Everyone who has ever written a novel has dreamed of it being turned into a movie. In the perfect world, Warner Bros. buys the rights to their book for a million dollars and hires Steve Zaillian to adapt it. It then goes onto make a bazillion dollars at the box office. The writer buys a sixty-foot yacht and sails off into the sunset. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Option B is the novelist decides to write the screenplay themselves. But quickly learns that writing screenplays is verrrry different than writing books. And thus, embarks on Option C: Seeking out a lowly lonely screenwriter to adapt their book for them. Usually for free. But with the age old promise of them sharing in the gold and glory upon the film’s successful release.
I got news for you. Adaptations take time. Talent. Discipline. Crafting great adaptations is a skill totally unto itself. Even some of the most successful screenwriters will duck and hide from adaptations no matter the money. Why? Often, simply having to cope with the reticence of the novelist (or producers) to make the changes necessary to turn their 350 page single-spaced brick of a book into a 110 page double-spaced screenplay that translates onto screen. Some things simply have to go. Scenes. Characters. Lines. Sometimes whole storylines. Hard choices must be made and it takes a deft hand to know what and where to carve. Not to mention, streaming those remnants together in a cohesive tapestry that will tantalize millions in the dark.
On the other hand, scripting adaptations can be incredibly rewarding. After all, they offer a head start. A hero. A story. A fellow writer with which to conspire and commiserate. And sometimes, in the case of autobiographies, writers who the story is even about. Who better to fill in the blanks of the unknown? Either way, for the love of God, make sure you have the rights to the source material you are adapting before you begin. Or all your work will be for naught. No studio will touch it. And last but not least, try to get paid something up front for your time AND your fair share on the backend. You will deserve it.