I’ve written a few other articles about this adventure of a novel making its way to film. You might want to check them out either before or after you read this one:
- Bringing the Amish to Hollywood, or Selling a Film Option 101 (Nov. 2015)
- Traversing the Hollywood Maze (March 2016)
- Pennsylvania: A big budget film trilogy? (July 2016)
You’ll notice that I haven’t written much about the process since 2016. That’s more a product of me being busy and lazy than anything else. A lot has been going on. Here we are in May of 2019, and how stands the novel to film project for Pennsylvania? We’re rockin’ and rollin’ and I couldn’t be more pleased. But before I talk about that, I want to give you more of what I’ve learned about the process of a novel moving from a sold option to a film.
As I mentioned in my first article about this process, there are a lot of things to get straight in your head if you’ve sold a film option on one of your books — or if you ever intend to. I’ll paraphrase and extend my comments from that first article:
- Most literary works are never optioned for film/tv. This should be a no-brainer. Literally millions of books, short stories, articles, and screenplays are published in the world each year. As a total wild-ass-guess, I suspect that maybe 20,000 film/tv options were sold in 2018 but the number could be significantly higher. It could be twice as high. In 2018 there were something like 870 films released in the U.S. A large number of those films were sequels, reboots, or films not created from optioned literary works (novels, short stories, screenplays, articles, etc.)
- Most options are never exercised, meaning that the option to purchase the work for film or TV is never realized. The property isn’t sold, so no film or TV project comes from it. As shorthand when I’m talking with an author I say that at the beginning, when the ink on the option sale isn’t dry yet, your chances of the project ever being made is <1%. Meaning it is non-zero, but It isn’t 1% because that would mean that you have a 1 in 100 chance of it being made, and it is far, far from that if you look back at the numbers of properties being optioned compared to the number of films being made. Of course if you sold your option to a huge name director or a major studio, the percentage probability is way higher. Like double or more. Still non-zero and probably less than 1%.
- Options usually have a clause that allows the option holder to extend the option period, usually for a period of time equal to the first option period. And usually there are two extensions available. So, for example, if you sign a one year option, the option holder would have the right to extend that option for two further one year periods, or a total of three years total. Of course every option sale is different, but this is pretty standard. This means that your option could be held (in this case,) for up to three years on the first contract. It is almost certain that your film option will not be exercised within the first year. It could be, but statistically and historically it takes quite a bit longer than that. If your option is renewed for a second and third year, the % chance of the option being exercised at some point goes up. Maybe to 4%.
- During the option period, the producer can: hire screenwriters, attach directors and actors, secure financing, secure distribution, engage in pre-production, make major announcements, sell the project or attach with a major studio, etc. All of these things can be done BEFORE your option is exercised and you get paid. But, these things do increase the likelihood that a film will eventually result. So all of these things are great news.
- Even if your option is exercised, that doesn’t mean the movie/TV project will ever get made. It is way more likely, but it isn’t guaranteed.
As the process goes forward, things look better and better. Or should I say IF the process moves forward, things look better and better.
So where do we stand with the Pennsylvania movie?
With the Pennsylvania film project, we’ve had a lot of milestones. The novel was re-optioned in 2016, and 2017.
In 2017, a major big time director was actively considering attaching as the director of Pennsylvania. Personally, I was torn. First of all, as the writer of the original work, you are over the moon that a big time director — the director of some of the biggest blockbusters you’ve seen in your life — is considering directing your movie. Second, you still have the feeling that you’d be happy if Oscar the Grouch was the director. Anyone, ok, just make the movie! But I had a gnawing feeling that as much as I liked some of his work, it didn’t seem that it was a perfect match. I was supportive, but a small part of me hoped that some other miracle would happen and we’d end up with the perfect director.
A new option was sold (meaning a new contract) in November of 2018, the fourth overall option year. And… the first director did not attach.
Sometime in 2018 Anne Sagel was hired to write a new script. I was blessed to be allowed to read some of the early versions and I’m really pleased with the selection of Anne as screenwriter, and with what she’s doing with the story. She’s really taken the story back to the novel, and I think fans are going to be happy and excited about the script. Spoiler alert, but the film’s director (there is one!) is helping to make the script just right.
Over the past few years, our producer Stacy Jorgensen has done major work on the Pennsylvania project, even as her own career as a producer has blossomed. She has worked and re-worked the Pennsylvania pitch. She’s taken the project to major studios, top flight directors, huge talent agencies, and she has met with industry professionals about the film at major festivals including AFM, Sundance, and Cannes. She has been tireless, and I have been so blessed to have Stacy as the Producer. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this project with anyone else, and she has kept me in on everything since day 1.
In May of 2019, Patrick Tatopoulos was attached as the director! And I can tell you that I could not be more pleased. If I personally had the money, the pull, and the gravitas to get this movie made exactly the way I would want it, Patrick would be our director. Sure, I would have been happy with any of a dozen other directors, but I truly believe that Patrick is the perfect director for this film. Patrick is well known as one of the best Production Directors in all of film, with billions of dollars in blockbusters under his belt. If you liked the visual eye-candy of Stargate, Godzilla, the 300, Independence Day, Justice League, Underworld, and dozens of other movies, you will love what Patrick will do with the world of New Pennsylvania.
Next, the script will be tweaked and finalized (I can’t wait to read the final draft!) Actors will be attached very soon. Things are moving and it is a fun, fun ride. We have an IMDb page! There isn’t much there yet, but keep an eye on it, because it will be filling up soon.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments. Make suggestions for the cast, and let’s chat about the movie. Most of all, we need you to help keep things moving. Join like and follow the movie’s Facebook page. Share this post. Make sure you are signed up for my newsletter to get the latest news.
Hopefully I’ll have more updates soon!