Over the past twenty years, there have been many changes in the film industry. But one in particular, that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of, seems to be growing more and more by the day- the merging of publishing and filmmaking – to the benefit of both storytellers and audiences alike.
We have come a long way since Ernest Hemingway said:
Let me tell you about writing for films. You finish your book. Now, you
know where the California state line is? Well, you drive right up to that
line, take your manuscripts, and pitch it across. No, on second thought,
don’t pitch it across. First, let them toss the money over. Then you
throw it over, pick up the money, and get the hell out.
I started my career watching my first boss Oliver Stone adapt Ron Kovic’s memoir Born On The Fourth of July and Jim Garrison’s epic On The Trail Of Assassins into powerful films that shaped the national dialogue on Vietnam and the JFK assassination.
That seminal experience, along with a Columbia University Film School degree taught me to look for strong books as inspiration for films.
It was a lesson that has given me the opportunity to help bring the works of some of the most beloved and renowned authors to the big screen including Michael Cunningham, Susan Minot, Armistead Maupin, David Auburn, Charles Dickens and Richard Yates.
It also inspired me to try and make the relationship between the two worlds more formal.
At Sharp Independent, we partnered with Jane Friedman, then CEO of HarperCollins to create Sharp Independent at HarperCollins. My team and I moved into the publisher’s midtown offices where we enjoyed incredible access to authors, agents, editors and publishing executives.
This new model for acquiring, developing and producing literary adaptations offered us what every independent producer strives for- early access to material. And for the publisher it offered an opportunity to participate in the upside of the film rights to the books that it published and the literary stars that it created.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the publishing and film industries were about to go through one of their greatest downturns in history. Within a year, Jane and I had an opportunity to take advantage of this period of transition with the formation of Open Road Integrated Media.
With Open Road, Jane and I envisioned starting a digital publishing company from the ground up with the e-book at the center of the universe, where stories could live on all screens.
Authors and their work are considered from many different perspectives:
- That of a publishing team with deep industry relationships and goodwill.
- A marketing and video production team with an eye to creating a brand around the author.
- An experienced movie producer, with a vision for how to package, develop and produce for television and film.
We called it the “circle of life,” and from that circle, we acquired such legendary authors as William Styron, Pat Conroy, Jack Higgins, Iris Murdoch and developed new literary stars, including a first time novelist named Mary Glickman, whose debut novel Home In The Morning became Open Road’s first e-riginal bestseller in December, 2010.
The success of our ebooks has been unprecedented. As esales have gone through the roof, so have the awareness of our authors and the ability to bring their stories to all screens.
By working closely with our authors and agents, we have been able to option more than fifteen film and television properties, many of which are in active development including: Lie Down In Darkness, William Styron’s debut novel with Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) adapting and directing for the screen, Pat Conroy’s The Boo based on his debut novel of the same name, Cocoa Beach, a television series developed in partnership with Endgame Entertainment and written by Andre and Maria Jacquemetton (Mad Men) and our most recent announcement, Home In The Morning, which was optioned by Essential Entertainment as a feature film.
Publishing and producing under one roof ensures that the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. There is an economy to how we acquire, develop, package and produce at Open Road.
While working closely with the estate of William Styron, we discovered a draft of Lie Down In Darkness, written by Richard Yates to be directed by John Frankenheimer in 1961.
In hanging out with Pat Conroy and his wife Cassandra in their attic in South Carolina, we unearthed an adaptation of his first novel The Boo.
And when we acquire new authors, we have the fabulous opportunity to collaborate with the author and agent from the beginning to create a singular vision for how to approach a feature or TV adaptation.
Compare this for a minute to the traditional way an author would sell their movie rights to a studio or producer, often times, never to hear from the buyer again, with little or no contact with the creative team. And the publisher is completely left out of the process, except, in the rare instance that a film is successfully adapted from the book, and provides the opportunity to create a tie-in edition. Even then, there is no control or participation in the box office success of the film.
And consider the producer and studio; they have no hedge against the success or failure of the film as they have no participation in the upside of the book publication. As we have seen, when a movie comes out, it can drive sales for books. The film adaptation of Revolutionary Road helped propel Richard Yates to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for the first time – ever.
We’re not looking at new forms of storytelling so much as upholding those traditional forms and narrative traditions that have been in place for centuries.
We’re trying to unite the creative experience in a coordinated and careful manner to benefit authors, filmmakers, readers and audiences.
Our inspiration comes from everywhere and we look forward to telling those stories when, where and how consumers want to experience them. And we look forward to partnering with screenwriters, directors, producers and studios in creating great stories across all screens.