As with “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” Hollywood has made a habit of adapting popular books into stories for the screen. (Fun fact: The first book to be brought to the screen was in 1899, when French director Georges Méliès made a version of “Cinderella.”)
But in recent years, Hollywood’s book habit has grown.
TV critic Mark Berman of Programming Insider observed, “With so many channels needing scripted programming, Hollywood is increasingly looking to books as a breeding ground for material that can be adapted into series or film.
Why stories from books? “Instant gain is a concept that audiences are often familiar with.”
But it is important to successfully reinterpret print material into audio/visual media.
“The biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to take a book with a clear beginning, middle, and end and expand it so that we could accommodate the ongoing storyline week after week,” explains David Windsor, who is Casey Johnson, co. – Create and co-executive produce ABC’s new series, “Not Dead Yet.”
The duo adapted the comedy from the book “Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up” written by UK author Alexandra Potter.
“Another challenge was to move away from the characters and plot of the book if we felt it necessary,” says Johnson. “At first you feel almost obligated to stay as true to the source material as possible. But at some point, you give yourself the freedom to take what’s come before and shape it into what works for the show.”
With the advent of streaming services, there are more opportunities to cater to a diverse audience, says author Melissa Hill, whose book, “Something from Tiffany,” was adapted into a movie by Amazon Studios.
“Also, there’s a huge appetite for book-to-screen projects that might not work as theatrical adaptations, which is a big plus for writers,” she says.
Hill has adapted several books and is very hands-on about the process.
“Writing television and film is a completely different animal that comes with its own set of challenges and difficulties, so I’m very happy to hand it over to someone else,” Hill admits. “Besides, I’ve already told my story exactly how I wanted it, and I’m always excited to see someone else’s interpretation of it.”
Enter screenwriter Tamara Chestna, who worked on “Tiffany’s,” the third book adaptation in as many years.
“Books are a great source of stories. People and authorities get really excited to bring them to life. There’s something so intoxicating about reading the books and living with the characters for so long – we don’t have the luxury of doing that in a screenplay.”
Chestnut congratulates actress Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, for putting out “leading-edge” female-driven books in recent years, such as Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing.”
“Reese’s Book Club has really done for reading in this era what Oprah’s Book Club did for reading in the ’90s. She’s been a real boom business-wise … providing a lot of honest research and results for the studio, ‘Look how many women are reading these books because of her. They are going to show up and watch these movies and these TV series.”
Other female stars are also supporting the book industry: Chester credits Natalie Portman, who frequently posts on social media about the books she’s read, and Emma Roberts, who has a deal with Hulu through her production company, Belletrist TV.
“I love that female stars are also pushing the envelope,” Chestna says.
Emma Roberts is developing a book adaptation with her Belletrist Book Club. Her first project: Carola Lovering’s “Tell Me Lies” for Hulu.
Loving says she appreciates how “Lies” reached a wider audience through Hulu and boosted book sales.
“I expand the story in a way that works well onscreen and ultimately gives a new dimension. The process has been incredibly exciting for me as a writer – truly a career and life highlight,” she says. “Early episodes feel close to the book, but as the season goes on, it becomes very different and becomes its own thing.”
Lovering, who was brought on as a consulting producer, says the main challenge was “creating more plot for the series and making everything more external and cinematic, because the book is so internal and character-driven.”
During the bleak days of the pandemic, audiences craved escapist, lighthearted fare, but now, according to Duffy, there’s an opening for darker themed content.
“The development period is very long [development] Something that was ‘not in trend’ on screen can become a buzz when it’s ready for release,” she says. “It’s our job to deliver what each creative element or party wants, but we have such fantastic relationships across genres and markets in different countries, that we’ve been able to find the perfect home for commercial romcoms and sci-fi. Novels all in one week.
The success of “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “From Scratch” and the films “Enola Holmes 2” and “The Gray Man” are making book-to-screen adaptations a big priority at Netflix.
The market is more competitive than ever. That’s why Ginny Howe, Netflix’s vice president of drama series, is focusing on the stories and writers that have the most impact on Netflix subscribers—in which viewers see elements of their own lives reflected on screen.
“The upside is that we’re seeing a lot of incredible stories flourish and new perspectives emerge, expanding the range of stories we share and experience,” Howe says.
That means writers writing stories that represent their personal life experiences and then “expanding those stories around the world as television series and movies,” Howe says.
She pointed to the success of Molly Smith Metzler’s Netflix adaptation of Stephanie Land’s memoir “Maid.”
“It’s incredible to see how the audience has connected through the whole series about motherhood, poverty and survival.”
It also works in reverse: audiences seek out books based on or inspired by their favorite series.
“We’ve seen a large number of new audiences turn to the ‘Bridgerton’ books since the series first launched. It’s great to see them all back on the bestseller lists and for author Julia Quinn to expand that universe even further for new fans,” says Howe.
At one point, five books in the series were on the New York Times bestseller list, with “The Duke and Me” holding steady at #1 for four weeks.
Howe partners with authors and publishers to support titles including “Now a Netflix Series” Book Seal and Burst.
“It’s a virtuous cycle and ultimately the audience wins with multiple outlets to experience some of their favorite stories.”