Your best friend has read your manuscript, loved it, and said “This would make a great mini-series! I can just see Nicole Kidman as the main character! And remember how good Brisbane looked in Harrow on TV? You could be famous!”
You think, “I could do that!” – but how do you set about pitching your work?
Thinking of your favourite movies, or small screen binge-worthy sessions, is there some commonality with novels, biographies, or even true-fact material, that you have read that have made it to screens large and small?
Have you seen the movie of a book you’ve read and loved, and been disappointed by its adaptation to the screen? Or the reverse: a movie that surpassed the book on which it was based? What does a writer need to consider about their work, before pitching to a movie producer?
There are many well-known examples of movies adapted from novels, that have virtually eclipsed their books. How many people have actually read The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, or, at over 1,000 pages, Gone with the Wind? These movies are such classics that they have effectively replaced their sources. And what about modern works such as The Book Thief, or The Dressmaker?
There are books that have been adapted many times – think Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: made into three TV mini-series, and no less than nine movies, including Bollywood and Hong Kong adaptations. Not content with these direct adaptations Great Expectations: the Untold Story was filmed in 1987 telling the convict Magwitch’s story: what might Dickens have thought of that?
Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted into films, musicals and ballets, and even used as political set pieces, as well as still being produced in theatres around the world in close to their original forms.
So what is it about these stories that make producers want to have a go at yet another remake? Is it the story line? The snappy or moving dialogue? The conflict and its resolution? The humour? The action? A great theme? A charismatic character? Yes, to all, or some of, these, and yet not all adaptations make it in the big-time at the box office. And then there are the ‘first-timers’, of which yours could be the next one.
The word ‘adaptation’ is intrinsic to the process of taking a novel to the screen. A book relies on the author’s words to create images and inspire the reader’s imagination and desire to read on in order to find out what happens next, or how issues and conflicts are resolved. A movie or TV show has to find the essence of the story using visual and auditory methods to communicate with the audience. So, what is the essence of a story?
Does your work have a narrative arc, or story line, that carries the plot and characters forward? What, in other words, will keep the audience glued to their seats for a couple of hours, where a reader may take a matter of days. The mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ is never more important than in film. Literally, a picture paints a thousand words. Scenes, interiors, a character’s physical appearance are there to be adapted and interpreted.
It is possible that a producer will see something in your work that you don’t see: or, shock horror(!), want to eliminate some parts of the work (perhaps a favourite scene or character?) in order to accentuate a narrative arc or character arc/development. Elements, such as a back story, sub plots, peripheral characters and polemical musings just may not make it into a screen adaptation.
A movie or mini-series adapted from your written work will rely on the efforts of a great many people – think of the list of credits at the end of any movie – and is capable of enhancing and extending your audience and demand for your work. All these aspects aside, to see your story, the outpouring from your mind, up on the screen is an exciting prospect – even if it takes nearly as long for that outcome as it may have taken you to get it to this point!
So: Go pitch! And the very best of luck!