Rights Edition: Kamran Sardar Khan on Books and Screens

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Visual adaptability, unique hooks, strong characters’: East End Film’s Kamran Sardar Khan on what producers need from publishers.

Producer Kamran Sardar Khan at Seriencamp with a project this week in Cologne. Image: East End Film, Stuttgart

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

In Its 10th Year: ‘A Potential Adaptation Market’
Last month at France’s Cannes Film Festival, the Shoot the Book words-to-screen program was in action for its 10th year.

The 2023 10th anniversary Shoot the Book Rendezvous catalogue

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with Shoot the Book, of course. In Cannes, Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s key partner is the Société Civile des Editeurs de Langue Française (SCELF) and the Institut Français, in cooperation with Marché du Film and the Festival de Cannes. The pitching event is called Shoot the Book, and the networking event is the Shoot the Book Rendezvous.

Frankfurt’s participation involves promotion of the call for applications, to help interested publishers and agents know that Shoot the Book is putting together another Shoot the Book Rendezvous each year at Cannes.

In the attached PDF, you can have a look at the entire program from this year’s event, and starting on Page 44, you can get a look at the 12 books selected for pitching this year, chosen from a field of 61 applications. You’ll see familiar publishing houses there, from Suhrkamp and Bompiani to Éditions Métalié and Syros.

And as Nathalie Piaskowski, the program’s executive director, lays out in her commentary, the anniversary programming this year included:

  • A masterclass on the Hispanic audiovisual market at the Cinemas du Monde stand on the program’s Thursday morning, May 18
  • Pitches on that afternoon
  • A full day of meetings on Friday, May 19, as at least 40 international publishers greeted Cannes producers

And we’re glad to have a chance to speak with Kamran Sardar Khan of Stuttgart’s East End Film.

‘New Publishers: Germany, France, and Switzerland’

Kamran Sardar Khan has produced some 150 feature films and—being a great reader—has included literary adaptations in that body of work.

A much-recognized player in the international co-production world, Khan was in fact in Cologne at Seriencamp—the conference and festival specialized in series production—when we caught up with him as he worked his way through a raft of meetings, pitching one of his projects.

“Shoot The Book this year,” Khan tells Publishing Perspectives, “presented an even stronger and tidier program in Cannes” than in its previous nine iterations.

“It had great energy,” he says. “Publishers were better prepared to deliver the right cinematic realization, and the commitment to the theme has increased enormously.

“Personally,” Khan says, “I met new publishers from Germany, France, and Switzerland this time, in addition to old acquaintances, who enriched the film market with books about current social issues. One publisher from Germany has even announced a real historical film gem.

“Overall, Khan says, “I was very pleased to see Shoot the Book’s focus on audiovisual literary adaptations in Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico this year. It would be helpful if next time there was an opportunity to meet the producers and film promoters from the invited countries. It helped to develop the project and provided a good opportunity for collaboration and information on film funding.

“In my experience, the structure of Shoot the Book has gradually evolved over the years from a simple pitch session to a potential adaptation market with high-quality intellectual property, which had great appeal. I’m looking forward to the program’s next Cannes and hope to come back with new hunger for new adaptations,” which of course is music to publishers’ ears.

‘Book Adaptations Hold Significant Appeal’

Of course, with so many fine screenwriters and directors working today in film and television, one of the challenges for book publishing is to keep the concept of a book as an essential, foundational storytelling tool in place. Many producers and studios may be becoming happier with what can be a far faster process if a film or series begins its life as a screen project.

“From my perspective, in general,” however, Khan says, “producers and studios find content from the world of books highly attractive for development due to established storytelling, inspiration, quality recognition, and a built-in audience. While there may be instances of preferring original content, book adaptations hold significant appeal.

“The ongoing strikes of the WGA [Writers Guild of America] against major studios and streaming platforms are not directly related to the preference for book adaptations but are centered on specific issues regarding writers’ rights, fair compensation, and working conditions. It’s all about having found something which sounds like a real movie, the kind we literally don’t come across much anymore. And that should feel like a rebuke to formula screenplays.”

In the best properties, “we grow to know the characters, and the story pays due respect to their complexities and needs,” he says. “There’s always the sense that they exist in the now and not at some point along a predetermined continuum. Sometimes I read a book that unspools like a tape measure, and I can sense how far we are from the end. Sometimes my imagination is led to live right along with it.”

