Tuesday, November 12, 2013

turning a book into a screenplay: Robert Bacon

Interesting advice here about books & screenplays from editor/author Robert Bacon of The Perfect Write. Also see his offers of free sample editing at the end of this post.


Turning a Book Into a Screenplay--The Truth About Options


With a certain degree of frequency, I'll be approached by a client about having his or her work turned into a screenplay, as there is confidence from some quarter, if not directly from the author, that it will make a great movie, TV show, miniseries, etc.  And I've been asked, since I've worked with this client's material, if I'd be willing to write the screenplay.  Invariably, it also comes up if I'd consider becoming a "partner" and write the screenplay without payment but with the prospect of a split of the profits when the work is purchased.  This is when I split, and what follows explains why.


Screenwriting Is an Art Form All Its Own


Above all else, I do not take any work on consignment related to a project's being signed by any medium.  If I did this, I would have a library full of unpublished manuscripts sitting next to my cardboard house abutting a Dumpster.


Ignoring the necessity of shelter and food, the next reason is because I have never felt qualified to write a screenplay, as it is a separate discipline from crafting a novel.  Screenplays have their own set of requirements related to layout and structure, and I'm not versed in any of them.


But of greatest importance, spending the funds to turn a manuscript into a screenplay in my opinion is a colossal waste of money.


It's Important to Understand the Process


Once a producer likes a storyline, the normal modus operandi is for that studio executive to commission a respected screenwriter to design the screenplay.  Any screenplay submitted by a layman would be revised substantially, and it would be just as easy to work from the manuscript.  For example, an experienced screenwriter's knowledge of what can or can't be converted to film based on budget is no minor detail and something the average individual would not know much if anything about.


How an Option Plays Into This


An option to purchase a work is not a contract for the material but essentially buys time for the studio to consider the project.  This sort of "wait and see" agreement generally ranges from 12 to 18 months, and an unknown writer can earn on average from $500 to $5,000 for granting this right, which is aptly referred to as "the option payment."  The lower range is more common, and any previously unpublished writer getting $5,000 should run around the town square naked at noon.


The Purchase Option


If the option is executed, this means the writer would be entitled to "the purchase price" established by the original options agreement, and is why an experienced agent or lawyer (or both) is mandatory.  Fees for the exercising of the option are often tied to a project's budget, and as it increases so does the writer's stipend.  But this is all over the place, ranging from the low five figures to breaking seven.


One Definite Author Advantage Provided by Options


The nice thing about a properly structured option agreement, if the work is not "greenlighted," is that the rights are returned to the author and the writer is allowed to keep the original option fee.  And at this point the work can be shopped around without any fear of legal repercussions.


Author Realities


How many times have you heard of a writer's work being re-optioned?  And how often have you learned of a writer, whom you know, whose material has been turned into a movie, TV series, or miniseries?  I have one associate during the past 20 years who had a short run with a cable TV show, and I know a lot of people who write.


To put this in perspective, some insiders say having an option exercised is 10,000 times more difficult than getting a book published by a Big 6 imprint, and how hard is that in today's sardine-crowded market?  This, as much as anything, is why I never wanted to learn to write screenplays. 


I won't accept work to edit unless I believe in my heart of hearts the story has a shot at finding an audience in some milieu.  And even at 1,000 to 1, I'm okay with this, as my clients at least have a chance at success at some level. 


The Cold, Hard Facts


But when the odds become 10,000,000 to 1, I have to bow out, as I can't take a person's money when the possibility of success is right up there with getting bitten by a mountain lion in Manhattan, killed by lightning in Death Valley, or hitting 10 of 10 numbers on a keno card.  This last example is around 9,000,000 to 1, but who's counting at this point, right?  And it's what I'm really getting at in all of this. 



Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder

The Perfect Write®





Please contact me with any questions or comments, and let me
know if there is anything in the field of professional writing you
would like addressed in a future Newsletter.

For authors, The Perfect Write® is now providing

FREE 3-PAGE LINE-EDIT (if applicable).  Paste your material
(up to 5,000 words) to theperfectwrite@aol.com (no attachments).

For Authors, The Perfect Write® is continuing to offer

Paste your query to theperfectwrite@aol.com (no attachments).
and visit the Sample Letters Page for examples of successful queries.

The Perfect Write® offers comprehensive editing services, from
manuscript critiques to complete revisions, including line-editing,
along with query design and composition.  For pricing, send your
project requirements to theperfectwrite@aol.com.



Elma Schemenauer, author of 75 books published in Canada and the USA, editor of many more, elmams@shaw.ca, http://elmasalmanac.blogspot.ca/, http://www.elma03.com.


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