The Book

by John Robert Marlow


Have you ever wondered why some books and stories are adapted into movies, and others aren’t? Or wished you could sit down and pick the brains of the people whose stories have been adapted—or the screenwriters, producers, and directors who adapted them?

Author John Robert Marlow has done it for you. He spoke to book authors, playwrights, comic book creators and publishers, as well as Hollywood screenwriters, producers and directors responsible for adapting fictional and true stories into Emmy-winning TV shows, Oscar-winning films, billion-dollar megahits and smaller independents. Then he talked to the entertainment attorneys who made the deals.

He came away with a unique understanding of adaptations—an understanding he shares in this book: which stories make good source material (and why); what Hollywood wants (and doesn’t); what you can (and can’t) get in a movie deal; how to write and pitch your story to maximize the chances of a Hollywood adaptation; how to adapt the book yourself (or find someone to do it for you)—and how much (and when) you can expect to be paid.

This book contains the distilled experience of creators, storytellers and others whose works have earned over $50 billion worldwide.

Whether you’re looking to sell film rights, adapt your own story (alone or with help), or option and adapt someone else’s property—this book is for you.

First published by Macmillan / St. Martin’s Griffin in 2012. Revised and expanded second edition coming in 2021. Updated interim version now posting free on this website.


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ALAN GLYNN is author of the novels The Dark Fields (rereleased as Limitless), Winterland, and Bloodland (winner of the 2011 Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction). The Limitless movie (adapted from Alan’s Dark Fields) novel) earned over $150 million in theaters.

BARRY LEVINE co-founded comic book company Radical Publishing in 2007, and has already set up a dozen adaptation projects in Hollywood, including Hercules: The Thracian Wars (COM), Oblivion (COM), Shrapnel (COM), The Last Days of American Crime (COM), Aladdin: Legacy of the Lost (COM), Hotwire (COM), and Earp: Saints for Sinners (COM).

BILL MARSILII‘s first script sale (Deja Vu, co-written with Terry Rossio) was a record-breaker, selling in a deal worth $5.6 million. His other credits include The Wind in the Willows (NOV), the television series The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (NOVs), and Lightspeed (also co-written with Terry Rossio)—which recently sold for $3.5 million.

BONNIE ESKENAZI is a partner at Greenberg Glusker, which is perhaps Hollywood’s most respected entertainment law firms. Clients have included such luminaries as James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Clancy, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Beatles. The firm handles both contracts and litigation; Eskenazi is one of their top litigators, and also lectures on entertainment law at Harvard and Stanford.

CATHLEEN BLACKBURN is a founding partner of UK law firm Maier Blackburn, and the principal attorney for the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, advising on matters of copyright, publishing, and contracts.

CHRISTOPHER LOCKHART is story editor at reigning Hollywood superagency WME, and formerly held the same position at ICM, where he was also in charge of the agent trainee program. His job is to read and consult on scripts for top-end clients, which have included Nicholas Cage, Russel Crowe, Robert Downey Jr., Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Martin, Matthew McConaughey, Liam Neeson, Ed Norton, Michelle Pfieffer, Winona Ryder, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone and Denzel Washington. Chris is also a producer; his first documentary, Most Valuable Players, was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her Documentary Film Club, and aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

ED SOLOMON‘s writing credits include Men In Black (COM), Charlie’s Angels (TVS), The In-Laws (MOV), Levity, Super Mario Bros. (GAM), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Vitus (MOV), Tokyo Suckerpunch (NOV), and a number of series TV episodes (including Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures (MOV)). He’s also directed and produced for film and television.

EHREN KRUGER began his career by winning a Nicholl Fellowship for his Arlington Road screenplay. His writing credits include the Transformers (GAM), Ring (NOV), and Scream franchises, Blood and Chocolate (NOV), Reindeer Games, The Brothers Grimm, Skeleton Key, and The Talisman TV series (NOV). He’s also produced for film and television.

EVAN DAUGHERTY‘s first script sale was Snow White and the Huntsman (MLF)—which brought $3.2 million in a 2010 studio bidding war. His second film, Killing Season, is already in production.

GAIL LYON is a producer whose credits include the Oscar-nominated Erin Brockovich (TRU), Gattaca, Edge of Darkness (TVS), Peter Pan (NOV/PLY), Stuart Little 2 (NOV), and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! She has also produced for television.

GALE ANNE HURD‘s producing credits include the Terminator, Hulk (COM), and Punisher (COM) franchises, Armageddon, Aliens, The Abyss, Safe Passage (NOV), Aeon Flux (TVS), The Waterdance, The Wronged Man (ART/TRU), and The Walking Dead TV series (COM). She’s also produced several documentaries, and co-wrote The Terminator with James Cameron. She chairs the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships Committee.

