Top 4 Reasons Your Screenplay Should Be Adapted from a Book

What do “Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Godfather,” and “Gone with the Wind” all have in common?  Obviously, they’re all major big-screen successes, but did you know that every one of these film properties is based on a novel? Would it surprise you to learn that many of the most commercially and critically successful movies of all time started on the pages of a book?

Seven of the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time (when adjusting for inflation) are book adaptations, and in 2015 alone, nearly half of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture are book adaptations (including The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and American Sniper).

So why aren’t you adapting a book for the screen yet?  Here are 4 reasons why your next screenplay should be based on a book:


1) “True Stories” are hot right now!

Audiences love movies based on real life events, and the pile of autobiographies and provocative life stories just waiting to be adapted is infinite.  Just watch the dollar signs appear in the eyes of development executives as you pitch your project – they’ll perk up faster than you can utter the words, “based on a true story.”


2) Adaptations carry more weight than original screenplays in Hollywood

A book provides an established concept with solid characters, which saves both time and money. Bottom line: from a buyer’s perspective, an adaptation will be taken much more seriously than an original screenplay.  Regardless of how popular the source book actually is, an adaptation implies that an audience already exists for the story and that it is marketable.


3) Cross-Marketing and Cross-Promotion = $$$

The book promotes the movie, and vice versa. They piggy back on each other and result in greater financial success all around.  There are several recent examples of very successful projects that took this route, such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Children of Men,” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”


4) Pick a niche!  Adaptations of all kinds are wildly popular

Some of the biggest blockbusters of all time are adaptations, but now there is a burgeoning market for niche material created for a variety of different media outlets. “How to” books are being made into TV series, autobiographies are becoming TV movies, and spiritual and historical adaptations are doing increasingly well on Video On Demand.  And yes, novels are still becoming blockbusters.  But, now more than ever, online media and new modes of distribution are democratizing the process and making it easier than ever to reach an audience with your work.  The reality is this: All of these outlets need a constant flow of new content, and what better way to fulfill this need than through adapting books that are already established and ready to go?


I know what you’re thinking – “How can I, a struggling screenwriter, afford to buy the rights to a book?” The truth is, a great idea is a great idea, and you don’t necessarily have to find it on the New York Times bestseller list.  Many books are optioned for a lower price, and then become popular when the movie is released – “Slumdog Millionaire,” for example.

Think about genres and perhaps start reading some self-published books that are available for optioning.  Begin thinking about your niche and what market or outlet might be viable for you.  The upfront investment is relatively small, but the payoff can be huge.

 

 

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24 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tip.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Fritz!

      Reply
  2. It is not exactly as easy as that. For example, I have among several adaptations one of a best-selling novel through permission of the original author’s estate. His earlier work had been made into a prize-winning broadway hit[101st-longest run in history, especially for a non-musical] and a very successful and profitable studio movie[MGM.] Its title: Teahouse of th August Moon. Even though the sales of this later novel were 150 percent those of the earlier novel interest seems underwhelming. Details available to anyone who is interested in more depth than can be gotten into here. But the chief bottleneck is as always representation or lack of same. Agents go chasing after the latest hot thing or something similar and usually by then it is old hat and no longer valuable. Meanwhile established authors with known fanbases are ignored, especially in the genre fields.

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  3. Firstly Nat, for the record I’m not the New York based Australian Ex pat and twice Booker Prize winner with the same name. I always make that point because some people tend to assume it, even the editor of the newspaper I work for would you believe? I like your perspective on the merits of adaptation but your comments assume a book already published. My scenario is that I am about to write a screenplay adapted from my own unpublished prose work. Should I expect that this might be a slightly easier process given that I have already developed the characters and the plot. Conversely would you say that as a novice to this, I could expect it to be more challenging if it wass an original screenplay? I guess I don’t have any copyright issues either if it’s from my own original manuscript.

