This summer we’ll be re-running my most-read blogs from the past year, in case you didn’t have an opportunity to read them the first time around. I’ve rewritten each one of these, so even if you’ve read them before, you may wish to read them again! Here is the third of those articles:
Over the years any number of my books have been optioned for movies. What this means is that someone purchases from me the rights to a book I wrote, so that they might create, organize, and proceed to make a film using that book. Mind, it does not mean they must make an absolute replication of the book, but merely that they will use my text as the basis for a film. Nowhere, in any of the contracts I have signed, did I retain control of the film-script, though sometimes I have been given the right to review and respond.
I have read such scripts. Sometimes they are very close to the book, and sometimes not so close. I respond accordingly. That response may or may not be considered. [Did you know by selling a book in this fashion you relinquish rights to the characters you have created? That is, the film-maker can make another film with your creations.]
Usually, if I have occasion to speak to one of these producers (not always the case) I let them know I don’t wish to get involved in the project. It is distracting from my real work (writing books) and is therefore not productive. In any case, screen-writing is a skill set unto itself—not mine.
Do I like the idea of movies being made of my books? Well, sure. It would be interesting. It’s also more than likely to increase the readership of the particular book, which is what concerns me the most. A movie sells books. I might pay off the mortgage.
In the world at large, nothing makes folks who are not very interested in books for kids perk up more than when they hear that a movie is possible. No one—in my experience—reacts more so than academics.
People think great sums of money are involved. I suppose they might be. But these option agreements have been—for me—quite modest. I recall being at a dinner party, at which I mentioned an option agreement had been extended for six months. “How much do you get?” I was asked. “Guess?” I returned. “Three-hundred thousand.” My factual response: “Eight hundred dollars.”
One can be paid fairly (by my bank account) large sums (say, 300K) but only if the film is actually made. In my case that has never happened. One producer-director kept an option going for about seven years. Two weeks before the start of production one of the major actors was in a serious accident. Everything was canceled.
At the moment I write, three of my books are under option: Nothing but the Truth, Crispin: Cross of Lead, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. To the extent that I have had contact with the people involved—infrequent at best, if at all—they are all earnest professionals, truly serious about making the films, and actively working toward that goal.
Will the films be made? It is truly impossible for me to say. It’s rather like standing on a very long line to see a movie: one waits impatiently for forward movement. It does happen. So, at least, I’ve been told. In my experience the lights always go out.