So You Want to Be In Pictures? (The Sequel)

To simulate how the book-to-film process really works, I waited five years to write this sequel to my original post on books and films.

Experiences with book-to-film connections are a very real box of chocolates for authors ever since the opportunity to connect the two media debuted a hundred years ago.

Authors never know what they are going to get. The experience can leave either a good or bad taste in their mouths.

However, the common experience for every author was the lengthy period of time between a book and film release. It was never fast.

For sure, the current world of original programming from Netflix, Amazon and a host of others accelerates the process a bit, but it is still multiple years between book and film release.

On the theatrical release (theaters first) side of the ledger, some of the fastest book to film transitions were To Kill a Mockingbird (two years), The Godfather, Gone with the Wind and The DaVinci Code (each three years).

The first Harry Potter movie released four years after the first book (1997 book, 2001 film), as the immense scope and production complexity made a faster turnaround impossible.

Other recent examples would be:

–1982 book The Shawshank Redemption released on film in 1994

–1996 The Notebook released on film in 2004

–2005 The Glass Castle was a 2017 film

–2006 Water for Elephants became a 2011 film

–Written in the 1950’s, The Chronicles of Narnia took six decades to find their way into live-action films.

Of course, so many books were difficult or impossible to film without current day technology, so it is easy to see why Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit needed to wait until computer generated imagery (CGI) appeared, allowing film makers to create magic on screen which previously required ten-thousand extras or was simply impossible.

Do you want your book to become a film? Be ready to wait a while.  There is no average length of time between a book and film release. Those books which sell millions of copies will move to film quicker than a book which sells 10,000. But maybe not.

The Christian market has a number of films based on books, some which went to theaters, some which were television films and some which were  broadband releases.

But the process was never fast.

Catherine Marshall’s classic Christy became a film almost three decades after the book released.

Some Christian novels which would make great films, such as This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers have never appeared in film. It takes a variety of factors coming together (desire, creative vision, money) to make it happen at any point, but just because something hasn’t yet been made into a movie, doesn’t mean it will never happen.

Massive spending (billions of dollars each year) on original films by Netflix, Amazon and others might result is some great Christian books ending up in film.

Goodreads has a list of Christian novels which readers think would make great movies. See the list here.

Many authors would like to see their books as a movie. For this to happen, here’s the timeline they will likely experience:

  1. Write a great story
  2. Publish it and have it sell well for years
  3. Wait several years
  4. Wait a few more years
  5. Film company interested, but then backs out
  6. Wait a few more years
  7. Decide to give up on the dream of your book in film
  8. Wait a few more years
  9. Book is optioned, produced and released and their grandchildren are very proud.

If you think book publishing is slow, just take a peek behind the curtain at the film industry and you’ll see really what the terms “deliberate” and “careful” mean.

So, you want to be in pictures?

Pray for patience.


24 Responses to So You Want to Be In Pictures? (The Sequel)

  1. Avatar
    Mark Leslie August 21, 2018 at 5:32 am #

    Yes, I think my three Thrill of the Hunt books — “Chasing the Music,” “The Three Sixes” and “Jeremiah’s Jar” — would make terrific movies. But where does an author even start when it comes to approaching movie producers?

    • Avatar
      Dan Balow August 21, 2018 at 7:24 am #

      You would need a film agent to represent you, making a business case of the sales and story behind your book warranting an investor spending millions of dollars to make a film. They might shop a screenplay which someone needs to write and be paid for.

      Rarely if ever does it involve an author pitching an idea to a producer, only if they already have a connection.

      The type of book is also a factor. If it is a simple character-driven story which would be a good fit for a cable/broadband release costing a million or two, it is a different process than a theatrical release costing $50 million or more.

  2. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson August 21, 2018 at 6:50 am #

    I think I’ll stick to writing books and not focus on making it into a movie. At this point in the timeline of films, it would be the delight of my great-grandchildren if it ever happened. Hahaha! I’m enjoying the fun and challenge of writing right now.

