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The Future of Literary Adaptations: Industry Professionals Talk

This article is part of our Publishers Weekly U.S. Book Show 2021 Coverage.

With the continued growth of streaming, more written works will be adapted into feature films and television shows than ever before, according to four professionals involved in the buying and selling of intellectual property in Hollywood.

They discussed the future of book adaptations on screen at a May 25 U.S. Book Show panel, titled “Is Literary IP as Valuable in a Postpandemic Hollywood?”. The panel featured Mac Hawkins, founder of literary consulting agency Pragmatic; Erin Hennicke, film and TV director for Franklin & Siegal Associates; Angela Cheng Kaplan, president and CEO of production company Cheng Caplan Company; and Mary Pender, media rights agent for United Talent Agency. 

When the U.S. largely shut down in March 2020, it had a variety of impacts on Hollywood. Live action production came to a stop, focusing more on developing stories, while animation continued on, pandemic-proof. Studios were able to get ahold of creators who had previously been occupied to potentially tell stories.

The biggest changes during the pandemic were ultimately what material gets produced and how studios approach distribution.

More streaming platforms means more opportunities to adapt source material, and during the pandemic some studios experimented with new ways to promote their work, like Warner Brothers’ decision to release content solely through an HBO partnership.

Despite fears about streaming platforms bringing about the death of movie theaters, none of the panelists thought theaters would become completely obsolete.

“At the UK box offices, [Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway] did the best we’ve seen post-pandemic,” Hawkins said. 

Likewise, Cheng Kaplan said her trip to the theater last weekend was “driven by the desire to see something that wasn’t on streaming.”

“There will always be a theatrical release,” she said.

As to whether there will be an uptick in movies produced for streaming platforms, that depends on the consumer. More targeted films tend to have greater success on streaming, according to Pender.

“We’re definitely heading to a place where the sort of mid-budget drama, a lot of the genres we typically see at movie theaters that were struggling have moved to streaming,” Hawkins said.

Streaming platforms are also looking to acquire larger amounts of content due to increased demand, not to mention competition with other platforms. Hennicke pointed out the shift in volume of announcements from Deadline and Variety, which often announce rights acquisitions – there are now multiple announcements a day.

“Years ago you were lucky if there was one thing a month one of the six feature film buyers were interested in,” Hawkins said. “Now there’s five to ten things a week.”

It’s not just books – news stories are being picked up as well, in addition to more musical adaptations like In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen. There’s been a greater uptick in shows and limited series than movies, as they have shorter development periods and viewers can spend more time with the characters. 

Cheng Kaplan said that buyers are increasingly interested in libraries and backlogs of authors’ works, and what gets picked up depends on what the platforms and production crews are looking for.

“If thematically there is something that particular producer or show runner or director wants to explore, we’re seeing deals have a larger variety,” she said.

However, themes that are popular in films may not necessarily be popular in television or vice versa. Hennicke highlighted Bridgerton, which became popular over the holidays, as an example of viewers being interested in romance. That interest may not necessarily translate to films, she said. True crime was also discussed as a popular genre.

However, a common thread during the pandemic is that viewers are looking for escapism, and producers are creating “affirming, happy, funny” works as a result. The protests that erupted in summer 2020 also influenced the industry to focus more on uplifting underrepresented stories and diversity in casting.

Regardless of what form they take, literary adaptations will likely continue beyond the pandemic, and they will continue to build name recognition and sales for their respective authors.

Featured image via Pixabay

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