Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Read the Movie Part 2: Options

Welcome back for Part 2! As I discussed in Part 1, before your book is turned into a movie, coverage is written on it. Now, if you do receive a coveted Recommend from the reader, your book could be optioned!

But don't pop the champagne just yet.

Some books get turned into movies, but most do not. Well, many books get optioned, but most do not make it to production. An option is where a producer will purchase the rights to your book or script for a set period of time, and if he/she cannot get it produced during that period, then the rights revert back to you. It's like a leasing a car. Most options last a year, sometimes longer. If in that time the producer pulls together the resources to make the movie, then he will full-on buy the rights to your book. Option payments vary, but I've heard of them being as low as a couple thousand. If your book is bought, though, that goes for a minimum of six figures. (for major studios)

From what I've seen, every book that gets acquired will get published. In the film industry, the vast majority of scripts that get bought never get made. I'd say 90%. Why would a studio purchase 10 scripts and only produce 1 of them? The film industry looks at this as Research and Development. The same way companies spend millions on R&D, creating prototypes that never make it to shelves, so do producers buy or option scripts.

Most producers have options on multiple books/scripts at a time, increasing their odds to get at least one of them produced. Why lease and not buy? These producers do not have the funds to purchase your book rights, let alone produce the movie. They have to wait for financing, either from a larger movie studio (Disney, Paramount, Sony, WB) or from independent sources. When a movie studio "greenlights" a film, they are giving the producer the money to put the script into production. It can take YEARS to get to this point, and most projects never make it this far. Thus, if a producer options your book, it is by no means a guarantee that a movie will get made. Now, there are big-time producers with a discretionary fund. Think Jerry Bruckheimer. They can buy your book's rights without a greenlight because they have millions of dollars at their disposal. But it's still not guaranteed to get produced.

It's easier for books to get optioned, but harder to get produced. Movie studios are risk-averse; they want pre-existing properties or projects with a built-in audience. Hence the flood of remakes, sequels, and comic book movies at your local multiplex. A producer will option your book in the hopes that it's a bestseller, but if doesn't make much noise, then it loses incentive to get produced. Paramount and 20th Century Fox both had options on Twilight but passed.

Producers may option your book, but if your MC can't be played by a star, then it probably won't get made. Mega-successful books like Harry Potter and The Help are the exception because they didn't need starpower to sell tickets. But a producer usually needs a star or director attached to the project in order to get greenlit. It's tough for YA because our current talent pool is so limited. If you can't imagine your MC being played by Selena Gomez or Taylor Lautner, then it will be hard to convince a studio to pump millions of dollars into the movie.

Note: These rules also apply for turning books into TV series for the most part. Alloy Entertainment, the book packaging firm behind Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, has its own production wing. They deal directly with networks to bring their books to the air. So if you sell a book series to them, then your odds increase significantly to get your book made into a series.

And if you are super-duper lucky enough to have your book produced, understand that once the studio buys the rights, what happens next is out of your hands - unless your last name is Rowling. I doubt Tom Wolfe expected Hollywood to turn his beloved novel Bonfire of the Vanities into one of the most reviled films of all time. And I'll bet when Susan Orlean sold the film rights to The Orchard Thief, she was not expecting Adaptation.

I'm sorry if these 2 posts seem negative. The film/TV industry can be very confusing, and I'd rather have writers be educated so they know what to expect if they're ever in this position. Books do get optioned and produced into movies all the time, so there is hope. But now you'll understand if nothing comes of it. It's not you. It's not your book. The film industry is a different beast from the publishing industry. So while we all fantasize about watching the movie/TV adaptation of a book we wrote, just focus on the writing part. It's the only part you can control.


  1. Please don't apologize for the negativity. It's more like a reality check. The information you're sharing is beyond invaluable because, honestly, I may not know about it otherwise. Silly of me, I used to think that once a book was optioned, it was good as gold. But that was before I started reading blogs and learninng more from posts like this.

    Keep it up. We writers are imaginative and can create wonderful worlds of fantasy, but we still have to reside in reality.

  2. Man, it would stink to be seen as research and development after being enticed with the thought of seeing your baby on film. Those author's must be crushed!
    Good post! Keep the good info coming!

  3. It's too bad the film industry is so focused on rehashing what worked in the past. There are so many fresh stories out there in book form that would be perfect for adaptation. And it's awful that it takes so long for that rare book to make it to film. And worse still when they butcher it beyond recognition.

  4. I had no idea what option even meant until I read your post. Lots of good information here. Thank you.

  5. I think even being optioned would be cool. Free money :) What? A girl's gotta buy new shoes!

  6. @ Angela - So true. Writers need to have one foot in reality.

    @ER - It would be crushing, but there are authors who use their books as a way into being a screenwriter. Stephen Chbosky, writer of Perks of Being a Wallflower, went on to write the film version of Rent and create the CBS show Jericho, even though his book was optioned and never made. (until recently. it's now filming after 12+ years of development)

    @Nancy - I wish the film industry would take more risks, but with movies costing so much to produce and market, they want to be as safe as possible. Only big-time directors with proven hits like Christopher Nolan can take risks in Hollywood films nowadays. Books will always rule in that department!

    @Sarah - Best comment of the week! I have that same attitude. No matter what happens, it's extra money in my pocket.

  7. I like the way you talk movies :)

  8. Nice insights and info on a topic I don't know much about. Thanks :)

  9. Hi Kelley and M Pax! Thanks for stopping by the ole blog!