CKT Writers’ Festival – Page to Screen with Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr is a Canadian born, Australian author with awards and accolades that include the Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature. She has written over forty books and published in twenty-nine languages. Two of her books, Nim’s Island, and Nim at Sea have been adapted for film. Wendy believes that every child deserves to find the books that fuel their passion for stories, encourage empathy and connection and empower them for the future.

Wendy’s presentation concentrated on the processes, highs and lows of having your novel optioned for, and turned into a movie.

Her initial words were of encouragement.

  • Every single book you write is a real thrill
  • Having your book optioned for a film is rare
  • Having the film option progress to the movie set is rarer still
  • But you are an author, so even if you don’t ever get a book turned into a movie, you are not a failure
  • Even if your best book doesn’t get a movie, you are not a failure

Book deals and movie deals have a lot in common. They take hard work and a bit of luck. It might be your book falls into the lap of the right person, at the right time.

Write the best book that you can. Don’t write for the movie audience. Write for the true audience – the child.

If you do get lucky and receive a query letter asking if the movie rights to your book are available,

Make sure;

  • To check your book contract to see if you own the movie rights
  • You understand who you are dealing with
  • You understand what they are offering
  • You take a deep breath
  • You don’t answer immediately
  • You have an agent, or contract lawyer, preferably with media experience, help with negotiations.

Wendy stressed that it is unusual for the author to be involved in writing the pitch to the movie studios. If you do get involved, you need to become a more visual thinker. Movies are a visual medium and the transition from book to a movie is wide and complicated.

So, what exactly is an option? The option is not a contract to make the movie. It is a contract for the exclusive rights, for a limited time period (several years) for that production company to make your book into a movie, if and when they are ready.

  • Very few options get turned into movies
  • They can cancel the contract any time they like, for any reason they like

If you book progresses to a film contract, think carefully about who is going to represent you. Film contracts are extraordinarily complex, so ensure you find a media lawyer. If it is a Hollywood contract, find a Hollywood media lawyer.

When you sell the film rights, remember,

  • You sell them
  • They own them
  • They can do whatever they like with them.
  • Unless it is stipulated in the contract, you don’t get any say in the movie adaptation.
  • Make sure you fight to add a clause in the contract to get an invitation to the Premier Red-Carpet event. (These are fun)
  • Films take a long time to make
    • Nim’s Island took five years from signing the contract to the end of filming.
  • Films can be cancelled, at any time, even after the movie is complete.

Expectations of the movie.

A movie is NOT a visual retelling of your book. It is a completely different animal. A lot of things will need to be cut to fit the story into the 1 ½ to 2 hours of screen time. Movies will always be different to an author, or reader’s expectations. The budget also has a huge impact on the production. A volcano erupting on the page doesn’t cost anything, while making a volcano erupt on screen does.

Choose how involved you want to be in the process. There are basically three options.

  • Bank the money.
    • Write your next book
    • Get on with your life
  • Ask to do the screenplay.
    • Go all in
    • This will eat years of your life
  • Take the middle road.
    • Consult on the script etc.

If someone is passionate enough in your book to offer to spend years of their life immersed in it – bask in the glow. Do your due diligence. Decide on your focus during the project time, but most importantly – ENJOY IT ALL!!!

In conclusion, I want to share the quote from Wendy that stood out to me during the presentation.

“Writing is a terrible way to make a living, but it is a great way to make a life!” Wendy Orr.

Report by CKT Author, Jeffrey Doherty

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