    Reply
  4. Firstly Nat, for the record I’m not the New York based Australian Ex pat and twice Booker Prize winner with the same name. I always make that point because some people tend to assume it, even the editor of the newspaper I work for would you believe? I like your perspective on the merits of adaptation but your comments assume a book already published. My scenario is that I am about to write a screenplay adapted from my own unpublished prose work. Should I expect that this might be a slightly easier process given that I have already developed the characters and the plot. Conversely would you say that as a novice to this, I could expect it to be more challenging if it wass an original screenplay? I guess I don’t have any copyright issues either if it’s from my own original manuscript.
    Reply

    Reply
    • Hi Peter – your questions are great and a little complex to answer in a blog comment.

      Net net, it’s typically more attractive to buyers/financiers to have a screenplay based on a published book. Self publishing counts too. And regarding development, yes, theoretically it will be easier because you’ve done development work. But then you also have the following POSSIBLY going against you:

      Often times authors are too close to their work to form great adaptations and also, authors also don’t necessarily make great screenwriters in terms of craft (and vice versa). You might want to consider commissioning an adaptation, which is something we can help you with…

      Reply
  5. My book, that you have reviewed and is in your data-base is my diary/autobiography that is true. Why not recommend it to your Screenwriters! They might be able to make something of it. (A Life of Snakes and Ladders)

    Reply
  6. My book, that you have reviewed and is in your data-base is my diary/autobiography that is true. Why not recommend it to your Screenwriters! They might be able to make something of it. (A Life of Snakes and Ladders)
    Reply

    Reply
    • Hi Steve,

      Two great minds think alike. We’re one step ahead of you! We do this already!!

      All the best,

      Nat

      Reply
      • I read your post and wished I’d wrttien it

        Reply
  7. I completely agree. I now have two fictional historical drama/action scripts completed and ready that are based on true stories.
    See http://www.inktip.com for movie scripts: August Destiny and Money, Power & Love.

    Reply
  8. I am SO GLAD to get STAR BIRD!
    It is all so interesting.

    Reply
    • We’re so glad you think so!

      Reply
  9. I’ve been told by an LA Agent friend of mine that if I would have written books about my Trilogy Screenplay he would have sold it already. Even though I clearly understand the “BIG” difference between “BRANDED MATERIAL” and High Concept Screenplays I’m one of those who don’t believe that my Trilogy be much easier to get financed by branding it first. A High Concept Screenplay will always get financed. And looking forward to get started with you talented guys real soon!

    Have a nice day Nat!

    Carlos de la Torre
    San Juan, Puerto Rico

    Reply
    • We’re looking forward to working with you too, Carlos.

      Reply
  10. I am grateful you thought of me again after I had been asked to hear video and promo, asking me to pay about £500, for my novel to be adapted to screen. As you know I refused.

    I heard chat in the street the other day about Hollywood, but cannot say it was about me. I want to say the recent reach out to me seems to focus on biog. As said I had an ordeal about being a stalker victim put deluded for years in my area under mental health andpolice. I had a family break down for turning to God and believing in good behaviour, in 92, and had a lot of flak, and church called me mental. The ordeal I had became public knowledge and some in streets expressed abuse and some sympathy in recent months. A univ I was at were not very good to me, as from my years in the 80s. I know some would wonder if they can make their ordeal big, and get it made into a film and cash in. Some have interest in such. However I am not interested in selling my biog and do not want to be object of public gossip. There are few people who care what goes on in your mind.

    I did hear the video chat before and felt Mr Mundel was sensitive and knew how to talk to business people, and started having to fight to get there. If the initial block on the e mail was false, assuming he is genuine, I appreciated his stance, saying people who are skilled can be misunderstood if not in right social circles to get heard, and facing hard business tykes at the top. I myself think like that from an amateur perspective having limited business experience at 48 even. Some say I am easy to play with and ill use. They realise dimly how life can treat my like. I realise from a business viewpoint I do not look much on long term sick ESA rates. You suggest my type invest and try to get heard out there, to improve chances. I can only say in my view having suffered for years and become very cynical it gave me a lift to hear your video last time and reminded me of better years and better ways of seeing life, but I am not having to work or make it big and tell myself that anyone genuine would appreciate how your mind works and who you are without you being big in the eyes of the world. I realise your people will say it does not work like that, the opinions of people m ake you a person out there, in the nicest way possible to tell me that.

