A Message from Kristin Nelson
Just How Does a Book Become a Movie?
Just another November…except for that quick jaunt to LA for the gala movie premiere of Josh Malerman’s BIRD BOX.
Record needle scratches to a halt. That’s pretty much the sound I wanted to drop in at the end of my previous sentence. The whole event, including Netflix’s after-party with the entire cast (including Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes), was exciting, surreal, and just plain fun.
Over my career, I’ve optioned just about every book I’ve represented, but BIRD BOX is the first to make it to the big screen. So this seemed like a good time to chat about just how a book becomes a movie.
Step 1: Sell the book to a publisher.
Any number of indie-published books get optioned for film/TV, too, but in general, selling the book to a publisher is usually the first step. The initial publication deal is what often gets Hollywood excited about the property.
Step 2: Partner with the perfect film co-agent.
I’m a literary agent. My speciality is not Hollywood. My day is spent making connections with editors and publishers, not producers and directors. So once I take on a client, put their manuscript out on submission, and (fingers crossed) know a sale is imminent, I connect with my perfect film/TV co-agent for that particular project. A lot of agents work with one co-agent for all titles, but I much prefer to pair each story with the co-agent who will be most passionate about it. Passion makes more happen in Hollywood than just about anything else. The co-agent who believes in the project and is willing to champion it even if it doesn’t appear to be an immediate slam-dunk sale is exactly the type of partner I’m looking for. That co-agent then shops the material to producers or studios, or packages the material to attach a piece of talent (a writer, a director, an actor).
Step 3: Option the rights via a formal agreement.
Once an option offer comes in, then it’s up to me, my co-agent, and my entertainment attorney to negotiate the deal. Once the deal points are settled, the next step is to negotiate the long-form agreement. (Detailing exactly what goes into the film/TV agreement would comprise a whole series of articles, so I won’t go into that here.)
Step 4: Studio and/or producers develop the property.
As the literary agent, I’m not involved in this part of the process. Sometimes the author does participate as an executive producer (which is pre-negotiated at the deal-points stage) or as a writer involved in the screenplay (which is also pre-negotiated). Often the author is not involved at all except to answer questions or offer feedback on the direction of the project.
Step 5: Studio goes into initial production.
When this happens, the studio has to pay the author a purchase price. The author will get a chance to go on-set, but in general, the film company is doing all the heavy lifting.
Step 6: The movie releases in theaters or on a streaming platform.
And that’s when the gala premiere takes place to spark initial reviews and generate excitement! In the end, a movie or TV series will always be different from the book. After all, film is a visual medium and requires different storytelling techniques.
Regardless, a movie or TV show is truly a giant commercial for the book. In this case, Josh and I were thrilled with the adaptation, even despite its departures from the book. The tone, emotion, and feel of the story are spot-on, true to the world Josh created.
Please do watch BIRD BOX on Netflix on December 21, 2018. Also, please wink at your friends and tell them to read the book before the movie releases!