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What are your chances of getting your book made into a film?

18 August 2014

The truth is that many a film option, much publicised at the time it was sold, has subsequently disappeared into the sand. The investment in a feature film, particularly a Hollywood one, is so great that studios are exceedingly cautious about which options they pick up and run with.
On the plus side though, the track-record of a bestselling book, especially one with a distinctive plot, can give it ‘legs' in a way that nothing else can. The studios have a ready-made audience and storyline, all they need to do is to commission a screenplay and then they're ready to start making the film.

To prove the point, recent figures showed that adaptations of novels by British authors made up 20% of the top -grossing films worldwide since 2001. Between 2001 and 2013, eight out of 20 of the world's biggest film releases were based on novels by British authors.
The second figure may surprise you. This begins to make more sense when you realise that these eight include four Harry Potter films made by Warner Bros and based on books by J K Rowling - Deathly Hallows: Part 2 which took in gross $1,328m, Philosopher's Stone, which raised $974m, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 which saw cinema goers spend $955m on tickets, and xThe Order of the Phoenix, which raised $939m.

Tolkien, C S Lewis and H G Wells' War of the Worlds all feature on the list, as does the James Bond franchise with Skyfall. But this list of mostly children's classics and bestsellers may not have much to tell us about everyone else's chances. It is so hard to get a screenplay taken on and made into a film that it can seem virtually impossible, especially given the studios' preference for running with an already bestselling - and thus commercially validated - book with a ready-made audience.

This is not what the screenwriting services will say. They promise to show you how you can turn your screenplay into something which will wow the studios. But stardust may still be in your eyes and, after all, miracles do happen. Just do everything you can to study the market and make sure your screenplay is special enough to catch everyone's attention and that you have worked on it to make it the very best you can. This is a difficult thing to do when the studios are so focused on sequels and other safe approaches to making films.

Getting access to the decision-makers is also very hard and you need to be able to boil your screenplay down to a short ‘elevator pitch' to catch their attention. And bear in mind that even if you do get your novel taken on, chances are that someone else will be given the job of coming up with the screenplay. To look at it from the screenwriter's point of view, there's Nicholas Kazan's comment: 'Reading a novelization of your own screenplay is like watching someone else kiss your girlfriend.

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