The Optioning Process to Turn Your Novel into a Film

GetPublished | The Optioning Process to Turn  Your Novel into a Film

Adaptation is the process of turning a book into a motion picture or made-for-television movie. It begins in earnest when a producer accepts an option for the rights to adapt a book into film. 

The option itself is a limited agreement or contract between a book author and a movie producer, studio, or production company that gives them exclusive rights to develop the optioned book into a screenplay/movie within a specified period of time – usually for 18 to 24 months. The option contract happens before the screenplay is even written, but a signed, book-adaptation option contract does not guarantee that a film will even be made, but that’s another blog. What it does guarantee for them are the exclusive rights to develop the book during the period of the option contract. ‘Exclusive’ means that during this period, the author can neither discuss the project nor enter into any other contracts for this book with another producer or studio.

In executing the book-to-movie adaptation option:

The optioning producer has a long list of steps and needs to create and package the book’s adaption into a pitch to a movie studio and financial backers for the deal. These include: hiring a screenwriter (or team of writers), getting a director, putting out a casting call, and finalizing both the screenplay and movie deal itself. 

The author’s role (beyond signing it) in the adaptation process can vary widely: Some producers ask the author to be part of their creative process with input on casting decisions, plot deviations from the book, filming locations, and other details. Others want total control and will not involve the author in anything regarding the development – which can lead to unhappy authors who watch their books being turned into something entirely different on the big screen.

The latter was the case with author Clive Cussler, whose books have sold over 100 million copies, but the adaptation of this one bombed: Sahara, a Matthew McConaughey film, based on Cussler’s same-named novel. The author reportedly made millions on the option deal. However, he publicly expressed dissatisfaction over being left out of the creative process, which, he said, precluded him from providing any input into the script. 

 

Cussler’s public negativity about the process and the film led to: bad publicity, a lawsuit filed by Cussler, and a counter-lawsuit by the production company. Millions of dollars later, neither side won and the film went down in cinema history as a colossal failure.[i] The lesson for authors here is to make sure your desires and expectations are spelled out in the option contract before signing on the dotted line. For Cussler, a favorable book option deal could have saved him millions in legal fees and a lot of grief. 

On the other end of the spectrum is author Stephen King, who has probably had more books turned into successful films than any other living writer. King agrees to less money up front – in exchange for more control over the entire process and a higher payout at the back end if the film is successful. 

“I want a dollar, and I want approvals over the screenwriter, the director, and the principal cast,” King told an interviewer. “We try to make the people that are doing the deal understand that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” 

“I can’t understand why any filmmaker wants to spend $1 million for a book and then do something that bears very little resemblance to that book. So, I think they [authors] deserve a fair shake,” King said.[ii] 

Although it might be best to take a lot of money upfront when optioning your book, be aware of the pitfalls of this. Issues of: extensive changes in the book’s story as it becomes a script, poor casting decisions, bad dialogue, oversimplification, and lack of communication over the book’s vision and meaning can often sink both the author’s and producer’s best intentions. As Stephen King does, it may be better to trade upfront money for as much control over the adaptation process as you can get (and the back-end money, too, of course). 

At GetPublished we specialize in helping you:

  • get your book into print – and then
  • consider turning your manuscript (if qualified) into a film project. 

Contact us today. Let us help you turn your book idea or rough manuscript into a published work – its first step on the road to stardom! 


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Author Michael Stickler Bio

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1 comment

Marianne Komek

My novel is published and is available on Amazon and Kindle. Do you have any packages that offer Social Media and marketing of the book alone?

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