    I may in due course be prepared however to pay a bit, if you are safe, for I am am on disabled ESA in England, and do not want exploiting. I have been writing with advice of MD of Ether books iphones, on self publish site Create space Amazon, and have done stories and a novel. It is hard to get heard big style from where I am, but library 50p stack take my work, and charity shops sell, so it is publishable. I have novel Intentional malice, complete when you mailed me last time with free video, on Authonomy Harper Collins free review site. It got a 50-50 rate last time. Some top novels get seen as controversial? Sheffield fiction manager liked it but it only has one or two borrowers now. It is in library. The second one I do, Caribbean Chocolates, I must work more on, but the rate came on Authonomy as 4 star, and it has good reviews and far more colour and bounce. They say I can send it to the romance review team at Harper Collins when done. I would not mind asking if you offer other ways of being promoted in due course, safely paying a bit, for review, with novels and stories I write. Do you do other cheap videos? Please know I have to be careful with approach being on disabled. hope for reply, thanks Tracy Allott Barnsley S Yorks England all voices web mag article writer too ps I am trying to find a page on web with out of date all voices article,on a funny woman story set, 2 stories, about a lady called Dawn Foster. I have thought I can make her a series. If you are interested in my work and offer safe low ;pay, and it has to be low, then I may in due course be able to send these stories too. I have been known to legal firms recently about a univ educational issue hurting me, and they saw me as vulnerable and honest. If I deal with you ever I presumably can get CAB or legal help to talk me through any problems. Hope for reply thanks, T Allott 48 single female, adult

    Reply
  11. Nat, you seem like a heck of guy. I appreciate all your hard work and the effort you make on our behalf. You deserve all your success…and our thanks. I’m sure I speak for most everyone when I write you this.
    Take care and best of luck,
    Jon

    Reply
    • We denlifteiy need more smart people like you around.

      Reply
  12. They don’t come any hotter than my story, not since “Midnight Express” has such a true story of escape from Turkey been told. By crashing a Land Rover at full speed across a heavily guarded border bridge and into the blazing sun to blind the eyes of the Turkish guards, a feat that could not be pulled off or repeated today.So where are the movie producers looking today?

    Reply
  13. Would you be interested in reading my book, true life story ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO BE CALLED MOM?
    It deals with trying to get pregnant, infertility, IVF, nightmare pregnancy and birth.
    It is something that has been happening yesterday, it is happening today and it will most certainly be happening tomorrow.
    All this happened to one family. Mine!

    Reply
  14. My self published bio was written from true events and facts. I wouldn’t mind continuing my to screenplay to enlightened the world of experiences of faith and spiritual belief.

    Reply
  15. Colin Guest

    I signed up with Nat and Voyage for an Action Plan, with an adaption of my memoir Follow in the Tigerman’s Footsteps now completed. During talks with Nat, he has been most informative, with my impressed by the feedback received from Voyage. I will soon start preparing a Treatment with the help of Regina Lee, who thinks my memoir could be used as the basis for a television series. In general I feel quite excited at the prospect of being involved in this part of the project, as who knows where it could lead.

    Reply
  16. I am writing a book based on my real life events. It briefly describes Indian village life where she was born; goes to big city to get graduation and marries to a man from UK and follows him to England to experience most difficult life. Her life is most aspiring to others the way she brings up three sons single handily and climbs professional ladder of success. She then suffers a loss of her amazing son with his amazing life events.
    I believe this could be a very successful film if right people handle this responsibility.

    Reply
  17. Ezekiel

    You can add Jaws, Lord of the Rings, and Wizard of Oz to the list-They too all started off as novels, not to mention Stephen King’s catalog that includes movie and TV works. I watched the 5 part video series from Voyage Media that gives a birds eye view of Hollywood, and it is recommended that a writer/author should get ahold of actual scripts to see what they’re about, and what they look like. RESEARCH-Every producer and guest in those videos stated to do that, along with a ton of other information that actually surprised me in some cases. I recommend watching them, and you will have an idea of where you stand, and what needs to take place in order to launch your work onto the big screen. I look forward to working with Voyage Media, and recommend them to authors who are truly passionate about seeing their work come alive in Hollywood.

    Reply

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