Books to Film: No Hard and Fast Rules

In What's the Buzz by Liz Bury

By Liz Bury

The heyday of huge film deals being made for books may be over, but, there’s still big money on the table for the right kind of story.

Deals are being done, however the sums are often more conservative than they were during the boom years. “The money is less,” said Josie Freedman of ICM, as part of the Books to Film session at yesterday’s StoryDrive conference.

“It used to be that we’d put something out on a Thursday and by the following Wednesday we’d have offers coming in. There was a huge appetite for material. Our jobs are much harder now,” added Robert Kraitt from UK agency AP Watt.

Gesine Lüben, from leading German publishing house Diogenes, noted: “There is a tendency that prices go down, but if you have a bestseller and people want it, they are still prepared to pay.”
Right now, Hollywood studios are still looking for big brand bestsellers, but this is expected to change gradually as social networks help untapped talent to find a market.

Agents also told the audience that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to teaming up a producer with a book or an author.

Freedman said: “There are producers who read and those who don’t. Some don’t want to spend the time to read a book. I respond to passion: if a producer reads material overnight and they get how to make it into a film, even if that producer doesn’t have a studio deal, that could work for me. There are a handful of producers that we do business with.”

AP Watt produces a rights list twice a year of all it’s properties, and is constantly putting them forward to producers. Kraitt says: “You can never know what producers want. We are out all the time meeting people. We go to certain people for particular projects, but producers are very eclectic, they want to do all sorts of things. You might push a button you didn’t know was there.”

He adds that it’s not only blockbusters that find deals: “We agents have ways of getting things into development. BBC films has taken some challenging literary work from us, which is very encouraging.”
The relationship between authors and the producers who adapt their books also varies according to personality. One AP Watt author whose memoir was sold to a producer was horrified to find that her book had been adapted to the point where it no longer resembled the truth of her life. She had even been paid as a consultant on the film script, but was never called upon to collaborate.
On the other hand, Lauren Weisberger showed up on set every day for the production of The Devil Wears Prada, and was eventually given her own directors-style chair.

Speaking from the German perspective, Lüben says that publishers are used to dealing with film rights directly, rather than having agents retain the film rights. The change to having agents keep the film rights is not necessarily welcome, especially since it means that publishers in Europe are now being forced to sell remake rights as part of the deal.

“It’s a shame to lose them as it means that we can’t sell the book again,” says Lüben. The argument from the producer’s side is that they will put significant expenditure into the project, and therefore want to be able to exploit the property fully.

Whatever the changes in the film and book worlds, the panel agreed that good stories will always be at the heart of their industry.

Lüben says: “Producers are still looking for good stories well told, and that is what we publish.”

(This story originally appeared in the Publishing Perspectives show daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 7 October 2010. Download the complete show daily here or click on the image to view the online version.)

About the Author

Liz Bury

Liz Bury is a full-time journalist who lives in London.