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…

Logline Workshop: Jurassic Park

by John Robert Marlow
Thumbnail image for Logline Workshop: Jurassic Park


Let’s walk through the process from start to finish, working up a logline for a story that most people already know. Jurassic Park was a hugely successful novel that went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest hits. Keeping that logline mantra in mind—Who, Goal, Obstacle (see Building the Perfect Logline for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Story for more on this)—how do we build a logline for this story?

WHO (or perhaps What) is this story about?

Most of those new to loglines begin by saying something about dinosaurs. Many of those who don’t, start with the park itself. Still others kick things off with “An experiment” or “A scientist.” Let’s take those roads and see where they lead.

DINOSAURS. Okay, what do they do—what’s their goal? Run rampant, search for food, that kind of thing. What’s their obstacle? An absence of food-bearing park personnel caused, basically, by a hurricane coupled with a power failure. So:

Dinosaurs run rampant on an island resort, trying to feed themselves during a power outage caused by a hurricane.

What’s wrong with this? It is, after all, an accurate description of what happens. But replace “dinosaurs” with “tigers” and you’ve got a documentary. Besides, running rampant and eating each other is what dinosaurs do. There are no real stakes involved here, unless you’re a dinosaur. What’s their obstacle—high winds and rain? That doesn’t quite cut it. And what the hell are dinosaurs doing on an island resort? Read more…

Building the Perfect Logline for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Story

by John Robert Marlow
Thumbnail image for Building the Perfect Logline for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Story


When you’re selling a story (or trying to), there’s one thing everyone wants to know. To find out, they will ask you a simple question. And they will pre-judge your tale not on its merits, but on the answer you provide.

Before we get to the question itself, find a stopwatch. If you don’t have a “real” one (or a cool cell phone) handy, bring up a virtual stopwatch online. Either way, hit START the second you’ve finished reading the question below. Do not hit STOP until you’ve answered the question—out loud—to the best of your ability. (For a more accurate evaluation, have someone else ask the question and time your answer.) And here…we…go.

What’s your story about?

Ticktickticktick. Did your answer require more than 10 seconds? Did you hesitate or fumble? If so, you need a logline. Did you explain who your main character is, what he or she wants, and what keeps them from getting whatever-it-is they want? If not, you need a logline.

In fact—you need a logline, period. Everyone does. Because if you blow the answer to that question, nothing else matters: few (if any) industry professionals will read your story. This is so for several reasons. Read more…

Author Interview: Rex Pickett (“Sideways”)

Rex Pickett, author of Sideways and Vertical by John Robert Marlow

Rex Pickett is author of the novel Sideways. The modestly-budgeted film adaptation (written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) earned over $100M at the box office, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay (which it won) and Best Picture.

Rex has also directed, and has written several screenplays himself, including My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York—a film that won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. His most recent novel is a Sideways sequel called Vertical.

JRM: How did the Sideways adaptation come about?

RP: We went out to both film and publishing simultaneously. The publishing industry loathed the book in no uncertain terms, and we pulled it after 16 rejections because my book agent didn’t want to stink up the rest of the publishers in the event we did a film deal.

But the film world turned it down universally as well. You hear about rejections in publishing, because your agent gets rejection letters and sends them on to you. In film, you generally don’t hear anything. And I didn’t. Read more…

Make Your Story A Movie: Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood

by John Robert Marlow
Thumbnail image for Make Your Story A Movie: Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood

Make Your Book A Movie: Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood (complete version)

by John Robert Marlow and Jacqueline Radley

Authors’ Note: This article, published in several versions (print and online) and repeatedly revised and expanded, has now been— appropriately—adapted into a book, which contains far more information than could possibly be squeezed into a single article or blog post. New material will continue to be added to the blog through additional posts, so book and blog will grow together. Book info, source list, reviews and sample chapters can be found on this site’s book page.

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. Harry Potter sells to Hollywood a mere year after publication, while The Lord of the Rings takes nearly five decades to hit the screen. 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. This article 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 book (or story) more attractive to filmmakers. To do that, we’ve pooled our own knowledge and consulted with several friends in the industry. Read more…