The Cold, Hard Facts: What Hollywood Wants in a Book Acquisition - article

The number one criteria when Hollywood decides whether to acquire a book is castability. You have to have characters who can be played by significant names, actors and actresses to whom distributors can relate. A male lead is extremely important. A female lead can work too, but it limits your book to certain kinds of movies (such as television movies) unless you get really lucky. For a feature film, you need a male lead of a castable age. If your lead is under twenty-five, that’s going to be difficult, because there aren’t many stars under twenty-five. The same is true if your male lead is over sixty. So ideally, your male lead should be somewhere in his early thirties to mid-forties. That’s the age group that most male stars fall into. It makes sense to construct your novel to be a film from the very beginning, and the first element of that is making sure the main characters are easy to cast.

The next element to consider is dramatic structure. You need to have clear first, second, and third acts to the story. Many novels fail to make it into the film world because they don’t have strong final acts; the third acts of these books are simply extensions of the second acts and don’t provide satisfying conclusions. You should also be aware that you have a much better chance of having your novel made into a film if your ending is uplifting as opposed to depressing or ambiguous.

Finally, an American setting or some other clearly American element is essential if you want your book to be made into an American film, whether in the independent market or the feature market.

So those are three of the things that you should keep in mind when you’re constructing your novel. It always makes me sad to see a novel that is very exciting but falls apart in the third act or has a seventy-five-year-old lead. People tell you in fourth grade to write from your heart and not to worry about anything else, but they’re wrong. If you’re trying to build a career as a writer, I say write from your heart about things that matter to all of us, because that’s what filmmakers are looking for—things that matter to everyone. You can write about whatever you want, but there had better be some universal story at the heart of it. Having an esoteric vision with a small, niche market makes it very hard to get your book made into a film. Stars basically take two kinds of movies: the kind that makes a lot of money and the kind that wins Oscars. Colin Firth took his role in The King’s Speech because it was a demanding role that was likely to get him a lot of attention. Colin Firth can probably get five to ten million dollars or more for doing a movie with a big studio, but he took a role that paid less for a shot at an Oscar.

If you want your book to be made into a movie, you need to write the kinds of characters that actors want to play. If you’re writing an ethnic novel, which is a considerable niche in the literary world, you’re going to have a much harder time in Hollywood, because most ethnic actors prefer to play roles that aren’t specific to a particular ethnicity in order to advance their careers. They want to play universal roles. If you can tell a story that involves characters whose race doesn’t matter, then you’re a much broader marketing target than if you’re sticking to your niche.

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