Optioning recent true story written about by someone I know - best first step?

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  • Optioning recent true story written about by someone I know - best first step?

    A guy I know (I worked with him many years ago at a small trade publishing company and we became friends, but then he moved and we haven't been in touch in years, although we are connected on LinkedIn), just published a non-fiction book about a real-life "Big Short" type of situation that looks incredibly juicy for a movie and, I'm almost positive, will be made into one at some point. The original idea/article was published about 5 years ago in a pretty well-known national newspaper by the co-writer of the book, whom I don't know.

    I would like to turn this book into a screenplay and try to sell it to a studio. Given that I know the book's writer, what would you say is the best first step? I want to be careful in how I approach this because I can already tell -- by the way the book was written and the way they are promoting it on certain podcasts and other venues -- they have every intent on seeing it made into a movie.I've never had anything of my own produced but I've done just about everything else: I have representation, I've optioned many screenplays, had paid writing assignments, and now have close connections (ie - I can contact them with ideas/scripts whenever I want and they will always respond quickly) to many big producers and directors.

    Any advice on how to approach this? I have a feeling that if I send my friend an email saying - "Hey man. Long time no see! Loved your book and I want to turn it into a screenplay" he'd say, "No problem -- show me the money." And I wouldn't be able to offer him enough to sell the rights to me -- certainly nowhere near what a studio could offer.

    Should I try to "sweeten the deal" for him in some way? Offer co-writing credit? Not try to buy out the rights at all but let him keep the rights and just try to develop the script with him under some other type of agreement? Should I try to interest one of the producers and/or directors I know in the story and see if maybe they want to come in with me and we approach him together in some way?

    Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Thanks

  • #2
    Have your rep find out if the book has already been optioned first... this may already be a dead end.

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    • #3
      Thanks. I know it may already be optioned. But I'm talking in the case that it HASN'T... what's the best first step?

      Comment


      • #4
        If they are truly a buddy of any kind, I'd 100% reach out and tell them you like their book. I think I'd do that, see if they write back and then maybe hit them up with the option offer. Instead of the first thing you say "Can I make money off you?" More like " Ted read your book. It's awesome. What's going on?" He writes back -- "Thanks so much. Not much, what is up with you." And then you can go "Well I'm a writer too... I think your book would make a great movie..." Did he know you were a writer already and did you know he was a writer before he wrote this book?

        OTHER THOUGHTS

        I'm confused what the original article published 5 years ago and how that relates to the book...

        I've never done this before and I truly don't get this side of the business. My friend is always interested in these things and I get they get made into movies, but my gut is like I'll wait until one day a producer with the rights to BOOK X offers me a gig to adapt the book.

        I'm sure there has been success stories, but it feels like 99% of the time when it's adaptions it's done at the highest level. How many writers in our position have optioned a book -- wrote a script -- and sold it -- had it be a movie? I think.... Bad Education was one of those stories.

        My point is the risk/reward seems soooo low. I'm always the writer who is like "I heard real story X" and I think that's a great idea for a movie that's sort of based on that but not entirely and just write my own story from it.

        Very few people or stories to me NEED it to be about the real person. Like Wolf of Wall Street -- to me they could have made that movie the same way and made a fictional version of the real guy.



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        • #5
          Thanks, Bono. The original article is the same story but in news article format. It's is a Lehman Brothers type story about the bankruptcy of a very well-known American "institution", of sorts. Certainly big screen-worthy. So, I guess my old buddy must have approached the guy who wrote the article - or maybe he knew him already - and said, "Hey - let's flesh this out into a full-fledged book." And now the book is out. It's a small press that published it - not a major publisher. See your point about maybe doing some "take" on it, but that's not really an option here. Hard to explain without going into specific details about the story.

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          • #6
            To answer your other question: I became involved in screenwriting after we lost touch, so I don't think he's aware (unless he's been keeping track or me on LinkedIn, which, why would be...?).

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            • #7
              I guess - also worth mentioning that the story has been covered/written about by a few other reporters, as well, including in Fortune magazine (by a different writer - not my friend). They are all, though, reporting on public information, but pretty sure I don't have the right to take their very hard journalism work/digging and turn it into a screenplay.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by grumpywriter View Post
                I guess - also worth mentioning that the story has been covered/written about by a few other reporters, as well, including in Fortune magazine (by a different writer - not my friend). They are all, though, reporting on public information, but pretty sure I don't have the right to take their very hard journalism work/digging and turn it into a screenplay.
                That's another thing I do not get. People are optioning stories and I'm like but that was news that was reported in 1000 different ways... isn't it just facts? Free use?

                For instance if it was Enron -- can't you just change the company name to Enbob and just go that way?

                This is why I don't like it as I don't get it. Big stories come out and you see someone buys the rights and I'm like why can't half of us still write a screenplay about the same story we all saw.

                Say Tiger King. We all watched it. They are making a few things about it. But I think I can write a sitcom about a crazy man who owns his own zoo...

