PDA

View Full Version : Pitching An adaptation?


Hilario113
04-16-2011, 10:13 PM
This may be a dumb question, but figured I'd ask. Is it possible to pitch an adaptation to a producer if you don't currently own the rights to the source material? If they decide to go forward, will they shell out for the option and then have the writer write it, or is the writer in question expected to option it first before they will even consider the pitch?

I know its illegal (at least unethical) to write a spec without consent of the owner of the original property, but I don't really see the same problem with saying to a producer "hey, this book would make a great movie, I'd write it like this..."

Mac H.
04-16-2011, 10:50 PM
This may be a dumb question, but figured I'd ask. Is it possible to pitch an adaptation to a producer if you don't currently own the rights to the source material? If they decide to go forward, will they shell out for the option and then have the writer write it, or is the writer in question expected to option it first before they will even consider the pitch?

I know its illegal (at least unethical) to write a spec without consent of the owner of the original property, but I don't really see the same problem with saying to a producer "hey, this book would make a great movie, I'd write it like this..."There have been a few cases where a script has been bought even though the writer didn't own the rights to the underlying material - in the cases I'm thinking of the party buying the scripts owned the underlying rights. However it would seem to be a really lousy negotiating position .. if only one person on the planet can buy the product you are guaranteed to not be in a bidding war !

In at least one case a company has even commissioned a screenplay without owning the underlying rights .. they planned on sorting it out as they went. In other cases the rights have been a mess in the first place. For example - Fox went ahead with commissioning a 'Barbarella' script on the assumption that they could work out a deal with Warner Bros (or the other way around) before the project moved ahead further. Heck - the entire Addams Family movie went ahead without anyone acquiring the underlying rights to the 'Uncle Fester' character until the last minute! (From memory they had the rights to the original comic script, etc but that character was invented for the TV show ... and the creator of that character hadn't explicitly licensed the rights for a motion picture) They sorted it out in the end.

I'm not saying it is common or even desirable .. just that in a massive sausage factory these things do happen occasionally.

If it's a well known book then you are probably tilting at windmills.

However if it's less known I'd just contact the publisher's rights department .. they'll know who to connect you to. You'll probably play phone tag for a while but you'll end up knowing who owns the rights.

You might be surprised. A totally unknown writer/producer picking up the DVD rights to the classic series 'Choose your own Adventure' by this path.

Another total unknown licensed the rights for a classic Theodore Sturgeon short story which he then made a film adaptation himself. It cost only him a tiny amount of money for licensing - and changed his short film from being yet another unknown short film to something with a built-in audience. There's a strong case to be made that a beginning film maker doing shorts *SHOULD* adapt a short story for that reason. Another short was made as an adaption of Tim Winton's story - it had a total production budget of $30k. (Americans probably haven't heard of him - but he's a famous Australian novelist.) People are much more likely to put Tim Winton's name into their iFlix queue than the name of an unknown writer. Even better - when one of his novels is adapted with a big budget and a big audience, your small short film will automagically come up as a suggestion for everyone who views the big budget film.

Anyway - I wouldn't just blunder in with a naive 'Aw shucks .. I guess you'll 'ave to do that' ... I'd arm myself with all knowledge so you can have an intelligent conversation about it.

Saying "I don't know" is very different to saying 'Fred Entertainment has an option on it now, but it expires in August and here is a totally different approach that is intended for the Teen market' or some such.

Good luck!

Mac
(PS: Yes - I'm writing this from an undeniably Aussie perspective. There is an interesting AFTRS paper on the subject here: http://bit.ly/gF7u0r

Obviously take real professional advice - these are my random musings as someone who has worked with getting the rights to projects in Australia)

ihavebiglips
04-16-2011, 11:56 PM
This may be a dumb question, but figured I'd ask. Is it possible to pitch an adaptation to a producer if you don't currently own the rights to the source material? If they decide to go forward, will they shell out for the option and then have the writer write it, or is the writer in question expected to option it first before they will even consider the pitch?

I know its illegal (at least unethical) to write a spec without consent of the owner of the original property, but I don't really see the same problem with saying to a producer "hey, this book would make a great movie, I'd write it like this..."

Yes. We have an open door with a few producers to bring them projects we're interested in, with the understanding - if they jive - that the producer can secure the rights on our behalf.

Also, we have a pitch lined up with Hasbro next month on a proprietary property of theirs that we expressed interest in, so it goes that way too... if a production company is sitting on an untouched, undeveloped property you can have your reps approach them about cooking something up. A killer sample never hurts to get the conversation going, of course.

wcmartell
04-17-2011, 02:18 AM
Not a problem as long as they know up front you don't own the rights.

Pretty common at some meeting to mention some book you love that you'd like to adapt as kind of a casual pitch. My problem is I always seem to pitch stuff like DAMNATION ALLEY that was made once (by the studio) and flopped big time. Um, movie is nothing like the book!

