We all do it. We start writing a story and get caught up in the process of creating, seeing the scenes with our mind’s eye, losing all sense of objectivity. At some point the thought occurs to us, “This would make a great movie!” And of course Johnny Depp will be just dying to play the lead…
Back in real life, we realise that a small fraction of stories are ever made into movies and it takes a lot of people and money to make one. Generally a story has to become very well known before anyone in a position to put it forward will even think of the idea. Most writers will quickly recognise that their little-known indie story is unlikely to draw that kind of interest and if they read his interviews, they’ll know that Johnny Depp doesn’t do Romance stories anyway.
Then one day you hear of a book that makes the jump from obscure novel to movie option and that niggle that maybe it could be done starts up again. For most writers, it won’t go further than that because who do we know who has any connection to the movie industry?
As a Fantasy writer, I recognise that the bar is set pretty high for movies made in my genre. Cgi dragons, costly production sets, famous name directors are a few of the elements of a blockbuster Fantasy film. Even the relatively low budget for Pan’s Labyrinth, a Spanish production, was $16 million. Who among us has that in their back pocket?
I don’t know what percentage of indie writers, or writers as a whole, might have connections with someone in indie filmmaking, even a media student, but my downfall was being one of these people and realising that not every film had to be a blockbuster to fulfil its potential.
As it happened, when I was writing Dance of the Goblins, I already had several friends who had been to film school or who had some involvement with filmmaking. So, naturally when my story played through my mind in Epic Fantasy film scenes, that niggle that said This would make a great film led to me making a few enquiries among my filmmaker friends, with a view towards finding out if anyone knew anyone I could submit the story to, maybe even write the screenplay myself.
This, my friends, is a classic stage of naiveté. Big studios are not interested in unknown stories. Small studios are mostly opened by people who have their own work to produce. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, only that it’s an uphill battle. The trouble with having filmmaker friends is that it can lead to the most likely path to getting your story made as a film; make it yourself. It was my filmmaker friends’ encouragement and reading The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Handbook by Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe that led to me opening my own film company, Goblin Films Limited.
Don’t let me make this sound too easy. Filmmaking requires a range of skills that starts with an ability to organise people, often people who have the artistic temperament that will make that job as difficult as possible. Getting involved with local indie filmmakers with some experience is pretty much essential. Some of them can actually accomplish some high end production quality, though many will never move beyond making student films before they get their degree in Media Studies and end up in a non-media job. Filmmaking is demanding and competitive, though the indie filmmakers can be very helpful to each other and there are some great communities of them in some places.
A group of enthusiastic and talented filmmakers accomplished an impressive indie fan film for The Lord of the Rings called The Hunt For Gollum which is a wonderful example of what can happen with co-operative efforts and the right pool of talent. The people who made this happen can never profit from it or recoup their costs because of copyright issues, but have a look at The Hunt For Gollum below and imagine the possibilities of making an original story with this kind of production value.
For most writers, this is something that would require too much time away from writing and devoting several years of their lives to a different medium. Over the past decade, I’ve managed to make two micro-budget films and placed one with a sales agent that could lead to financing the Fantasy film version of Dance of the Goblins, but it has taken its toll in time, dedication and testing resourcefulness. If you have filmmaker friends, I would recommend to most writers to insist on only doing the writing for such a project if possible, though the likelihood is that you would find yourself contributing in many other ways before it’s done.
For the writer who doesn’t have filmmaker friends, the traditional way, while filled with rejection (like traditional publishing), is to query studios and larger filmmakers. If you can adapt to the format for screenwriting, that’s a bonus, though it’s often not recommended for a novelist to write their own screenplay version because the medium works very differently and what makes a great scene in a novel might not translate to visual media as well.
If you live in the UK, the BBC has a regular writer’s workshop where they accept scripts from unknown writers; once a year for drama and once for comedy. Would your story translate to a series? HBO has been known to accept scripts from unknown writers as well.
The first and most important thing you would need to do is develop your ‘elevator pitch’. This is a short synopsis of your plot that could fit into no more than three minutes, the average time a studio executive can be trapped in an elevator with you. Studios get a lot of queries and only those that will grab their attention as original and enticing within the first couple of sentences will ever get considered.
A writer doesn’t have to live in Los Angeles or London to get involved with filmmakers. They are literally everywhere. But be aware that getting involved in this world will take over a portion of your life. It’s not as easy as writing a story and handing it to someone to take forward. To make an epic film takes an epic commitment.
What I will say, though, is that it is also epic fun. I wouldn’t recommend it for temperamental people, but for me, the enjoyment I’ve had from three years of production, endless hours learning to edit when I couldn’t find an editor who would come through and solving all the problems along the way has been priceless.
If you wish to see what I’ve done with those years, my movie channel on YouTube is at:
Books available at: