Book Excerpts

Make Your Story A Movie: Chapters 7-9

by John Robert Marlow



What’s at Stake?

Stories—movies in particular—are vicarious experiences. Adventure. Catharsis. If character is the hook that gets readers and viewers involved, story is the line that reels them in. “I look for a story that moves me,” says Paul Haggis—who, as a screenwriter, director, producer and multiple Oscar-winner—has a broader perspective than most. “And that’s hard to find. You need to be able to say, this is a story that, once it’s on the screen, will move me in some way. It’ll make me laugh, it’ll make me cry, break my heart, heal me. Whatever it is, it will touch me. And if it touches me, it will touch others as well. That’s probably the most important thing to know.”

When considering material, Oscar-nominated producer Michael Nozik asks questions. “Is there a compelling central character? One whose dilemma can sustain the story? And what is that dilemma? Is it one that I care about, that I can relate to; one that I think an audience will relate to? I actually ask if I relate to it first, because if I can’t understand it and relate to it, I’m probably not going to be of much use in moving the project forward.

“I’ve tried a few times with things where I thought, hey, this story seems commercial—but if it doesn’t affect me on an emotional level, if it doesn’t compel me, I actually can’t go the distance with it, can’t develop it, can’t sell it very well because I’d just be faking it. And I just don’t understand or know how to do that.” Even the most fascinating character in the world can’t save a bad story.

But what, exactly, is a bad story? Read more…

Make Your Story A Movie: Chapters 4-6

by John Robert Marlow



Most authors would like to see their work adapted for the big (or small) screen, but the path from here to there is at best unfamiliar—and can seem incomprehensible. Some bestsellers are made into movies, others ignored. Obscure books, short stories, and magazine articles are blessed by Hollywood’s magic, while thousands of screenplays are turned away. What sense does that make? Is there no rhyme or reason here?

Well, yes, actually. But it’s hard to make out when—like most writers—you’re on the outside looking in. The twelve chapters that follow will take you through the looking glass and make some sense of the enigma that is the Hollywood adaptation process. More importantly, it will explain why some books are made into movies while others are not, and what you can do to make your story more attractive to filmmakers. Read more…

Make Your Story A Movie: Chapters 1-3

by John Robert Marlow


The original MYSAM (Make Your Story A Movie) book was traditionally published by Macmillan/St. Martin’s Griffin in 2012. What you’re reading now is a sort of v1.5—updated in 2019 and placed (free) on the website. MYSAM v2.0 will be published in 2020, with new contributions from authors, screenwriters, producers, directors and others not found in previous versions (including this one). I’ll also be covering digital/streaming and series, which are far more important now than they were in 2012. This version 1.5 may go offline when v2.0 appears. Start reading the free book now…

Chapter 3: Adapting vs Selling Film Rights (MYSAM Book Excerpt)

by John Robert Marlow
Make your Story a Movie -- The Book

If you haven’t already, you might want to read the book’s Introduction: The Power of Hollywood, Chapter One: Why Adapt?, and Chapter Two: What Can—and Can’t—Be Adapted before reading this chapter. Onward…


There’s a Difference

Most books and other properties are not movies. Some never will be. Many, however—including most books—could be movies, if skillfully adapted. And therein lies the rub: when Hollywood people (agents, managers, producers, directors, actors, studio execs and investors) look at a book, even a very good book, they see…a book. And the business of Hollywood is making movies, not books. As Paul Haggis says, “You need to be able to picture the film.”


The purpose of a book is to be a book, to be enjoyed and appreciated for what it is. There is no next step, except perhaps to read the author’s next book. The purpose of a screenplay is to roll a movie in the reader’s head, and get them to take the next step: to help turn that screenplay into the movie they saw as they read it. The script’s purpose is to be a blueprint. “The screenplay isn’t the final version of anything,” says screenwriter John August. “It’s a plan for making a movie…” Read more…

Chapter 2: What Can—and Can’t—Be Adapted (MYSAM Book Excerpt)

by John Robert Marlow
Make your Story a Movie -- The Book

If you haven’t already, you might want to read the book’s Introduction: The Power of Hollywood and Chapter One: Why Adapt? before reading this chapter. Onward…


Get the Rights, or Get Out

Once upon a time, Hollywood adaptations were limited to films based on what might be termed “traditional” sources—books, plays, historical events, the occasional true-life story. No longer. Today, almost anything can be—and currently is being—adapted by Hollywood. Though novels still lead the pack in terms of overall box office success, script purchases and worldwide grosses reflect a broadening of categories.

What follows is a list of the Top 30 highest-grossing adaptations, as of the time of this writing (figures rounded to the nearest million). Remember that DVD sales alone are likely triple or quadruple the figures shown below—and that neither figure accounts for merchandising and other rights exploitation… Read more…

Chapter 1: Why Adapt? (MYSAM Book Excerpt)

by John Robert Marlow
Make your Story a Movie -- The Book

If you haven’t already, you might want to read the book’s Introduction: The Power of Hollywood before reading this chapter. Onward…


Audience, Money, Synergy

Humans have always been storytellers. Whether gathered around a campfire, painting on cave walls, writing words on dead trees or computer screens—it’s in our blood. Books and other storytelling formats can be noble undertakings, capable of reaching hundreds of thousands of readers.

But movies are the global campfires of our time.


Filmed entertainment routinely reaches millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of people, all over the world. On those few occasions where book sales reach this level, they do so with the aid of movies based on the books. Aside from religious texts with thousands of years to build an audience, there are no exceptions to this rule.

It makes no difference whether a story is little-known and personal (Monster, Erin Brockovich, both TRU*), or a household name on multiple continents (Harry Potter, Twilight, (both NOV*), Batman, Spider-Man (both COM*)—a movie can expand the audience exponentially. There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being that people who don’t—and people who can’t—read books still watch movies. But there are other reasons as well… Read more…

The Power of Hollywood (MYSAM Book Excerpt)

by John Robert Marlow
Make your Story a Movie -- The Book


Having revised, expanded and updated the original Make Your Story a Movie blog post several times for various print and online publications (and of course the blog itself), I came to realize that it was never going to be all I wanted it to be. The reason was simple: what I wanted it to be was just too big for a single blog post. On top of that, doing it as a series of posts would—at one or two posts a month—take years, leaving the information stuck in my head and unavailable to readers. In short, the whole project had become unmanageable—as a blog post.

But not, I thought, as a book—which could deliver several hundred pages of information in one instantly-available package. Information gleaned from my own experience and the collective wisdom of the people I’ve learned so much from over the years—authors, playwrights, comic creators and publishers, screenwriters, directors, producers, entertainment attorneys and more. All told, their works have earned over $50 billion dollars (I’m still trying to calculate a total), and drawn dozens of Academy Award nominations. And so, with the generous help of friends and friends of friends, the book was born.

At the same time, there was a great deal of information that wouldn’t fit into the book because it dealt with finer points rather than basics, or with aspects of the publishing or filmmaking industries that are not directly related to adaptations (how people broke into the business, the difference between working in film and TV, industry trends, and so forth).

That information will continue to appear on the blog, through regular posts, long-form interviews (including chats with most if not all of the sources quoted in the book), etc. The same goes for new or updated information I may come across after the book is published, and the experienced voices of those I have yet to meet and learn from.

Looking at the Big Picture (so to speak), book and blog are meant to work and grow together. The book will give you a solid grounding in the basics, from evaluating potential source material, through adaptation, to credits and contracts. The blog will build on that, and update anything subject to change.

On to the excerpt… Read more…