TRUE STORY:An adaptation is a movie based on source materials: a novel, a comic book, a series of newspaper articles, etc. I also count most remakes and sequels as adaptations, because what the writer's doing is taking source material -- the first movie -- and telling another story using elements from it, be they characters or actual story beats.
Movie Exec: They're insane. His last movie made a nickel. There's not a single star in the thing, the whole project's going to cost something like two hundred million dollars, they're shooting in New Zealand so the studio can't be down there and maintain control --they're ruined. What the hell were they thinking?
Me: The Lord of the Rings is the most popular set of books in HISTORY.
Movie Exec: Eh. Elves. Please.
Reality check: if you want to make a living as a professional Hollywood screenwriter, then odds are you will wind up writing an adaptation.
Time for some Hollywood 101. Let's take a best-case scenario. Say your career begins by selling an original script, a "spec sale". In this dreamy version, a man holding an automatic office door closer (they exist) sits opposite you across a coffee table covered with art books by artists he's never actually heard of. And he says:
"Great script. Wonderful. Characters are incredible, real director-bait. We're not going to rewrite it or give you notes, we're just going to make this as fast as humanly possible. Hmm? Oh, no more than three years. Five tops."
Now let's even spot you a pretty good deal for a young writer's first spec sale -- low six figures against high six figures. You don't get the high six figures until the movie's actually produced. If the movie's ever produced. That's what the "against" means in all the movie articles you've read. And kid, trust me, that money -- my imaginary friend has an imaginary friend, and even he doesn't believe in that money.
Low six, let's say $150,000. Sweet Jesus, not bad, right? Take out taxes. $75,000 left. Commissions, that's $15-20k depending on your agent/lawyer deal. Say $60,000 left over three to five years (I'm not even counting the time it took you to write the thing and somehow get it to a Hollywood human), the value of any rewrites (if you get them, which you won't), pretty much cancelled by the free "courtesy passes" you'll do for the producers and execs.
You just averaged $15,000-$20,000 a year. Congratulations. You're a feature film writer, and the guy humping the Freezie machine at the 7-11 takes home more than you.*
Even as you toil away on your next little original opus -- one you're in no way sure you'll be able to sell, remember -- the bills keep coming. Your kids need food. You need health insurance. You want to write for a living? Then you need to write and get paid for it. You need to go where writing gets done. You need to go to adaptation-land.
"No WAY!" I hear the goateed ones scream. "I'm only doing my own, brilliant original material. I'm no hack!"
Well, ok. If you're going to make indies, that can be true, and good on ya. You're a god. I admire you. (You're also probably a director, so fuck off back to your Guild and cackle over your egregious "FILM BY" credit. Bastards.) That's a whole different game, one I am absolutely not qualified to write about. You know who could write that column? Kevin Smith. He's gutsy as hell, and I admire him immensely. He'd write the shit out of that column.
I also have his script for The Six Million Dollar Man on my shelf.
>NEXT WEEK: Those who can't teach, develop ...
*("What about those million-dollar script sales?" I hear you cry. Quick hint: if you're counting on a million-dollar script sale to justify your work on breaking into the film industry, go back to the filth-encrusted messageboard from whence you came. Adults only here, please)