Last Thursday I Skyped into Steve Harrison’s free teleseminar on how to sell the movie rights to your book. For the curious, here is a report of what was said. I am unaffiliated with Steve or his colleague Nat Mundel and in no way am endorsing what they say or what they are trying to sell. Indeed, I’m providing this summary so that you don’t have to sign up for it yourself and face the stream of emails that come it its wake (though to be fair, there is a nice unsub link in the emails). Steve and Nat, who can be found at http://www.sellyourbooktohollywood.com are clearly mainly about selling their product to writers, but then so am I, so all cards are on the table.
The first hour of the 90 minute seminar was well organized and informative for a newbie to the concept such as myself. The format was a Q&A between the boys, with no questions from listeners. This was a general overview of how to sell a movie option, with a lot of specifics about how it works and no names provided. At the very least, it was useful to learn a bit of the lingo. The last 30 minutes included a couple of badly recorded interviews that I didn’t much listen before going back to the issue at hand. So, with no further ado:
Nat’s position is that even though fewer and fewer Hollywood movies are being made, there is in fact increasing demand for story ideas from growing niche distribution markets, including webmovies, webtv, theater on demand, TV movies, movies, and TV. The industry looking for great ideas. Your book does not have to be shaped like what the movie might eventually be.
He recommends that writers avoid going through an agent for movie rights (pointing out that the movie industry is completely different from the publishing industry) and go straight to independent producers with their books. [Nat said that you can find these creatures on-line, but doesn’t give any further advice as to how.] Most of the rest of the seminar involved how to make it easy for an indy producer to like your book.
Theater on demand is made possible by new technologies that allow movies to be distributed via satellite or hard drive. Digital production reduces costs, which allows selective audiences to be reached. Niche audiences are sought after rather than ignored. Micro-budget movies are becoming the norm. They are intentionally built to not cater to broad audience.
The Six Steps to Success
1 Make the book “movie-genic.” Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means, but it’s a nice term to know. Titles are key. Options are purchased just for the titles.
2 Have a vision of what the book is appropriate for. Define your book so that you will be able to narrow your search for indy producers to those who are looking for what you write. For example: Is your book procedural, character-driven, plot-driven, large-scale, small-scale, or event-driven? Does it deal with a unique sub-culture? Target you audience. If you have a dominant central character and fewer secondary characters, you’re looking at a movie-like plot. Movies are plot driven. Resolution is also good for movies. For TV, which is more character-driven, you need more characters. TV can be more episodic; resolution not necessarily as key.
3 Determine the right market and identify potential buyers in your market for adaptation. The TV system is totally different from Movie system. Learn the market before approaching. You have to know how deals are structured so you can design your deal from the beginning to make it easy. Understand who writes, who gets a cut, what your options are, etc. Don’t fight the system. Don’t insist on being the writer if that’s not how the system works.
4 Create pitch materials directed at buyers. Meaning producers. Pitch TV and film differently. Buyers have to understand your concept. Create a logline: In telling language/industry language, describe what the story is about. Don’t talk about themes and generalities. These don’t resonate with Hollywood buyer. Refer to specific struggle and the setting. Nat has created a logline formula (another good vocab addition) that he lives by:
Nat’s logline formula: NAME OF SCREEN STORY is a GENRE about NAME OF PROTAGONIST, AGE, ONE OR TWO VIVID WORDS DESCRIBING THE CHARACTER who wants HIS/HER IMMEDIATE GOAL. When THE INCITING INCIDENT happens and ONE MAJOR PLOT POINT, he/she goes on a journey to ACCOMPLISH GOAL and discover/realize/find THEME. You don’t have to use every element; pick and choose
what fits your book.
Create a one or two paragraph version of the logline as a short synopsis. Create a two or three page version of story for a long synopsis.
Write a treatment. The screen adaptation version. The interpretation of the book for the screen. Presentation treatment? [Nat was vague on how long a treatment he was talking about. Having a treatment makes it easy for the producer.
5. Find up-and-coming producer in your market to champion book. Find somebody like-minded. Producer in the industry. They will help you finalize the treatment. Check industry databases, watch movies and read credits.
6. Know how to make a deal. You’re trying to sell an “Option Agreement.” It’s unlikely any producer is going to give you a lot of money up front. The producer is going to believe in your book, spend a year or more running around, creating a management team, writing screenplays. Gives them the right to run the book around town and try to make a deal. Though you won’t get much money up front, rewards are to be had down the road. Keep it a simple option agreement; be easy to work with.
And that’s it! Just as if you sat there for 90 minutes and took notes!