Screenwriter / Producer Terry Rossio (Extreme Interview)

by John Robert Marlow
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TERRY ROSSIO is probably the highest-paid screenwriter in the history of the medium. He prefers to write with a partner, which is almost invariably Ted Elliott. Together, they’ve written the screenplay and/or story for films such as: Aladdin; Godzilla; The Lone Ranger, Shrek; the Pirates of the Caribbean, Zorro, and National Treasure movies; and far too many others to mention here. Terry also co-wrote (with Bill Marsilii) the record-breaking Deja Vu spec script—which sold for $5 million–and Lightspeed, which sold for $3.5 million. Terry is also a producer.

I interviewed him for the book, Make Your Story a Movie: Adapting Your Book or Idea for Hollywood. And while much of Terry’s adaptation-specific advice appears there, it just wasn’t possible or appropriate to include (in that format) the wisdom he was kind enough to share on other topics. And so you find it here…

JRM: How did you break in, and how did you come to be where you are now?

Terry Rossio: I’m going to try to not give the usual boilerplate answers in this interview, and that means not going along with false presumptions, no matter how seemingly benign. The question about breaking in seems perfectly legit, but really it’s not. A writer must create compelling work, and then try to sell it. Once sold, the writer has to do the same thing again. It’s really not true that the writer ‘breaks in’—that’s an artifact of the belief that the person is being judged, not the work, and also of the belief that there is an inside and an outside, which I don’t think exists. There are too many screenwriters out there with only a single credit for there to be an inside, and too many writers on the outside making sales, to too many markets which are either new, changing, or undefined.

In truth buyers are just not that organized, your buyer is not my buyer, or in some cases, you can become your own buyer. Courtney Hunt was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay for Frozen River, and she’s never sold a screenplay. Is she on the inside or the outside? In truth, anyone, at any time, can come up with South Park or Superman or Sandman, and that’s all that matters.

I know writers want to think it’s all about access… Read more…

Script Sales: The Biggest of 2012, and Biggest Ever (Page Update)

by John Robert Marlow
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Though selling prices are often kept under wraps, details tend to leak over time. As of late November, over a hundred spec scripts have sold in 2012, many by newcomers. This page lists those specs known to have sold for $1 million or more in 2012. Three of them sold in the same 48-hour period. […]

Screenplays: Where to Find Them Free, and Where to Buy Them (Page Update)

by John Robert Marlow
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Whether you’re interested in adapting your own story, getting help, or having someone else do it for you—reading scripts will help to familiarize you with screenplay format, which can seem strange to the uninitiated. And while you can pay $10-$20 for a hard copy or for scripts “officially” published in book form, you can also […]

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…

Blog Reloaded: May, 2012

by John Robert Marlow

The Make Your Story a Movie blog will pick up again next month (May, 2012). I’ve been busy on both coasts: there’s a new book coming (based on this blog), along with a ton of of new material (including scads of interviews)—and news of an adaptation deal where I wrote the action spec and will executive produce the movie. More soon

Screenwriter / Producer Interview: Leslie Dixon (“Limitless”) Part 1

by John Robert Marlow
Leslie Dixon, screenwriter / producer of Limitless and other films

Leslie Dixon is screenwriter and producer of Limitless, based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. (Click here for Alan Glynn interview.) Her other credits include: The Heartbreak Kid (STO)*; Hairspray (MUS / MOV); Freaky Friday (NOV / MOV); The Thomas Crown Affair (MOV); Mrs. Doubtfire (NOV); Outrageous Fortune and other films. Limitless earned over $150M at the box office. (Watch the Limitless trailer here.)

JRM: How did you come to be a screenwriter?

Leslie Dixon: I was just a narcissistic little fantasizing nobody that actually had the temerity to think that I could move to Los Angeles, totally on my own, and break into the entertainment business.

It was very difficult for me to leave San Francisco, because I was living with this really great guitar player. Not a rocker. This guy could finger pick ragtime. And any song off the top of his head with a moving bass line, and get it rolling.

But I did want to make a living and I did want to be involved with the movie business, which I loved. But I loved film probably more than I loved bluegrass, so I worked up the guts to leave. It was hard for any San Franciscan to leave and go to L.A. period, much less try to break into a notoriously tough business.

JRM: Did you know how tough it would be at the time?

Leslie Dixon: No. And if I had, I wouldn’t have tried. I had been on my own since I was 18, and couldn’t afford to go to college. And there was so little information. You have to realize this was pre-internet. Read more…

Author Interview: Alan Glynn (“Limitless”)

Alan Glynn, author of Limitless (The Dark Fields) and Winterland by John Robert Marlow

Alan Glynn is author of the novel The Dark Fields, which was adapted and republished as Limitless. The film adaptation, written and produced by Leslie Dixon, earned over $150M at the box office. (Click here for Leslie Dixon interview. Watch the Limitless trailer here.)

Alan is also the author of the novels Winterland (2009) and Bloodland (early 2012). Married with two children, he makes his home in Dublin, Ireland.

JRM: How and why did you come to be a writer—and how did you come to write The Dark Fields?

Alan Glynn: I’ve been a writer in my head since I was a small kid. I never made any contingency plans or trained for anything else, but I’m still constantly amazed that I’ve actually ended up doing it for a living. I think it was literally the feel of a pen in my hand that kicked it all off.

Fast forward a huge chunk of time to about 1999. Up to that point I’d written two novels and about fifteen short stories, all unpublished. Because there was no contingency plan, I just steamed ahead with the next novel, which became The Dark Fields.

The book started as a sort of what-if proposal. Thinking of the performance-enhancing drugs in sports, I thought, what if there were a performance-enhancing drug for businessmen, lawyers, politicians even? Read more…