So I figured I’d kick off tonight’s chat about adaptations with an interview with Lauren McLaughlin, author of CYCLER and (RE)CYCLER. Lauren can’t join us as she lives in London and our chat is way past her bedtime. Though with a little one afoot, I bet she’s likely to be awake at some point during the discussion. If you’re not aware, we’ll be joined by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman AKA @jeannevb, co-founder of #Scriptchat as well as YA authors who’ve had their books adapted to film (or are in the process). If you’re interested, the very schmart and talented folks at #Scriptchat talked about adaptations recently and here’s a link to that transcript.
Lauren was gracious enough to sit down with me in advance of our chat to talk about both books and how she ended up adapting the film version of CYCLER. She’s also giving away signed copies of both books. Read to the end of the interview for contest details.
Hi Lauren. Congratulations on CYCLER and (RE)CYCLER. You’ve been tapped to adapt CYCLER for film, something which almost never happens–the book’s author being allowed to adapt. Lauren, how did this come about?
With Cycler it wasn’t a question of being “allowed” to adapt the book into a screenplay. I just went ahead and did it. The book itself hadn’t been optioned yet, but I figured no one could adapt it better than me, since I used to be a screenwriter anyway. When I was happy with the screen adaptation, my book and film agents shopped it and we wound up with Don Murphy as producer. The thing to remember is that I did the adaptation completely on spec. I had no idea at the time whether anyone would be interested. But I prefer working that way.
How hard is it to approach a studio or production company with an adaptation of your novel (without getting laughed out of the room)?
It’s not hard at all. Studios and production companies are looking for product. But they’re also inundated with submissions. Every company is different, but most only want to read projects that come to them via agents or film industry colleagues. That doesn’t mean you can’t cold call or send out queries. The trick is to have a killer pitch. Development executives are very busy people. I know because I used to be one. You want one paragraph that not only captures your story dramatically but that illustrates why that story is, as we used to say, “crying out to be made.” I always tell aspiring screenwriters that the first thing they should do (after writing a ground-breakingly brilliant screenplay,that is) is to get a subscription to Variety and/or The Hollywood Reporter. Read them religiously. Learn who the players are. Learn what individual studios, production companies, and indy producers are looking for. Find out which big name actors and actresses are looking to develop their own projects. If at all possible, go work in the industry, even as an assistant or script reader. You can learn a lot about how the business works by doing script coverage.
Now that the there’s an option on CYCLER, how’s the process of finding a director and financing going?
Believe it or not, I’m pretty much out of the loop, by choice. I know that we have an up-and-coming director attached for the moment and the producer is seeking financing with her attached. If he doesn’t find financing that way, then we’ll move on to a different director. I’d like to have a little creative input on directors and actors, but I’m not all that interested in diving all the way back in to producing. Thankfully, Don Murphy is a highly respected veteran producer, so I’m happy the project’s in his hands. The one area I want to be very involved in would be script changes, of course. I can’t bear the thought of someone else getting their grubby hands on my script.
With your film industry background, did you play a bigger part than perhaps most writers in working with their sub agent to ensure you’d be chosen as the screenwriter?
I actually chose the sub agent. He was someone I knew well from my days at Lions Gate Films. We did a number of deals together. Plus, as I mentioned before, I wrote the script on spec, so in a sense, I was already chosen as the screenwriter.
Any advice for writers about working with studios?
It’s rare for a screenwriter (or novelist) to have the kind of clout that gives her any control over the final film. Even most directors don’t have final cut. Studios tend to keep that for themselves. So my advice is to learn the ins and outs of the business (and remember that it is a business) and understand your contribution to the project as a whole. You’ll probably be disappointed. Even if your script doesn’t get re-written dozens of times over, actors may decide to “get creative” on set. I’ve stood by while actors massacred my writing and it can be pretty demoralizing. But I’ve also been on the other side of that scenario, as the gun-for-hire rewrite person, “massacring” someone else’s script. A film is a collaborative enterprise that costs millions and is often cobbled together in the end by a committee of writers, directors, actors, and money people who all have different agendas. How this ever results in something worth watching is actually kind of a miracle.
Sorry you can’t make the chat tonight but I’m sure everyone will learn from your awesomeness! Best of luck and cannot WAIT to see CYCLER on the screen!
Thanks a bunch! Great questions.
As far as anyone at her high school knows, Jill McTeague is an average smart girl trying to get her dream date to ask her to the prom. But what no one knows, except for Jill’s mom and dad, is that for the four days Jill is out of school each month, she is not Jill at all. She is Jack, a genuine boy—complete with all the parts—who lives his four days of the cycle in the solitude of Jill’s room. But Jack’s personality has been building over the years since the cycling began. He is growing less and less content with his confinement and his cycles are more frequent. Now Jill’s question about prom isn’t about who she will go with, but who will she be when the big night arrives?
Jill McTeague is not your average high school graduate, she’s a scientific anomaly. Every month for four days she turns into Jack, a guy—complete with all the parts. Now everyone in her hometown knows that something very weird is up with her. So what’s a girl (and a guy) to do? Get the heck out of town, that’s what! With her kooky best friend, Ramie, Jill sets out for New York City. There both she and Jack will have to figure out everything from the usual (relationships) to the not so usual (career options for a “cycler,” anyone?).
About Lauren McLaughlin
Lauren grew up in the small town of Wenham, Massachusetts. After college and a short stint in graduate school, she spent ten years in the film industry as a writer and producer. Eventually, she abandoned her screen ambitions to write fiction full-time. She is currently at work on a novel about surveillance and high stakes testing. She lives in both New York and London.
Want to win signed copies of CYCLER and (RE)CYCLER? In the comments section from today through the end of the March, pitch me your Young Adult book. Tell me why it would make a great film. Need help on pitching your idea to film folks? PitchFest may be able to help! READ THIS BEFORE YOU PITCH IN THE COMMENTS SECTION!
Good luck! Oh, in all the excitement, I forgot to mention we’ll be talking about:
- How adaptations differ from the novel and why
- What the author’s influence is in the adaptation process–if any
- The author’s relationsionship with the screenwriter
- The author as the screenwriter and novelist turned screenwriter
- My novel’s been optioned, now what?
- I’ve already done my casting, who should I tell (er-no one, we’ll just answer that in advance)
- The author vision vs. the Director’s vision
- Working with the studio
- Working with your sub-rights agent
- Making the process work for you and much more!
Special guest, novelist and screenwriter John Robert Marlow has written a GREAT article on the subject called, “Is Your Book A Movie?”