- Bill

catcon
04-17-2011, 09:46 AM
... automagically ...

I like this word!

Yes. We have an open door with a few producers to bring them projects we're interested in, with the understanding - if they jive - that the producer can secure the rights on our behalf.

Also, we have a pitch lined up with Hasbro next month on a proprietary property of theirs that we expressed interest in, so it goes that way too... if a production company is sitting on an untouched, undeveloped property you can have your reps approach them about cooking something up. A killer sample never hurts to get the conversation going, of course.

Hmm, at first I took this as utter sarcasm, but if we can hope/expect this business to operate like a "business", it makes total sense. That is, someone holds the rights but they're always interested in money-making opportunities, no matter where they come from.

50% (whatever) of something is a lot better than 0% of nothing, if that's what the rights holder is getting now, or 2% through stale T.V. revenues.

The key, as stated, is to be up-front to the third party, or to approach ONLY the rights holder. And expecting a bidding war isn't even in the cards, for this project. If you've already written the monster, you should be thrilled if they offer scale, frankly; maybe your rep/lawyer can at least get the rewrites for you.

And even if you do everything on the straight and narrow, and go directly to the rights holder, it doesn't mean you're automatically going to get a smart response. The LEGAL department may intercept your offer/suggestion before their BUSINESS brains even get a chance to look at it, resulting in a "rejection", or even "cease and desist" reply.

The Super Matrix (www.thesupermatrix.com) (Not a good choice for a "sequel on spec", IMHO, given its status as a current franchise)

So with all this before us, it would seem no one would even initiate such a project when there's so much of an advantage in writing our own stuff.

At most, take inspiration from something and adapt it, tweaking the scenarios, flipping the genders, altering the timeline or geography, whatever it takes, to morph it your own story.

Isn't that what most of us have done? For scenes, if not whole story lines, even combining our inspirations two and three at a time into one story, to try to make a tale that's even BETTER than the original?

ihavebiglips
04-17-2011, 11:43 AM
Let me be clear (no sarcasm)... I would NEVER waste my time speccing a property I don't have the rights to, unless it is on the request of a very reputable producer with the ability to get it set up and MADE (and they own the rights).

I would NEVER spec an adaptation of say, a book, then shop my script to production companies hoping one of them likes it enough to not only buy my script but also pick up the rights from whomever holds them. That sounds like a crazy waste of time; the likelihood it gets off the ground is so low you are much better off speccing an original idea, imo.

Honestly, I'm not sure how feasible this sort of thing is without reps and/or an established relationship with a producer... and when I say this I am talking about having SOMEONE ELSE secure the rights on your behalf.

If you want to approach the rights holder of some obscure work and option the rights out-of-pocket, that can be done - but again, I don't advise it. You'll likely waste money securing the option and finding no buyers - the key is get interest in the project from those who make movies.

Get the suits interested... know there is some sort of path for the property, get a producer to secure the rights on their dime with you attached to spec the script with the understanding the producer will take it into studios - with a contract in place to pay you a certain amount or percentage of the studio deal.

I'm no expert and am just now dabbling in this sort of thing... but this is how I see it. Others here probably know more.

Hilario113
04-17-2011, 12:21 PM
Thanks for the info, sounds like it's as I suspected, can be done but not the best way to go about it. I would never spec anything either without some kind of element in place. Thanks guys.

ihavebiglips
04-17-2011, 12:27 PM
By the way, when I say own the rights I mean own control... An option on the rights by the producer is obviously just as good as long as they feel confident they can get it done before the option expires.

NikeeGoddess
04-18-2011, 06:56 AM
in any case you should research and see if someone has optioned the rights already. best case scenario - a producer optioned it and is looking for a writer and you convince them to hire you.

DavidK
04-21-2011, 05:56 PM
This may be a dumb question, but figured I'd ask. Is it possible to pitch an adaptation to a producer if you don't currently own the rights to the source material? If they decide to go forward, will they shell out for the option and then have the writer write it, or is the writer in question expected to option it first before they will even consider the pitch?

I know its illegal (at least unethical) to write a spec without consent of the owner of the original property, but I don't really see the same problem with saying to a producer "hey, this book would make a great movie, I'd write it like this..."

It's a good idea to see if the film rights have already been sold first. All the answers you've had are correct to some extent but everything depends - on your credentials, what the source material is, what rights are available, who the producer is and so on. But it's a risk to do what you ask if you have no writing credentials - the producer is more likely to want an exeprienced writer.

It's not illegal or unethical to write an adaptation on spec but you can't show it to anyone or do anything with it so it's a fruitless exercise.

Lost of writers ask about this scenario and usually the best answer is to stake your claim by writing something original.