                Comment


                • #9
                  As in other cases, to save a bit of time typing, here are a few articles which might help and cover to some degree, some of the issues you may or may not run into:

                  https://scriptmag.com/columns/legall...-the-headlines

                  https://www.lehmannstrobel.com/artic...-story-rights/

                  https://www.marklitwak.com/self-defe...ilmmakers.html

                  I'd suggest being careful & a little cautious about using a newspaper or magazine article. There are reasons studio get the rights to them. If specific info in them is something the journalist discovered or drew out of the people he/she interviewed, then I've always understood that to be protected. Now if you are going off in a whole fictional direction with this and are just borrowing a little from some article/research to do your own story, then you should be fine.

                  As far as the book is concerned, this friend/acquaintance/author will most likely think "A movie of my book? Wow.", and want real money. Give it a try though, of course. You have nothing to lose, and in any agreement used, you can work in phrasing that says, if it truly gets set up, then the author can negotiate a fair market rate of some sort for the actual rights to his book. OR you could put in some kind of range for he would get. (I'd have a lawyer help you with all that to be safe.) But it's possible, if the person likes you and believes in you. And not to state the overly obvious, but the co-writer will have to agree too, so that could make it that much tougher and unless that person really knows you and agrees. Again, "movie = money" in their eyes, I'm sure.

                  I would not try to do a handshake agreement. Get it all in writing. No kidding. Put it on paper. Spell stuff out as best you can and all three sign it. You write the script, they can get a "Based on the book by John Doe and Sam Doe" credit.

                  And sure, having a producer you know come on board could help, if they have some real credits, but I'd have some kind of rights to the book wrapped up first with the two authors, so that you are not "kicked" off the project at some point with nothing but a "Thanks, and don't let the door hit you on the way out."
                  Done Deal Pro
                  Administrator
                  Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 05-16-2021, 03:29 PM. Reason: Fixed grammer, etc.
                  Will
                  Done Deal Pro
                  www.donedealpro.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Done Deal Pro View Post
                    As in other cases, to save a bit of time typing, here are a few articles which might help and cover to some degree, some of the issues you may or may not run into:

                    https://scriptmag.com/columns/legall...-the-headlines

                    https://www.lehmannstrobel.com/artic...-story-rights/

                    https://www.marklitwak.com/self-defe...ilmmakers.html

                    I'd suggest being careful & a little cautious about using a newspaper or magazine article. There are reasons studio get the rights to them. If specific info in them is something the journalist discovered or drew out of the people he/she interviewed, then I've always understood that to be protected. Now if you are going off in a whole fictional direction with this and are just borrowing a little from some article/research to do your own story, then you should be fine.

                    As far as the book is concerned, this friend/acquaintance/author will most likely think "A movie of my book? Wow.", and want real money. Give it a try though, of course. You have nothing to lose, and in any agreement used, you can work in phrasing that says, if it truly gets set up, then the author can negotiate a fair market rate of some sort for the actual rights to his book. OR you could put in some kind of range for he would get. (I'd have a lawyer help you with all that to be safe.) But it's possible, if the person likes you and believes in you. And not to state the overly obvious, but the co-writer will have to agree too, so that could make it that much tougher and unless that person really knows you and agrees. Again, "movie = money" in their eyes, I'm sure.

                    I would not try to do a handshake agreement. Get it all in writing. No kidding. Put it on paper. Spell stuff out as best you can and all three sign it. You write the script, they can get a "Based on the book by John Doe and Sam Doe" credit.

                    And sure, having a producer you know come on board could help, if they have some real credits, but I'd have some kind of rights to the book wrapped up first with the two authors, so that you are not "kicked" off the project at some point with nothing but a "Thanks, and don't let the door hit you on the way out."
                    Thanks!
                    Done Deal Pro
                    Administrator
                    Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 05-16-2021, 03:30 PM. Reason: Updated by post to add fixes with grammar, etc. to my quoted post. Writers!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by grumpywriter View Post

                      Thanks!
                      You can call the agent that sold the book (or the publisher) and ask if the movie rights are available -- with or without identifying yourself. I've done that a couple of times, and the agents have always been happy to talk to me. Both times the books I was interested in were already optioned.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by lostfootage View Post

                        You can call the agent that sold the book (or the publisher) and ask if the movie rights are available -- with or without identifying yourself. I've done that a couple of times, and the agents have always been happy to talk to me. Both times the books I was interested in were already optioned.
                        I've done this before. I would generally say, call the publisher. Ask for the Rights Department if they are a larger publisher, or say ask for the agent that reps the writer(s) whose work you are interested in. It's pretty easy to do and they do this kind of stuff all day -- the big publishers especially.
                        Will
                        Done Deal Pro
                        www.donedealpro.com

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bono View Post

                          That's another thing I do not get. People are optioning stories and I'm like but that was news that was reported in 1000 different ways... isn't it just facts? Free use?

                          For instance if it was Enron -- can't you just change the company name to Enbob and just go that way?

                          This is why I don't like it as I don't get it. Big stories come out and you see someone buys the rights and I'm like why can't half of us still write a screenplay about the same story we all saw.

                          Say Tiger King. We all watched it. They are making a few things about it. But I think I can write a sitcom about a crazy man who owns his own zoo...
                          You wouldn't even need to change the name.

                          Comment


                          • #14

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