Magic Bullet Quickie: Reader Question about Adaptations

In addition to the Magic Bullet articles, I’ll be doing these “Quickie” articles that will consist of reader questions that I frequently get, along with the advice I reply back with. Please let me know in the comments if you find these useful, and I’ll put more up.

The script I have written is an adaptation of a video game, and I wanted to know what the rules and restrictions are for something like this. Do I have to buy the rights from the game developers or can I try to sell the script and a production company will buy the rights if they want the script?

If you have time to answer could you let me know.

Thanks,
Luke

Luke,

Thanks for your question, it’s one I get a lot. Lately, I’ve been getting a rash of submissions for people who wrote adaptations of lesser known comics, for instance, and ask me what they can and can’t do with it.

Adaptation

Your Argument is Invalid. My hair is a plant.

As to your question, unfortunately when it comes to rights for big name books (or major release video games in your case), rights are usually bought by producers or studios way before the material ever gets released to the public. These days, pretty much anything being churned out by a major publisher, video game maker, or comic (even lesser known and first time authors) are getting optioned before the horse even leaves the gate, as having them before they turn out to be hits keeps their costs down (rights to a bonafide best selling novel being much more expensive is way more expensive than one you *think* might become a best seller). It’s a risky but ultimately smart strategy by the bigwigs that unfortunately squeezes out the little guy.

Now, there is good news. If it’s a great script, it could both A: get you representation (more likely), and B: get you in the running to write on assignment for another similar action movie. It is HIGHLY unlikely, no matter how great your movie take on the video game is, that a studio would buy the script or even let you rewrite a draft of their existing take on it, since you would be new to the industry and they hire big, proven guns to rewrite big budget tentpole movies.

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Never underestimate the power of a great, high concept writing sample. As professional writers who focus on assignments, pitches, and (especially) rewrites make more money than those who keep trying to churn out spec after spec, I have seen many a pro make more bank off the back of their writing sample than one who keeps trying to sell their favorite script.

To submit questions to be answered on the blog, email me at michael@scriptawish.com. I make it my mission to help aspiring writers, so feel free to email me for advice as well.

Your High Concept Four Quadrant Inspiration of the Day.

Learn How to Turn a Book Into a Movie with our FREE Download on Tips for Acquiring Book Rights and Writing an Adaptation

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5 thoughts on “Magic Bullet Quickie: Reader Question about Adaptations

  1. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Ted,
    For the most part, it’s probably best to stay away from trademarked, copyrighted, or otherwise well known material/slogans. Even when studios have millions of dollars and teams of lawyers behind them they intentionally choose to fictionalize places of business for good reason. Unless I misunderstand what you want to do with it, my advice is to come up with an original or satirical take on the same thing and save yourself the trouble.

  2. Ted

    I have an idea for my screenplay to use a well known slogan as part of my context and maybe use it as a call-back. (ex: “Wake up with the King”–Burger King.) I don’t know if that violates copyright laws or if it is even a good idea for that matter. What do you think?

  3. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Thomas,

    You raise excellent points! The reason I espouse that philosophy is because even in the best case scenario (a studio likes, buys, greenlights and says your script is “perfect”), there is a 99.999% chance they will hire someone else to rewrite and/or polish your script. It can be hard for those unprepared for it and who think of the script as their “baby” (and which writer doesn’t?) all the way to the end. I learned the hard way, after I didn’t think to prepare a couple of the first clients when I helped them launch their careers, and they were heartbroken when their scripts got “taken away” and rewritten by studio hired big guns.

    In fiction, you don’t have that problem. Sure, it may get edited into something you don’t recognize, but it’s never taken over by another writer. In short, it never stops being your baby and you never have to share a writer’s credit, for instance.

    Thank you again for the comment – you have great observations!

  4. Thomas

    I have found your Magic Bullet series quite insightful. I have been writing fiction with a growing interest in the screenwriting facet of a story teller. I have noticed one super primary difference that is both disappointing and encouraging.
    With fiction each composition is a child birthed of a writer’s excruciating labor; grown and groomed and sent into the world to succeed. Each one must succeed but alas, we know they won’t all do so.
    Your articles on screenwriting teaches a different concept. Each is a work product of passion composed by a selfish creator to be cast aside once its purpose is fulfilled. Rather than a faithful spouse one must become a cad and jump from one pretty story to the next looking only for what can be gained from each.
    It takes some getting used to but there is nothing more gratifying than seeing one’s creation succeed even if you’re currently romancing another story at the time.

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