Khan’s deep bank of experience—not to mention his competence in four or five languages—keeps examples of what he’s saying close to the surface.

“In this case,” he says, “I want to think back to when I read Eduardo Sacheri’s book La pregunta de sus ojos [The Secret in Their Eyes],years before it was picked by an outstanding filmmaker, Juan José Campanella, and got the [2010] Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film against The White Ribbons by Michael Haneke, A Prophet by Jacques Audiard, and many other amazing nominees. It’s an extremely well-constructed film that keeps you involved from first minute to last thanks to the direction by Campanella—who also edited the film—and the terrific cinematography by Félix Monti and not to forget the amazing three main characters.

“As I’ve said, I was expecting something special and this met and surpassed everything.”

What Producers Need From Publishers

One of the questions Publishing Perspectives gets from publishers at times is whether film and television producers are getting what they need from the world of books.

“To make it easier for producers to assess a book’s potential, publishers can provide comprehensive materials that go beyond the synopsis, such as visual references and insights into cinematic aspects.”Kamran Khan, East End Film

This gets into the concept of “other people’s skill sets” discussed at length last week during Madrid’s Readmagine conference helmed by Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez (FGSR) managing director Luis González. More and more urgently, the publishing world needs to learn the ways of the film world, rather than thinking of adaptation as a matter of a rights sale followed by a film premiere.

“From my industry perspective,” Khan says, “publishers may find it challenging to understand that producers require a focus on visual storytelling, adaptability, and broader market appeal when presenting material for development.

“To make it easier for producers to assess a book’s potential, publishers can provide comprehensive materials that go beyond the synopsis, such as visual references and insights into cinematic aspects. Collaboration, open communication, and flexible rights options are also key, allowing producers to explore different adaptation avenues.

“Streamlining the process,” Khan says, “by providing easy access to relevant materials and contacts within the publishing company would further facilitate the assessment of a book’s potential for film or television.”

What’s Selling Today

And–the true mark of a producer in touch with his market–Khan doesn’t hesitate when we ask which types of material may be most welcomed by producers at the moment.

“Publishers should consider books with strong crime content, mixed genres, espionage stories, murder horror tales, or featuring true iconic characters.”Kamran Khan, East End Film

“When it comes to attracting the attention of good producers,” he says, “certain genres have a higher chance in today’s industry.

“Publishers should consider books with strong crime content, mixed genres, espionage stories, murder horror tales, or featuring true iconic characters. These genres offer compelling material that can captivate audiences and be adapted on moderate budgets.

“Publishers should also think about market potential, visual adaptability, unique hooks, strong characters, and timely themes. While there’s no guaranteed formula for success, understanding the preferences of producers and the market can increase the chances of attracting their attention. Ultimately, publishers should choose books they believe in, as genuine passion can be contagious and make a compelling pitch.”

Not surprisingly, Khan returns briefly to the darkening overhang of the guild’s strike in Hollywood. As mainstream news media begin actually listing projects delayed—here’s Herb Scribner and Niha Masih on Thursday (June 15) at the Washington Post, for example‚many minds in the business are being distracted by the growing specter of creative and costly fallout.

“The current strike, he says, “is a big issue for the major and streaming services because big productions cannot go on without the authors.” Ironically, of course, he recognizes that smart players in book publishing may use this difficult time on the studios’ side to bolster their material and ready the most promising projects, being sure they have adaptations and pitches poised, as Kamran Sardar Khan puts it, to “assist in sorting out the film content” when the industry starts moving again.

Here’s a two-minute 2021 show reel from East End Film in Stuttgart, with a look at some of East End Film’s work:

Frankfurt’s Torsten Casimir and Niki Theron were on hand in Cannes for the 10th anniversary program this year, and the trade show (October 18 to 22) is joined in its support for the Shoot the Book program by Film Paris Region, the CNL, the CNC, the BIEF, Pro Helvetia, the Centre Français de la Copie, and the Sofia.

More from us on book rights is here, words to screens and book adaptation news is here, more on the Cannes Film Festival is here, more on ‘Shoot the Book’ is here, and more on the French market is here.

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.