Like 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 screen adaptation of the book dates back to 1899, when French director Georges Méliès made a version of Cinderella.)
But in recent years, Hollywood’s reading habit has grown.
“With so many channels needing scripted programming, Hollywood is looking at books as the basis for material that can be adapted into a TV series or film,” says Programming Insider TV critic Mark Berman.
Why stories in books? “Instant advantage is a concept that audiences are often familiar with.”
But successfully reinterpreting printed material into an audio/visual medium requires nuance.
“The biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to take a book with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and expand it to fit the ongoing storyline each week,” explains David Windsor with Casey Johnson. – Created and co-executive produced ABC’s new series Not Dead Yet.
The duet comedy is based on the book “Confessions of a Forty-Something”, written by British author Alexandra Potter.
“Another challenge was allowing us to deviate from the characters and plots in the book if we felt we needed to,” says Johnson. “At first you feel an obligation to stay true to the original piece of material. But at some point, you give yourself the freedom to take what you have and make it into something that works for the show.”
With the advent of streaming services, there are more opportunities to cater to a wider audience, says author Melissa Hill, whose book Something from Tiffany’s was turned into a movie by Amazon Studios.
“Also, there’s a huge appetite for book-to-screen projects that might not necessarily work as theatrical adaptations, which is a big plus for authors,” he says.
Hill has had several books adapted and is very forthcoming about the process.
“Writing TV and film is a completely different animal with its own set of challenges and limitations, so I’m more than happy to hand those over to someone else,” Hill admits. “Besides, I told my story how I wanted it, and it’s always interesting to see someone else’s interpretation of it.”
Enter the third book adaptation in the last few years by screenwriter Tamara Chestnut, who worked on Tiffany.
“Books are a great source of stories. People and leaders are genuinely excited to bring them to life. There’s something so intoxicating about reading a book and living with those characters for so long — we don’t have the luxury of doing that in scripts.”
The actress credits Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company for putting women’s books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Delia Owens’ “Where the Crowd Sings” “at the forefront” in recent years.
“Reese’s Book Club has really done for this era what Oprah’s Book Club did for reading in the ’90s. It was a real breakthrough for the business … providing a lot of honest research and results for the studios: “Look how many women are reading these books because of him. They will come and watch these movies and TV series.”
Other female stars also support the book industry: Chestnut credits Natalie Portman, who often posts about the books she’s read on social media, and Emma Roberts, who signed a deal with Hulu through her production company Belletrist TV.
“I love that female stars are pushing to adapt,” Chestna says.
Emma Roberts is developing book adaptations with her Belletrist Book Club. Her first project: Carola Lawring’s Lie to Me for Hulu.
Lovering says she appreciates how The Lies reached a much wider audience through Hulu and boosted book sales.
“I see it as an extension of the story in a way that works better on screen and ultimately gives it new dimensions. This process was very interesting for me as an author – this is really a bright moment of career and life,” he says. “The earlier episodes feel closer to the book, but as the season goes on, it’s going to be completely different and become its own thing.”
Lovering, who was brought on as a consulting producer, says the main challenge “was to create more plot for the series and make everything external and cinematic” because the book is so visceral and character-driven.
During the bleak days of the pandemic, audiences craved escapism, lighthearted fare, but now, Duffy says, the way has been made for material with darker themes.
“The development period is so long [development] “Once you’re ready to release something ‘not on trend’, something interesting can happen on screen,” he says. “Our mission is to give each creative element or party what they want, but we have great relationships across genres and markets in different countries, so we can find the right home for commercial rom-com and sci-fi. the whole novel in one week.”
Book-to-screen adaptations remain a huge priority at Netflix, given the success of The Lincoln Lawyer and From Scratch and Enola Holmes 2 and The Gray Man.
The market is more competitive than ever. That’s why Ginny Howe, Netflix’s vice president of drama series, focused on the stories and creators that have the most impact on Netflix members — stories where viewers see elements of their own lives portrayed on screen.
“The benefit of this is that we’re seeing the momentum of a lot of great events, and new perspectives are emerging, sharing and broadening our scope of experience,” Howe says.
This gives authors more opportunities to write stories that reflect their own personal experiences and then “expand those stories around the world as TV series and movies,” Howe says.
He noted the success of Molly Smith Metzler’s Netflix adaptation of Stephanie Land’s memoir, The Maid.
“It’s been amazing to witness how audiences have connected with the themes of motherhood, poverty and survival throughout the book series.”
It also works the other way around: audiences are looking for books based on or inspired by their favorite series.
“We’ve seen new audiences turn to the Bridgerton books since the series began. It’s been great to see them back on all the bestseller lists and for author Julia Quinn to further expand this universe 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 spending four weeks at #1.
Howe partners with authors and publishers to support titles with “Now Netflix Series” book stamps and blasts.
“It’s a virtuous cycle, and ultimately, audiences win by having multiple outlets to experience their favorite stories.”