  3. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris August 21, 2018 at 7:14 am #

    Although the Thoenes’ Zion or A.D. Chronicles would make awesome movie serials to rival LOTR or Narnia’s successes, you’d need a director as talented as Peter Jackson to make them begin to approach the quality of the books. Better a book sticks to print than becomes a movie that falls so short you want to weep.

  4. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield August 21, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Do agents for novelists and historical researchers (I’m thinking of Doris Kearns Goodwin and her Team of Rivals blockbuster book and award-winning film Lincoln based on it) typically pursue selling film rights simultaneously with pursuit of traditional publication, or with the long timeline, is that a separate piece? Thanks.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow August 21, 2018 at 7:31 am #

      Sometimes with well-known authors, an option on a film is sold as a book is sold to a publisher. But even for the biggest projects, it will be years between book and film. An option is for a limited time and once it expires, unless renewed, it goes back to square one looking for another interested party.

      There is always a chance a book is not as good as author, agent or publisher think!

      There are so many pieces of a film puzzle which play into the timeline: money, other projects in the pipeline, availability of screenwriting, production and acting talent and of course, the desire to do a project in the first place.

      Oh, and did I mention money?

  5. Avatar
    Elisabeth Warner August 21, 2018 at 7:44 am #

    I love that opening line!

    I’ve noticed a lot more books are made into films these days. You have a point that film technology is becoming more complex. That definitely explains the influx of books-to-films.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow August 21, 2018 at 7:57 am #

      Yes…and Netflix and Amazon spending billions of dollars each year on original content development. Hallmark is doing 30+ new Christmas films for this year…and their publishing division will publish the stories as ebooks.

      There are still less than 1,000 feature films developed in the US every year and hundreds of thousands of book titles released, so it’s still an uphill battle for any project.

      Netflix, Amazon and other might double the number of films, but it’s still a competitive market for everyone.

  6. Avatar
    Rita Betti August 21, 2018 at 7:46 am #

    As a producer and screenwriter, (and also a novelist) I know that the film industry is a tough beast to deal with. Even for us who are both novelists and screenwriters (meaning we don’t necessarily have to receive thousands to write the screenplay for a producer who wants to option the novel) it’s such a hard market to crack. We are always told first and foremost it show BUSINESS with an emphasis on the business part. Investing in a movie is one of the highest financial risks there is and no one wants to lose their millions. That’s why Hollywood has succumbed to Marvel . . . and left the small movies to the Indie market. Anyway, many novels do get made into movies. It can happen but as Dan said, don’t hold your breath. It’s a long, long road from novel to big (or small) screen. Thanks for writing this, Dan!

  7. Avatar
    Tisha Martin August 21, 2018 at 7:59 am #

    But Dan, strange things happen when I pray for patience: the car’s brakes go out, all the appliances quit running, and I end up with $1.02 in my bank account. . .

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow August 21, 2018 at 8:06 am #

      Don’t pray for impatience.

      Never helps.

      • Avatar
        Tisha Martin August 21, 2018 at 8:42 am #

        No, never does, because God always seem to work in the reverse when we pray that way. I’ll just pray the direction of a potential manuscript into God’s hands, and forget about it. How’s that? 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 21, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    One thing about the passage of time is that the part of society that makes films can get weird…well, weirder, and they can see a book as a vehicle for a totally unconnected agenda.

    Take “A Wrinkle In Time”; the recent film was a paean to current social justice obsessions, with a total elimination of the strong Catholic thread that L’Engle wove through her story.

    Would it have come out like this ten years ago? I think perhaps not.

    And one wonders how many works optioned in the past decade are now in a development hell of their own, being retooled to serve the fickle whims of those who now have creative control?

    Think I’d rather just write for readers, and be done with it. Don’t really need that Beverly Hills mansion; I have one waiting for me, that my Father built.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Mugrage August 21, 2018 at 11:17 am #

      Nice to see you posting, Andrew. I was worried.

      I agree, particularly about A Wrinkle In Time. The plot of the movie was mainly about Meg’s self-esteem issues (which are present in the book, but not central). The fact that Charles Wallace got taken by IT was not shown to be because of his overconfidence, as it was in the book. Meg’s father disappeared in the movie because he irresponsibly abandoned her to do his own private dimensional travel, not, as in the book, because he was part of a team of government researchers who overconfidently thought they could do dimensional travel. IT was called “the It” (why?). The quotes were all from the Dalai Lama or something instead of from Scripture. And on and on.

