How to Break Into Hollywood…Well, Sort Of

In English Language by Olivia Snaije

“All of us want the opportunity to tell a new story,” said HBO producer Peter Friedlander at this year’s StoryDrive conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair

By Olivia Snaije

Open Space pavillion where the 2011 StoryDrive conference took place

This year’s StoryDrive Master Class at the Frankfurt Book Fair focused on developing a story for cross-media exploitation and underlined one main point: Television now uses source material based on books and series more than ever. Oh, and be very patient.

David Gerson, CEO of InterTitle Films and Peter Friedlander, Producer of Playtone Pictures/ HBO, both stressed how television is more attractive to producers now because, in television, one can take more risk and any level of talent can be recruited for TV.

“All of us want the opportunity to tell a new story,” said Friedlander. The advantage with a television series, added Gerson, is “after a few shows, you’re hooked for five years.”

Moreover “binge” viewing is a trend in television with viewers watching several episodes of a series at a time.

“There’s a climate and an art to choosing which medium to pitch to,” said Friedlander. “You need to have an awareness about the flexibility of the medium.”

However, the number of books optioned for film and television that have been gathering dust are innumerable. Gerson cited the example of Warner acquiring the to a book about KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned in London. The film is far from being made — “it’s been four years and no one cares about Litvinenko anymore,” shrugged Gerson, explaining that it’s not for lack of enthusiasm on the part of people in the industry, but more that the window of opportunities open and close as socio-political climates evolves. This is the unfortunate reality of the marketplace.

Writers have to focus on finding someone in the business who will “stay with your book and shepherd it through the process and know when the time is right to present it to producers,” said Gerson, adding that, in general, books will take three to four years or more to turn around — if they ever do become films.

There are a number of trends nowadays but one seems to be feature films that are about a process, said Friedlander. “They are detailed and specific films about pulling back the curtain, exposing what would seemingly be mundane things.”

That said, “By the time you feed into a trend, the trend is over,” said Gerson.

So what should writers do? Gerson and Friedlander suggest doing your homework, looking at what people in Hollywood are buying and making (Hollywood.com is a good source), and meeting with film agents. Unlike in the traditional US publishing world, agents are not necessarily a must — even top agents in Hollywood can have a hard time having their material looked at, commented Gerson.

“It’s an alchemy and no one has quite figured it out . . . We all make mistakes and pass on great stories. In Hollywood everyone ran around saying ‘who the f*ck passed on the Stieg Larsson books.’”

DISCUSS: What Book Did You Pass Up and Later Regret?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.