Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler's international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang (produced by Linda Lavin for PBS' American Playhouse series starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts). In recent development are the Broadway Production of The War of the Roses, to be produced by Jay and Cindy Gutterman, The War of the Roses - The Children (Grey Eagle Films and Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler's iconic divorce story, Target Churchill (Grey Eagle Films and Solution Entertainment),Mourning Glory, to be adapted by Karen Leigh Hopkins, and Capitol Crimes (Grey Eagle Films and Sennet Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series. Warren Adler's newest thriller, Treadmill, is officially available.
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“How can I turn my book into a movie? Advice from you would mean a lot.”
If I knew the golden answer to this question I would amass a fortune. In the first place, no one knows how to make a bestseller, nor do I believe that there is a surefire way to engineer a bestseller amazing enough to be made into a movie (at least not that I know of). However, what I am certain of are a few vital steps that can’t be missed on the journey to attempting to have your work made into a movie.
Since writing The War of the Roses, I cannot count the amount of questions I continue to receive from amazing fans around the world that are serious about their writing. The hope is to get their works published, recognized, and made into a movie. I want to share with you some of my thoughts and insights when it comes to this one essential question: How do I get my book made into a movie?
FIRST THING'S FIRST—HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT ADAPTING A BOOK TO MOVIE?
Read a book you might like, then watch the movie based on the book. The War of the Roses would be a good choice, or Kramer vs. Kramer, All the President’s Men; there are plenty to choose from. Also, read books, then get your hands on the screenplay adaptations and read those. You’ll see that some adaptations are faithful to the book, while some are completely different. Identify the story you want to tell from the book, and then figure out how to flesh it out, dramatize it, make it cinematic, etc…. Analyze how some of the pros did it when they adapted material. See what they did, and how they did it. Think about what would you do?
GO AGENT CRAZY
You absolutely need a good literary and Hollywood agent who understands the crossover value of your work. Peter Lampack, who was my agent around the time that The War of the Roses was made into a movie, was instrumental in steering that property. It is almost impossible to sell a book to Hollywood without a knowledgeable Hollywood agent.
FINDING AN AGENT = RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
Getting a Hollywood agent, indeed, getting any agent is a tough chore. My advice has always been to get a copy of Literary Market Place (you can get it at any library), write a one page letter, beginning with “Are you interested in a finished manuscript (or book),” then spell out the theme and idea. Send it to every agent listed and see what comes back. There are several other books and websites with agent information and contacts, such as IMDb. Compile a list of Hollywood agents and send your manuscript to them. Review profiles and see who would be a good fit for the subject matter of your work. When speaking to an agent, be ready to convince them that your book can translate into a movie. Agents are inundated with book requests, and so one of the things they often look at is author platform—what kind of reviews have you gotten and has your work ever been in a magazine like Paris Review, Granta, or other well-known publications? Make sure you are being proactive when it comes to making yourself into a writer with some recognizable credentials. Agents are taking their chances on you just as much as you are taking your chances on them—make them see that you have potential.
NEGOTIATION, CONTRACTS AND GETTING LEGAL
If you do end up making it to the other side then get ready to put on your legal helmet. Under no circumstances should you ever negotiate with people in the industry such as directors and producers without a rep, agent, or a lawyer. Be cautious. Hollywood notorious for promising the moon, and then getting material cheap or paying nothing for it. If it’s not in writing, forget it.
Find an entertainment lawyer who can check the legitimacy of your contract. Beware of trying to decipher any movie contract without a good entertainment lawyer to vet it. There is no real contract that fits all. Every deal is different. There are a hundred ways to screw the writer out of their fair share of the proceeds, provided there are any proceeds. It may cost you some money up front, but if the movie succeeds you will quickly discover how any profits are frittered away before it gets down to the writer. Also, be sure you get paid up front for the screenplay.
HOW MUCH CREATIVE CONTROL DO YOU HAVE OVER A FILM?
It is very rare to get creative control over the adaptation of your book. Everything is negotiable and always depends on how much luck or clout, or negotiating skills you can bring to the table. Some writers have been enormously lucky. John Irving for e.g., got to write the script for his bestselling novel The Cider House Rules and he then went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999. Some authors even get to pick the director and have a lot to say in the adaptation. Because motion pictures are a collaborative medium, creative control is merely an accommodation with directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, set designers, etc. It is impossible to be dictatorial or autocratic in today’s moviemaking.
Generally speaking, the writer of the novel is not the prime mover in getting a green light. It is indeed rare that the vision of the novelist is ever properly realized in an adaptation of his or her work. I was lucky with The War of the Roses, which essentially caught the spirit of the book. The payment you receive for your book might be astronomical enough for you to look the other way and hope for the best while the moviemakers do their thing. Still, getting a movie made from a novel is a thousand to one shot at best.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF INDIE
It is true that a bestselling author has a better chance of having their material adapted, but despite notoriety, many book-to-film adaptations have bombed at the box office. It is difficult to explain this reality to an eager writer who believes he or she has created a work of genius.
While I have been in the big tent razzle-dazzle of Hollywood productions, I am a strong believer that the future of adaptations may lie within the little Indie tents, many of them worldwide, spaces filled by imaginative, creative people. Indeed, the real future for novelists may be in newer distribution models, such as Netflix, and technology yet to come.
DON’T FEAR REJECTION
Most of all, never allow yourself to be crushed by rejection—a topic I have written extensively about in On Rejection and Renewal: A Note to Aspiring Novelists. Although I had published poems and short stories in my early twenties, I didn’t get my first novel published until I was 45 years old. I will be 87 soon, and my passion for producing works of the imagination will never extinguish. Keep up the good fight.