ISA DICK HACKETT oversees the rights to the works of her father, the late Philip K. Dick—whose novels and short stories have been adapted into films and series including Blade Runner (NOV), Minority Report (STO), two Total Recalls (STO), The Man in the High Castle (NOV), The Adjustment Bureau (STO), Through a Scanner Darkly (NOV), Next (STO), Paycheck (STO) and others.

JOHN AUGUST‘s writing credits include Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (both TVS), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (NOV), Big Fish (NOV), Corpse Bride, Titan A.E., Dark Shadows (TVS), Tarzan (NOV), Frankenweenie, Preacher (COM), and the D.C. TV series. He directed The Nines, and also produced Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (GAM) and the D.C. television series. His first adaptation was a children’s book with the unlikely title How To Eat Fried Worms (NOV).

JONATHAN HENSLEIGH‘s writing credits include Armageddon, Die Hard with a Vengeance (NOV/SCR), Jumanji (NOV), Next (STO), The Punisher (COM), The Saint (NOVs/TVS), Kill the Irishman (TRU), A Far-Off Place (NOVs), and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series (MOV). He directed Kill the Irishman (TRU) and The Punisher (COM), and produced Armageddon, Con Air, and Gone in Sixty Seconds (MOV).

JULIE RICHARDSON‘s producing credits include Collateral, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (NFB), and The Collector franchise.

LESLI LINKA GLATTER wrote and directed her first film, Tales of Meeting and Parting (TRU)—which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short. She has feature and television movies and dozens of episodes for series TV, and recently won the Director’s Guild Award for Best Director of Dramatic Series (Night). She currently has several adaptations in development.

LESLIE DIXON is one of Hollywood’s few female A-list writers. Her credits include Mrs. Doubtfire (NOV), Freaky Friday (NOV/MOV), Hairspray (PLY/MOV), The Thomas Crown Affair (MOV), Pay It Forward (NOV), Look Who’s Talking Now, The Heartbreak Kid (STO/MOV), Just Like Heaven (NOV), Overboard, and Outrageous Fortune. She’s also produced several features, including Limitless (NOV).

MICHAEL NOZIK is an Oscar-nominated producer with over two dozen movies, including The Next Three Days (MOV), Love in the Time of Cholera (NOV), Syriana (NFB), The Motorcycle Diaries (NFBs), The Legend of Bagger Vance (NOV), and Quiz Show(NFB / HIS). He’s also produced several movies for television.

MIKE RICHARDSON is founder and publisher of Dark Horse Comics. As a producer, he’s been instrumental in bringing about such adaptations as 300 (COM/HIS), Sin City (COM), The Mask and Timecop (both COM, and both of which he co-wrote), 30 Days of Night (COM), Alien vs. Predator (COM/MOVs), the Hellboy franchise (COM), and R.I.P.D. (COM). All told, he’s optioned or sold close to 100 projects, produced 28 films (including TV), and has another two dozen in development, and won an Emmy for the television documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.

PAUL HAGGIS was nominated for an unprecedented five Academy Awards in three years—one for directing, one for producing, and three for writing (original and adapted)—winning two. His writing credits include The Next Three Days (MOV), Casino Royale (NOV/MOV), Quantum of Solace (NOVs), Million Dollar Baby (STO), Crash, In the Valley of Elah (ART/TRU), Flags of Our Fathers (NFB/HIS), Letters from Iwo Jima (NFBs/HIS), and episodes for over a dozen different television series. He directed and produced Crash, The Next Three Days (MOV), and In the Valley of Elah (ART/TRU), produced Million Dollar Baby (STO) and the Crash TV series (MOV) and dozens of episodes of other series, and wrote and directed Third Person.

REX PICKETT is author of the novel Sideways and its sequel, Vertical. The Sideways movie grossed $109 million at the box office and drew five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (winning the latter). A film called My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York—written by Rex—won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. He’s also adapted his Sideways novel into a play.

RYAN CONDAL sold his first script, Galahad, for $500,000, and has since been hired to adapt several works for the screen—including Hercules: The Thracian Wars (COM).

STEVE NILES is a comic writer whose graphic novel 30 Days of Night was adapted for the screen (he co-wrote the screenplay as well) and also spawned a television mini-series which he produced. Other adapted works include Steve Niles’ Remains (COM) and Wake the Dead (COM).

