To thousands of aspiring film hopefuls, breaking into Hollywood is a huge mystery with no clear answers.
When I arrived at age twenty-seven to the celluloid capital, I remember standing outside one of the major studios staring up at those towering walls. I felt like a peasant in Czarist Russia facing the Kremlin wondering how in the world anyone ever got inside.
But I did get in and I spent the next several years rising to executive in project development for major stars like Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman and major producers of such films as Lady Sings the Blues, Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, and for head of studio at United Artists.
Most industry outsiders assume that films begin with screenplays. What they don’t realize is that the bulk of films actually begin as books. Why? Because, for the most part, producers have little imagination. If they did, they’d be writing screenplays themselves. They may read a script, but seeing it as a film is an effort for them. Books answer all the unknowns. The stories are compelling to begin with, the characters well-developed and the settings laid out in vivid details. It is easy for any movie professional to then visualize that story as a film.
But how do books get to producers? The major ones, like those on the New York Times bestseller list, are submitted directly by agents. But there are hundreds of books out there that would make great films and are just waiting for someone like you to snap them up and run with them (the industry’s term for it). If it’s a good film story, you’re half-way there. If you have a screenplay based on the book, you’ve got something producers definitely want to see. They’ll want to read not only the book but your screenplay of it, as well.
Today, I teach screenwriting at New York University. And this coming semester, I am offering a new class: Adapting a Novel to the Screen; how to deconstruct a novel and reconstruct it in film form (either as a treatment or screenplay). My participants will be learning how to find the right book and how to turn it into a professional screenplay that will sell.
Every novelist dreams of his or her book becoming a film one day. But like most industry outsiders, they have no idea how to go about achieving that. Literary agents, for the most part, don’t represent their authors for film submissions, as well. So authors are in a state of limbo wondering how to get their books sold to Hollywood. That’s where you come in. Whether you want to write the script, direct or co-produce it, all you have to do is find a good book and own the rights to it.
You may recall the film Help that came out a couple of years ago. It started as a novel by an unknown author living in Mississippi. Her best friend was an aspiring film director. He was clever enough to option the film rights to her book early on. The book eventually took off and made it to bestseller lists everywhere. And low and behold, Dreamworks (that’s Steven Spielberg’s company) wanted to make it into a picture. The only problem was, the aspiring director owned the film rights and had even written a terrific screenplay of it and he wasn’t going to give it up unless he could direct the film himself. Dreamworks had originally wanted to do a twenty-million-dollar film of it but were not willing to risk that kind of money on a novice director. They were willing to go with six million, however, and the director got to do his film–a total outsider realizing his dream!
The key to a deal like that is in optioning the film rights to a book. That’s a simple contract between you and the book’s author granting you the right to run with the project. You can either do that with the book alone or you can create a dynamite property by developing a screenplay of it, as well. Options are usually for one year and can be for as low as one-thousand dollars for relatively unknown books. No need to spell out financial details at this point as that will depend on who is financing and how much they’re willing to spend producing it. The key is in owning the film rights.
If this is your dream, get going with it! My book Screenwriting: How to Write a Professional Screenplay and Sell it to Hollywood! is a great start. The book is available on Amazon.com in e-book form or from BricBooks as a paperback. If you live in the Greater New York City area, you may want to consider taking my class, Adapting a Novel to the Screen and learn how to do it all.
Whatever road you choose in getting there, best of luck to you! Your dreams will come true if you follow this advice!
For a truly provocative read, check out Saints and Dragons, Edward Snowden in His Own Words.