From Book to Movie Part II: The Journey from Page to Screen, What Does It All Mean?
So you’ve just read a press release that tells you that your favorite movie has been “optioned”. You’re congratulating the author. You are sharing your dream cast on social media. But did you know that very few books that are optioned ever make it to the big screen? I have been a teen librarian for almost 30 years now and though some of my favorite books have been optioned they have never actually been turned into a movie. While I was researching what the various terms mean and the process of bringing a movie to the big screen I learned that anywhere from only 2 to 5% of optioned movies ever make it to the big screen. So I consulted multiple sites and I have been listening to authors talk about this for years, so I thought I would share what I’ve learned about the journey a book makes to the big screen.
In the first part of this series yesterday, we learned that Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found has been optioned and talked with the authors a little bit about what that means. When a book is optioned, that means someone has bought the rights to make it into a movie. This is the first step a book takes on its journey to the big (or small) screen. Few books optioned will become movies, but it has a chance now. So if you see that a book has been optioned, treat that news with caution – but also celebrate and tell the author congratulations!
When a movie is optioned, that means that a studio has bought the rights to it. Before the rights are bought, they are shopped. Hollywood Reporter, for example, has a regular rights report feature where it talks about who is shopping the rights for what books. If someone buys the rights, the book is now optioned. That means the studio has the exclusive rights to the intellectual property of the book and the option of making it into a movie for the small or big screen.
When a book is optioned, it gives the production company exclusive rights to the book for a set period of time, generally between 5 and 10 years. If, for whatever reason, the book doesn’t get made into a movie, the rights often revert back to the author and they can try again. However, when this happens, it may often be too late as the time for that novel may have passed.
Some of my favorite books have been optioned and have never made it much farther than that first step. I know, for example, that Ally Carter has talked about the Gallagher Girls options being sold (back in 2013) and it would make a great Disney or Netflix series, but alas . . .
If all goes well, a book that has been optioned moves in to the next step. If you clicked on that first Ally Carter link provided above, you’ll see that she talks about the Gallagher Girls being optioned and IN DEVELOPMENT. That’s the next step.
When a movie is in pre-production, or in development, that means someone is writing a script, securing funding, casting, etc. Now a book is more likely to become a movie. This means someone is actively doing the work now to help the book make the transition to the screen. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Things can still fall apart here, as funding may fall through or the script may never get approval.
In 2019, the rights to the zombie novel Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry were sold and the movie moved to pre-production, where it currently sits in part because after the actors were secured, it was hard to line up their schedules. I have seen Maberry talk about this on occasion on Twitter and he is hopeful that one day everyone attached to the movie’s schedule will align and filming can begin.
But if a script is written and approved, if all the funding is secured, and if all the casting and directors and such are signed and the stars align, then actual filming can begin.
Movies that are filming are, well, filming. This means there is a cast, a director, and a script and it is in the process of being made. They have been called to the set and people are now actively working to get this movie made. It’s looking good for your favorite book now. Once filming begins, that means money has been spent and there is not a lot that will stop the process now, because nobody likes to lose money. Sometimes, directors will share photos from the set while filming is taking place. So if you are particularly excited about a book to movie adaptation, be sure and watch the author’s social media and see if you can get some on set behind the scenes info.
After filming we move into the next step: post-production.
After filming, a movie must be edited. All of that film roll is spliced together, music is added, any special effects are added, and the bits and pieces are made into a magical whole. At the same time, others are working on putting together marketing materials. It’s almost definite that you will get to see your favorite book as a movie now! Almost.
Sometimes, a movie initially intended for the big screen may find itself on streaming or on TV as opposed to getting the big box office release, but usually if it has reached this point it will see people’s eyeballs in one way or another. Though on very rare occasion, a book that has been filmed never gets released because it has missed its woo (window of opportunity), or the earlier movies in the series didn’t make the money that was expected, etc.
When all of the post-production work is done and a marketing plan is put together, we then get a release date, so get ready for your red carpet walk!
We have a release date!
If a book makes it through all of the steps above, it gets a release date and makes it to the television or movie screen. Less than 2% of books become movies or a tv show. But if a book makes it through all of the various stages mentioned above, fans have a pretty decent chance of actually seeing the end product. And if you want to continue to see your favorite books turned into movies, you should make sure and give the various MG and YA based movies your dollars and eyeballs, because all of these decisions are based on box office and streams. At the end of the day, movie studios are looking to develop properties that they think will make them bank.
And now that you’re favorite book has made it onto the screen, you can have all of your discussions about what they changed from the book and how the book is always better!
From Books to Movies
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network