SUSANNAH GRANT began her screenwriting career by winning a Nicholl Fellowship for her script Island Girl, and has since gone on to write films like Pocahontas (HIS), The Soloist (NFB/TRU), Charlotte’s Web (NOV), In Her Shoes (NOV), 28 Days and Erin Brokovich (TRU)—for which she received an Academy Award nomination. She’s also written, produced, and directed for television.

TERRY ROSSIO‘s writing credits include the Pirates of the Caribbean (THM), Shrek (NOV), Zorro (STO/MOV/RAD/TVS) and National Treasure franchises, The Lone Ranger (RAD/MOV/TVS), Treasure Planet, Small Soldiers, Godzilla (MOV), Aladdin (MLF), Little Monsters, and Deja Vu—a spec screenplay that sold in a record-breaking deal worth $5.6 million. He’s also written and directed for TV, and produced features including Shrek, Deja Vu, G-Force, and POTC: On Stranger Tides.

VIKAS SWARUP is author of the novel Q & A, which was adapted and retitled Slumdog Millionaire. The film made nearly $400 million at the box office and won eight of the ten Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. His latest novel is called Six Suspects. Swarup has written for Time, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, and DNA (India), among others, and serves as Consul General of India in Osaka-Kobe, Japan.

WALTER KIRN‘s novel Up in the Air was made into a movie starring George Clooney, that grossed over $160 million at the box office and earned six Academy Award nominations (including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture). Kirn is the author of several other novels, including Thumbsucker and The Unbinding (which is online-only), and a nonfiction book titled Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever. He’s also written for New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review and New York Times Sunday Magazine, and is a contributing editor for Time.


JOHN ROBERT MARLOW is a traditionally-published (and soon to be indie-published) novelist and nonfiction book author, a Academy-honored screenwriter, and adaptation specialist. He has over 20 years’ experience as a freelance journalist, and more than 15 years’ experience as a book and screenplay editor. John literally wrote the book on film adaptations—after extensive interviews with novelists, screenwriters, directors, producers, and others whose movies have collectively earned over $50 billion worldwide. Make Your Story a Movie: Adapting Your Book or Idea for Hollywood was originally published by St. Martin’s Griffin; an updated second edition will be indie published. For the past two years, John has been researching indie publishing while writing (and preparing to rapid-release) a six-book science fiction/thriller series. Click image for full bio.





BOOKLIST: Anyone following movie trends can see that adaptations are hot right now, with hit films being culled from best-selling book series (such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games), comics (Marvel’s The Avengers), or even theme-park rides (The Pirates of the Caribbean films). Novelist and screenwriter Marlow has penned a helpful guide to turning an idea or a book property into a screenplay and getting that script sold.

The writing basics are here: Marlow breaks down the elements of a commercial script and offers tips for writing the all-important logline. But Marlow also details how consultants can aid those who need help honing their screenplay, and offers suggestions for hiring a screenwriter for those who would rather have someone else pen the idea. He educates readers on the roles of managers, agents, and studios, as well as explaining the difference between an option and a sale.

Featuring quotes from Hollywood success stories such as screenwriter Paul Haggis and producer Gale Anne Hurd, this is a comprehensive and practical guide for aspiring writers and producers.

Booklist Review Date: December 1, 2012 (Kristine Huntley, reviewer)

CHRISTOPHER LOCKHART (WME Story Editor): John Robert Marlow’s new book Make Your Story a Movie examines the process of adapting a story to the screen. John’s done a terrific job researching the business side of adaptations, and presents practical advice on writing them.

BRETT SCHNEIDER (Jeopardy! Producer): Make Your Story a Movie ought to be required reading for anyone interested in adapting a book or idea for Hollywood. Author John Robert Marlow not only provides a step-by-step breakdown of the essentials, but imparts the hard-earned wisdom of Hollywood Insiders who’ve already put in the work and are living the dream. Now all you need to join their ranks is a great idea and the drive to follow John’s advice.

JANICE GABLE BASHMAN (author, Wanted Undead or Alive): Jam-packed with excellent information, Make Your Story a Movie is an incredible resource for all storytellers. It’s a must-have for writers looking to adapt a story into a salable Hollywood screenplay.

ADAPTATION CODES indicate the type of source material on which the films were based: ART (article in magazine, newspaper, etc.); BLG (blog); COM (comic book / graphic novel); HIS (historic event); MLF (myth / legend / faery tale); MOV (movie remake / spinoff); NFB (nonfiction book); NOV (novel); SCR (special case applying only to Jonathan Hensleigh’s Die Hard with a Vengeance script, which was not originally intended to be part of the franchise); SNG (song); RAD (radio show); STO (short story); GAM (game / toy); THM (theme park / theme park ride); TRU (true-life story); TVS (television series).