule

Click the above link to download the PDF and then print it and post it beside your writing space! Ta Da!

Because there’s nothing more satisfying than checking little checkmark boxes, right?

(The schedule is based on the calculations found in THIS POST by Writerlynn)

*

For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: The NaNoWriMo “Keep Yourself Accountable” Checklist
Read more