Q: What’s the first step in the process of acquiring the rights to adapt a film from a book?

August 12, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: What’s the first step in the process of acquiring the rights to adapt a film from a book?  Do you need to do it even for a short film that may only see festivals?

Trevor S., Lincoln Nebraska

The first step is finding out who represents or owns the property (book, story, article, etc.).  You can do this (typically) by looking at the book’s cover and finding the publisher, then you go to your computer and google said publisher in order to get a phone number, email or mailing address.  Then you make a call, write a letter or send an email inquiring about who owns the rights to the story.  This can be a lengthy process so make sure you plan ahead.  Once you find out who owns the property, you will go through the above process with that person/entity again.  If the owner of the property likes your pitch and wants to move forward there is a completely different process involving many, many negotiations and contract points that I would not recommend doing alone so I implore you to contact a lawyer at that step.  If it is a well known property there will, more likely that not, be several lawyers, agents, managers and publishers as well as the author all chiming in during the negotiation.  It can be quite overwhelming, but just know that you are not the first to do this, nor will you be the last so be patient and keep your eye on the prize.  If it’s a smaller property then you may only be in contact with the author, I would still recommend that you contact a lawyer and get them to sign off on any deal you make with the author.  Better safe than sorry and these contracts can get tricky.  If it is for a short film, you still need to get permission for several reasons.  1.  This property is still owned by someone else and you can be sued.  2.  There’s nothing worse than working really hard on a project, getting it done, getting it into festivals and then having someone pull it because you do not have the right to make it in the first place.  3.  You never know what is going to come of your short film.  There are plenty of ways out there now that you can distribute short film content (some of which pay), but you can’t distribute content that you do not have the rights to.

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