There are several measures of success that each writer dreams of happening. One, of course, is to complete writing a manuscript. Then there’s getting an agent, publisher and/or self-publishing. Afterwards is having the book become a bestseller. Following that is having the book made into a movie.
While it’s rare that all these steps happen for most writers, I think it’s interesting to take a peek into the process. That’s why the final panel I attended at BookCon was “Transforming a Bestseller onto the Silver Screen: The Book to Film Experience.”
[When I take notes at an event, I write it out longhand in a notebook, and I must say I'm not always the fastest transcriber around. I paraphrased the questions/answers that I didn’t manage to write down verbatim, but I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was asked/answered. All questions were asked by the moderator, MJ Franklin, with the exception of the audience questions at the end.]
The moderator started out with a question to break the ice.
Question: What is your guilty pleasure movie?
Stephen - The Room.
R.J. – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Nicola – Harold and Kumar.
Lauren – Dazed and Confused, Love Actually and The Princess Bride.
Question: What was your first thought when you heard the news your book was going to be made into a movie?
Lauren – “Online shopping!”
Nicola – She didn’t believe it at first. “Then I bought a bottle of champagne.”
R.J. – “It was like watching your kid take their first step.” It’s not one step, it’s a lot of little steps, in the process from book to movie.
Question: What happens AFTER you hear your book’s going to be made into a movie?
It takes years – one author said 4 years, one said 7+.
Question: What’s happening in that 7 years?
Lauren – “Well, that’s how long it takes people in Hollywood to read a book.” [Big laugh from audience.]
Lauren – “Once it starts going, it can go really, really fast.”
Stephen – “It really is a small miracle [that films get made]. … There really is no rhyme or reason. … It helps to have a fan base.” More books get made into movies than original screenplays.
Nicola – The head of MGM’s daughter loved her book and wanted it to be a movie, so he said, “Okay.”
Question: Stephen, you’ve been on all sides of the table. Do you sleep? What was it like directing Wonder [R.J. Palacio’s book] and working directly with the author?
Stephen – “No” on the sleep question. He has a 2-year-old and 4-year-old, so he doesn’t sleep at all. [Got a laugh from the audience.] As to directing, he worked very closely with Raquel on Wonder. He asked her help and opinion a lot.
Lauren – “So many writers are shut out [by directors]. … Creative writing is like romance. … You’ve got to pick your partner carefully.”
Stephen – “The really smart directors – the best directors – it’s not true.” They don’t shut out the writers.
Question: When changing mediums from book to movie – what new opportunities do you see in it?
R.J. – “I love the idea of telling a story with as many audial and visual senses as possible.”
Question: Does it make you approach writing your next book differently?
Nicola – “The thing about writing your second book when your first book is doing well is that you hear everything that they [the readers] love about it and also everything they hate about it – because they will tell you.”
Question: What do readers need to know about book/screen differences?
Lauren – Scenes are filmed around location, not as a linear story, so filming jumps around in the story.
Stephen – Quoted, “Art is a great lie that tells the truth.”
Question: What about Easter eggs – what secrets do you put in your movies?
Nicola – She and her family have a cameo in her movie. It’s 3 seconds in the movie, but it took 45 minutes to film. It was filmed with a drone and every time, her daughter would point at the drone. She would tell her daughter, “Honey, don’t point.” And then the next time the drone flew by – out went the hand.
R.J. – Her son is in her movie.
Stephen – Lots. For example, his wife is also a writer, and he had the main character reading her book.
Question: Because your story is a personal thing to you, how do you know screenwriters won’t ruin it?
R.J. – “Blind faith.”
Lauren/Nicola – They need to love it as much as you do.
Question: How long do you revise before it’s ready?
Stephen – “My advice to all young writers … you can recognize great writing before you can do it.” He asked the questioner how old he was – the man answered, “19.” Stephen advised that there are 4 steps to being a writer.
Question: Do you ever have to step back and not have as much control over your work?
Lauren – When you get a letter from your editor, you go through it. “You have to learn as a writer how to listen, but only to the right people.” Every time, she goes through the 5 stages of grief. Rage is a long one for her. [Got a laugh from the audience.] It teaches you how to push yourself as a writer because it’s stuff you don’t know how to do.
Question: Does seeing a movie make you reenvision your original vision of the book?
Nicola – “It’s [a movie is] a new piece of art.”
Question: How do you stay objective and how do you stay organized?
Stephen – “There is no organization. It’s just how you apply time.”
Nicola – “Writing is a muscle.” You have to exercise it.
Lauren – “Anything you want to do is just work, plus time.”
And that was everything I saw at BookCon! I learned a lot and was lucky enough to attend some really great panels. Hopefully, some of what these authors have said will be inspiring to others, too.
Who the heck is Alison McBain?
I am a freelance writer and poet with over a hundred short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Alberta, where I live with my family. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on! For more info, please check out my "About Me" page.
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