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The boom in book-to-screen adaptations during the pandemic

For many authors, the news that their book will be adapted for the big screen is life-changing. The prospect of the fruits of their imagination being able to reach a wider audience and in some cases, their characters to be played by household names, is an exciting one. When I discovered that some of my favourite books were to be hitting the big screen – The Hate U Give for example – I tried to visit the cinema at the earliest opportunity and drag as many people along as I could. The pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty for creative industries, but book lovers fear not – according to the LA Times, there’s a lot of evidence that book-to-screen deals are thriving under lockdown. 

Books that come with a cult following represent a great opportunity for film and TV studios that are experiencing difficulties during the pandemic. They are much less risky than scripts and pitches with completely new worlds and characters. An audience is almost guaranteed, as fans of the book will be keen to see the adaptation, and so studios can invest in a film or TV series with confidence. If it’s a critically acclaimed book, people will still be drawn to the film regardless of whether they have read it or not. Also, if an adaptation of a book was well received, the hype will begin to build for adaptations of other books by the same author. Take Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends, which is due to be made into a series like her second book, Normal People, as an example. 

Cries of “the books were better” from book lovers are all too familiar

One of the biggest books of the summer, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, is set to be made into a TV series by HBO after a 17-way auction, according to Deadline. This is a sign that, for the right book, deals aren’t slowing down. Exploring pertinent themes such as race and identity, Bennett’s second novel has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 18 weeks, a positive sign for studios who are looking for a project that will draw in large audience numbers. 

Cries of “the books were better” from book lovers are all too familiar, but this is often the case only when authors lose agency over their work to studios who gain the film or TV rights. Too often, fans are dissatisfied and authors are left feeling that their work hasn’t been done justice – even worse, those who haven’t read the books may assume that if the film wasn’t very good, then the book can’t be either. 

Both author and fans were left disappointed with the Percy Jackson films, with many pointing out the several inconsistencies between book and film. Author Rick Riordan went a step further, saying in one tweet that he had not seen the film, and in another he referred to the film as his “life’s work going through a meat grinder”. He also said that “they should censor the entire thing.” Strong words, strong emotions, without a doubt, but it’s understandable. Placing your life’s work in the hands of other people is daunting and risky.

An author’s input is unparalleled in the creation of a series or film based on their work

However, things are looking up. Sylvie Rabineau of WME’s Literary packaging department told the LA Times that there was a preconception that authors “couldn’t be trusted to adapt their own work or be involved in the process”, but the new reality is that “studios and producers absolutely value the services an author can provide, even beyond the underlying material.” This makes a lot of sense. An author’s input is unparalleled in the creation of a series or film based on their work, and getting them involved can only result in higher quality and more faithful adaptations.  

We live in strange times, so when these adaptations will actually be made is unclear. Studios will be very selective in returning to filming in the light of Covid, but for now, it looks like some exciting book adaptations are on the horizon. 

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