A few weeks ago Sacrifice, the movie version of my first book, went into post-production. The process has been long and, at times, somewhat torturous. To those about to embark on the same journey, here’s what I learned:
1. Choose your producer well. Give the option to someone who is as passionate about the story as you are. All else being equal, they’ll make the better film.
2. Be realistic. I was warned that fewer than 5% of optioned books ever become finished movies. The chances are against you. Enjoy the kudos of having an optioned book, enjoy the “money for nothing” that is the option fee and, to the extent that you can, never think of it.
3. Have patience. Films can be years in the making. Months will go by with nothing happening (that you know of) followed by a frantic flurry of activity. You’ll get close, something will go wrong, you’ll start over again. Jenga-like, the tower grows as the pieces slot into place: finance, director, screenwriter, lead talent, sales agents. Later, insurance companies, studios, directors of photography slot in too, but if just one piece falls out, even a piece of a piece (one of several financial backers) the whole tower can collapse. Stay calm. That Jenga tower may be rising again from the rubble. Or the bricks may be scattered across the carpet. Either way, there’s nothing you can do. Chill.
4. Think outside the box that is your book. A movie is not an audio book with pictures. Nor should it be judged on how slavishly it sticks to the chapter and paragraph of the book. A book may take many hours to read, its film version, rarely more than two hours long, will see much material cut or condensed. It must be so. Similarly, aspects of a book that succeed in written form may not translate. In Sacrifice, Tora spends long pages staring at a computer – this couldn’t possibly work on screen – the writer had to find a new way.
5. Get the balance right. Most contracts will allow for you, the author, to be consulted over the script. Make the most of this. You know this story better than anyone. You are in a stronger position to spot the problems, the missed opportunities. Read and comment upon every version you’re sent, but bear in mind that the story isn’t yours any more. Someone else’s passion and creativity will take it forward now and, if you’re lucky, make it better than the original. And be nice. Remember how hurt and annoyed you get when someone criticizes your book? Well, screenwriters are the same. Getting the script right is a continual wrestling match between author and screenwriter. Eventually, the screenwriter should win.
6. Stay onside. Hopefully you’ll love the emerging movie but, if you don’t, keep it to yourself. You are part of the production team and they have the right to expect 100% loyalty on your part. Never, ever, criticize the movie version of your book.
7. Don’t tell the world. When it looks as though everything is going ahead, the temptation to make The BIG ANNOUNCEMENT is almost overwhelming. Don’t. Remember the words of my US publisher. “It’s not a movie until they’re buying the popcorn.”
8. Dare to dream. 5% of optioned books do become films. Some are huge box office successes, most much more modest, but however successful they become, the process of seeing something that started inside your head, being brought to life by creative and talented people, is – quite simply – extraordinary. And worth the pain.
Thanks to Dead Good for kind permission to use this feature.