One of the classes this semester that has most fueled my growth as a producer is Acquisition and Development. Taught by our beloved Karen Loop, a longtime Hollywood veteran, A & D has been a crash course in producing, pushing us outside of our comfort zone in order to become more comfortable with a vital aspect of producing: acquiring properties that can be turned into stories, and then developing them into a written script that is ready to go into production.
Three weeks before class began, Karen warned us to start scanning for stories everywhere we looked: in newspapers, in magazines, in the songs that we listened to, in the short stories we read, anywhere we found them. Our task was to find a story from any non-film source and then reach out to the story’s author and pitch them on how their story could be turned into a film. With them on board, we were to convince them to sign an option agreement granting us the movie rights to their story. Once we had a signed option agreement in hand, it was up to us now to adapt that source material for film, creating a written treatment that could serve as a roadmap for how our story could be visually translated to film. Our last task was to secure a screenwriter to develop our treatment into a written script, and have them sign a “work for hire” agreement.
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This process is vital for producers to understand, even those who intend on developing their own stories and producing their own work. As Karen shared with us on our first day of class, 85% of Oscar-winning movies have been originally adapted from another medium.
I came to Columbia bent on writing my own stories and doing things my own way, yet I’ve come to see how limited this can be. Movie-making is a community effort: it is a community-based art form. Almost nobody makes a movie by themselves. To make the best movie possible requires finding people that are exceptionally talented at what they do and inspiring them to contribute great work to the project.
Eventually I found my story option: it’s about a woman who gives birth to a bright neon baby, to the shock and dismay of her overbearing mother-in-law. It has all of the elements I was looking for in a story, as well as great visual appeal![flickr id=”6347262223″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
After locating the author of the story (she had moved to New York city since Neon Baby’s publishing), it was time to get in touch with her to explain my vision of the project to her. I was nervous in reaching out. It’s hard to contact a complete stranger to ask them to trust you, to put their story into your hands, when they essentially have nothing to gain from it other than the possibility that some day down the line they will get to see their story on the big screen.
Fortunately, the author of Neon Baby was enthusiastic and excited about the prospect of seeing her story turned into a film. After about a week of contact back and forth, I had received a signed option agreement from her.
Read on next week to hear more about the next step in this journey: finding and working with a writer!