From book to movie: how to get your novel onto the big screen

Former film agent and current story developer Nick Harris talks to author Chandler Baker about how to make the transition successfully...

Ever wondered how books like Harry Potter and Divergent get made into film? People like Nick Harris help make it happen. 


During his career, Nick has negotiated the film rights for such movies as The Last King of Scotland, The Men Who Stare At Goats and We Bought A ZooHe was also the film and television agent for leading authors, including Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Nicholas Evans.


After leaving his role as the head of ICM’s book-to-film division in Hollywood, Nick started The Story Foundation where he develops concepts, guiding them through the process from idea to published novel. Recently, The Story Foundation signed a first-look deal with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, 8 Mile, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas).


Chandler Baker (pictured below), whose stand-alone novel, Alive, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in the Spring of 2015, interviews him...


Chandler: You’ve worn many hats in this industry, but one I know we’re particularly interested in was your former role negotiating film rights.. What do you look for in a book that makes you think it’s right for adaptation?


Nick: I look for a story with memorable characters and a strong ‘hook’. For example, when I was asked to represent a memoir called We Bought A Zoo, the true story of a family who purchased a dilapidated zoo and took on the challenge of preparing the zoo for its reopening to the public, I knew right away that it would make a great movie. It was made by Fox in 2011 with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.


Chandler: Why do you think some books are picked up for film adaptation right out of the gate while others take years and years for a studio to take an interest?


Nick: That’s a tough question to answer. It depends on so many things. Books will sometimes get picked up faster when a studio hears that a publisher has paid a gigantic advance for it (like Harry Potter) or it’s a high-concept genre (sci-fi, fantasy, thriller) book. Divergent is a good example. The most obvious example of a quick pick up is when a new book is published by a famous author (Cormac McCarthy for example).


Chandler: Approximately what percentage of projects that are “optioned” actually get greenlit to be made into either a pilot or a film?


Nick: I would say a VERY low percentage. At a guess 1/10 in film and 1/20 in TV.


Chandler: Now, you have a new hat. You started The Story Foundation in 2012. There, you and your team develop stories and originate content to be sold to publishers and TV and film studios alike. As someone who has to constantly be generating new ideas, how do you find inspiration? How do you know when you’ve touched on an idea that’s special, that has the legs to become a book?


Nick: My inspiration comes from a variety of places. I’ve had ideas while gazing at paintings. Driving around Los Angeles. Talking to my six year-old daughter. Reading newspapers. Listening to music. I believe that inspiration is everywhere, you just have to look and listen.  


Chandler: At The Story Foundation, you collaborate with writers to make your vision come to life. First, what’s the number one quality you look for in a potential writer? Second, How do you select your writers and what makes for a good fit?


Nick: The number one quality is an original voice. We want our books to be unique and original and not feel generic. It’s our vision combined with the writer’s voice that makes what we do so exciting. We like to work with writers who aren’t afraid of high concept ideas and enjoy a collaborative working relationship. 


Chandler: Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Nick!

Ok, guys, tells us in the comments: What book do you think absolutely should be made into a movie and why?

Continue the conversation with us all week by tweeting us @Movellas @Harris65Nick @ChandlerBakerYA, @Virgboecker and @Leeykelly.  



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