Wattpad’s Verticalization: Now Making Its Own International Adaptations

In News by Porter Anderson

Taking a more aggressive stance in development of its properties, Wattpad Studios announces projects and writers for its first film and television adaptations.

Image – iStockphoto: CineUno

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Levitz: ”Women and Marginalized Communities’
As Hollywood and other world production centers try to find their footing in the international health emergency, Canada’s Wattpad has used some of the disruptive time of the pandemic to formulate a more vertical path forward.

Announcing today (May 14) that it’s standing up a new Wattpad Development Fund under the auspices of Wattpad Studios, Allen Lau’s massive content platform is moving into adaptation, itself, specifically with two projects in early development at the moment, The Hound by TL Bodine and What Happened That Night by Deanna Cameron.

The distinction here is that the company is now going beyond its several-year process of gathering production partners in 10 world markets and looking to, in essence, grow its own works, at least to the point of development at which partners are handed ready projects. This approach also supports the team’s selection of culturally inclusive titles it chooses to adapt.

And in its statement today from Toronto, the company draws a sensible parallel between this move and that made by Wattpad’s Ashleigh Gardner in establishing Wattpad Books: rather than waiting to find a publisher for a promising work from the platform, Wattpad Books can move forward with a title, itself. Now, so can the studios division.

“Wattpad’s Development Fund,” according to media messaging today, “is the company’s latest move to verticalize its business, using data-backed insights to uncover incredible stories and trends that can be adapted for television, film, and published via Wattpad Books—the company’s publishing division.”

Levitz: ‘Expanding Our Investment’

Aron Levitz

As guided by Wattpad Studios executives Aron Levitz, Eric Lehrman, and Lindsey Ramey, this is a smart move, not least because—as Levitz told us in an interview with Publishing Perspectives in December—the company’s own studio brass understands better than some at other companies what Wattpad’s user-generated content context can offer.

“In a world of streaming content, where all content is global,” Levitz said, “understanding crossing not only genre lines but also combining genres is what makes us unique. Most production companies will have one kind of content they’re really good at. What we do is we look at the audience and what they love, and then we find you the best on Wattpad.”

On today’s news, he says, “With these new film projects, we’re expanding our investment in early stage development, adapting incredible stories for new formats and helping them find new fans everywhere.”

Eric Lehrman

Being ready to capitalize on the platform’s worldwide diversity will be a key to getting traction in the post-pandemic production phases the industry is about to go through.

At Deadline, Jake Kanter reports on the UK government’s green light for production shoots to resume on high-end film and television productions, as long as pandemic safety measures are in place. “The British Film Commission,” Kanter writes, “has been feeding into government plans by drafting industry-wide safety protocols for high-end UK film and TV shoots. Obtained by Deadline, the draft guidelines are designed to keep sets safe from coronavirus by introducing measures including pre-shoot safety training, testing and quarantining foreign actors.”

Lindsey Ramey

Perkins Coie’s guidance, issued Tuesday (May 13), writes of “film, television, and other entertainment businesses experiencing profound disruptions to the status quo. The economic and cultural effects of the pandemic may leave significant portions of the industry on the wrong side of change, including due to the pandemic’s acceleration of trends that predated it; other segments and players may be changed inalterably by the pandemic, and yet repositioned for adaptation and potential growth when the crisis abates.”

And with a question of whether enough pre-pandemic content is on-hand, the scramble to move into new projects fast will be acute. “As 2021’s calendar fills up with events that were postponed this year,” Coie’s overview reads, “not all may survive the rescheduling dance; as Rob Gabel, CEO of video measurement firm Tubular Labs, observes, ‘If you’re not a tentpole event, or No. 1 or 2 in your niche, you’re in trouble. It comes to the question, ‘Are you a must-attend—or a nice-to-attend event?’ It’s survival of the fittest.'”

The self-development hedge Wattpad is making now may be its way of moving forward amid a lot of jostling in the industry.

Two Adaptations Announced Today

Deanna Cameron’s What Happened That Night has drawn more than 1.5 million reads on Wattpad and was published by Wattpad Books last year. The in-house press is also to publish Cameron’s Homewrecker in 2021. What Happened That Night is being adapted by Academy Award-nominated Children of Men screenwriter David Arata.

Arata has written screenplays for Brokedown Palace and Spy Game as well as for Inversion, currently in pre-production.

Regular readers of Publishing Perspectives may recall that Arata also wrote director Ariel Vromen’s The Angel, a 2018 film distributed by Netflix and based on Uri Bar-Joseph’s The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. That’s the book produced in an Arabic edition by Cairo-based publisher Khaled Lotfy that angered the Egyptian authorities, resulting in Lotfy’s imprisonment. Lotfy, the recipient of the  International Publishers Association‘s Prix Voltaire, remains jailed despite the IPA’s repeated requests that Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi pardon him and release him from prison.

In a prepared statement, Arata is quoted, saying, “What Happened That Night is a compelling combination of mystery, thriller, and coming-of-age story. Its nuanced portrait of a traumatized teenage girl struggling to uncover the truth represents an eloquent testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

“My job as a screenwriter will be to try to do justice to the book.”

TL Bodine’s The Hound has more than 100,000 reads on Wattpad and won a Watty Award in 2018 in the “Hidden Gems” category.

The story will is to be adapted by screenwriter Angela LaManna, who comes to the project from The Haunting of Bly Manor, the second season of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Her credits also include the upcoming Netflix limited series Behind Her Eyes, Netflix and Marvel’s The Punisher series, Syfy’s Channel Zero and NBC’s Hannibal.

For today’s announcement, LaManna is quoted, saying, “The Hound is an incredible narrative that combines the best elements of suspense and horror with a powerful story about a woman struggling to keep her family safe in the face of dark forces.”

On today’s news, Levitz is stressing diversity, saying, “The Hound and What Happened That Night are two marvelous examples of high-quality storytelling that has captivated readers everywhere, while also tapping into cultural trends demanding more representation for women and marginalized communities.”

Wattpad reports that to date, nearly 1,000 stories from the platform have either been published as books or have been adapted for film or television.

Wattpad Studios, the company says, has close to 50 film and television projects in development with partner studios. Those include  She’s with Me, The Last She and Death is My BFF with Sony Pictures Television; The Numbered and Kairos with eOne; Along for the Ride with Picturestart; and Slow Dancing with Singapore’s Mediacorp.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Wattpad is here, more from us on words to screen (“books to film”) is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.