      I did love the way they cast Meg, but that was about it (no pun intended).

      I don’t think directors (or screenwriting teams or whoever is responsible for this) intentionally gut Christian novels. It’s just that they can’t see, or else are bored by, themes that don’t fit into their existing world view. They try to make the story into something that they find more interesting or relevant, and it ends up being cookie-cutter.

  9. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott August 21, 2018 at 9:16 am #

    I want the movie to play out in my reader’s head, not on the big screen.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow August 21, 2018 at 9:19 am #

      Yes, but the image of a giant shark eating a boat is still pretty cool….

  10. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage August 21, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    No, I don’t particularly want to be in pictures, for all the reasons listed here.

    But I have to admit, I do cast my books in my head. The characters are mostly played by actors from 20 years ago, who will be in nursing homes by the time my novel is published.

    Does anyone else do this?

    The main reason I can think of to wish for your book to be made into a movie is that it would drive further book sales. Some will see the movie and then go out and get hooked on the books, which is our main goal.

  11. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 21, 2018 at 10:48 am #

    Dan, it looks like the process can be so slow that we start out with pimples and end up with denture adhesive by the time anything happens. Thanks for the heads-up!

  12. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan August 21, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    Great post. Prayer for patience is key if an author desires this.

    The list is interesting. Most I haven’t heard of, and apparently will need to my list. Others are scientifically unrealistic, politically charged or not Biblical, or some over-spiritualized that the entire Bible can fit in there. Those authors I often stop reading and some are Did Not Finish (DNF).

    Sadly, since the plots, characters may be thick. But overdoing anything is just too much to reach non-believers, much less film.

    Some self-published authors not listed have made it to film to Hallmark films. The Gospel is subtly In there, but not overdone.

    I wouldn’t count pennies on my novel(s) ever making it to film. Would be a lovely idea, however. I think many authors could write their novels as screenplays and have a better chance.

  13. Avatar
    Angela Breidenbach August 21, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

    Other factors to consider are:
    1. Networking into the film industry.
    2. Writing visually in the book. Narrative and characters who spend too much time thinking internally without visual action can’t be easily screenwritten.
    3. Having a book-to-screen manager.
    4. Spending time waiting rather than learning the film industry and how it works.
    5. Getting optioned and then not made into film.
    6. Wanting a movie made when your book or series would be bwtter for television or other medium.
    7. Contracts that don’t allow for books to be aold due to lack of connection in the industry. Boilerplate contracts that take audio and visual rights for publishers who don’t do anything with them.
    8. Funding for the project changes or falls through.
    9. Actor, director, or other professional is not attached to the film pitch or bails due to another project schedule clash.
    10. Authors who don’t understand once the books sells to a film company, you are no longer involved. And that is the hardest part. You may see things happen to your story that make no sense to you, the creator of that story, because suddenly the project becomes a collaborative entity between a completely different set of people of which you are not part.

  14. Avatar
    Rita August 21, 2018 at 12:55 pm #

    Thanks for your detailed list of woes and tips, Angela. So so true. Most authors don’t understand how the industry works. It can be daunting and discouraging.

    • Avatar
      Angela August 21, 2018 at 9:16 pm #

      If only my thumbs worked better on a smartphone. I promise I can spell 😉

  15. Avatar
    Len August 21, 2018 at 3:41 pm #

    Hello Dan!
    Sometimes learning (or trying to learn) to write a screenplay for your own published book can be a real mind-bender. I used MovieMagic6 software and registered it with LA Writers Guild. Whether it moves the pace along or not, often you invent supplemental scenes to move the action along (a bit humbling) but it teaches you to reduce your story to the bare minimum of text, and to rely on gesture or more importantly, to eliminate subtext. In other words, it makes you a better fiction book writer. Hope this helps someone!

  16. Avatar
    Kristi Woods August 22, 2018 at 7:38 am #

    Smiling here. Still a dream. I’ll be praying for patience. 🙂

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