Attorney Jake Levy Talks The Art Of The Deal On Books Developed For Film And TV

The characters are often the most prominent element that carries through from page to screen and they’re why books have become so incredibly valuable to Hollywood. The buyer doesn’t want a competing visual image of a character being put before viewers, so once the buyer acquires rights in a book, it includes all elements of that book. JL: From a buyer’s perspective, it’s part of the basic economics of investing many millions of dollars in producing a motion picture or series based on underlying intellectual property.
JL: A book needs to stand on its own, but social media followers, just like readers, are a potential built in audience for a movie or series based on the book.DEADLINE:  What’s the one thing you wish most writers and publishers knew about your role in the process of getting something done?
I realize that’s part of the negotiations, but do you favor involvement, or not? JL: As an entertainment lawyer, I’m working to negotiate the best possible deal while helping my client contextualize an opportunity within the context of their career. For best-selling authors, film and TV deals do not pay as well as writing books, although it does help sell even more books.DEADLINE: Let’s say a book is sold. What role should the author have in the process that follows?
JL: While it’s not always necessary, being well-known certainly doesn’t hurt!DEADLINE: Do social media followings play any role in selling a book?
Levy talked with Deadline about the state of development from book sources.
My clients sometimes find them to be a good way to draw attention to their books.” /> JL: I don’t focus on them.
The development of Dune to Harry Potter through Game of Thrones, among many other projects, bears witness to that trend.
  Over the years, Levy has facilitated many major film and TV deals for authors, such as John Grisham (The Firm, A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief). Entertainment attorney Jake Levy specializes in that realm.
Is that a good thing? DEADLINE:  When a buyer purchases the rights to one book, they own not only that book but all the characters in it, thus the entire series.
Is that a good thing, or does it cheapen the art of writing? DEADLINE: Do you think many authors are creating books with film and tv franchises in mind?
JL: Typically the sale process is handled by a book-to-film agent working with an author’s literary agent and attorney.DEADLINE: Does it matter if the author is well-known when selling rights to a property?
On a business level, there’s a growing recognition by authors of how book-to-film/television deals work. When an author realizes that a multi-book series generally translates to one studio deal, as opposed to a separate deal for each book, I have seen authors use that as a factor in considering if they’re going to write books outside of a series, as opposed to spending all of their time writing one continuing book series. Having said that, many authors are aware of the types of material that are most successfully adapted.  JAKE LEVY: On a creative level, most authors with whom I speak are writing for their readers, and are not changing their creative vision to take into account film and TV adaptations.
That's certainly true in Hollywood, where books adapted for film and television projects have never been hotter. One of the axioms of technology and show business is that content is king.
This doesn’t mean that in all cases it’s appropriate for an author to have heavy-handed approvals over a production, but especially for a continuing book series there are key elements where the author and studio need to be on the same page. The author always has the right to continue writing new books in a series and the on-screen action needs to be reconciled with that right.DEADLINE: Do you pay any attention to book competitions? Buyers are counting on those readers to be their audience, but it’s easy to alienate them by portraying a character on screen in a manner that’s inconsistent with the book. JL: I’m always in favor of the author being involved in an ongoing capacity, such as a producer role. Not to mention, that the studio shouldn't be able to kill off or disfigure main characters. Authors have spent countless hours getting to know their readers and they know their books better than anyone else.
However, it’s a reason that Authors’ deal negotiations for book series are complicated. What steps should you follow? Is the author paid the same way if a sequel is a “studio sequel.”DEADLINE: Let’s imagine you’re a writer out in the hinterlands and you have a book that you believe is a solid property. If so, does the author have approval? From an author’s perspective, as long as the studio is doing a good job and continuing to make productions based on the books, this is likely OK. It raises a number of questions: Can the studio make sequels not based on a book in the series, but rather solely based on the characters and other elements from the books?

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