The Harry Potter movie saga has come to a (lucrative) close, but the success of that child-friendly franchise sparked a rejuvenation in children’s literature, as well as books for teens. Says author Ally Carter: “We are going through a Golden Age of Young Adult Fiction.”
That’s not only true on the bookshelves, but in Hollywood. Movie producers are looking more than ever to the YA book market for properties thanks to the success of Twilight and Potter, as they desperately try to find the next big teen hit.
“Clearly, Hollywood producers have noticed the boom too and have seen what wonderful material is out there,” says Kody Keplinger, a Kentuckian who wrote her debut novel The DUFF while still in high school. It’s now being turned into a film, produced by Charlie’s Angels director McG. “How could any producer read The Hunger Games and NOT want to make it into a movie?”
It’s particularly interesting considering most so-called teen movies of the modern era have tended to be original ideas. John Hughes’ films of the Eighties like The Breakfast Club. Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. The American Pie series. Dazed And Confused. She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Superbad. The list goes on.
Now however, authors selling their manuscript are just as likely to find themselves in a bidding war for the film rights. The aforementioned Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is currently being given the big-budget treatment. Ally Carter’s Heist Society series has just been optioned for Hollywood by Drew Barrymore, who is planning to direct. One of Emma Watson’s first post-Hermione projects is The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, adapted from the novel by Stephen Chbosky.
Summit Entertainment – who gambled and won with the cinematic version of Stephenie Meyer’s fantasy franchise – have dozens of YA book adaptations in the pipeline. One of those is Divergent by debut writer Veronica Roth, the first in a planned trilogy set in a dystopian future where teens are initiated for life into virtue-orientated factions.
“Making movies is like making a huge bet,” she says. “You can have a pretty good idea of what will do well, but you can never be sure. So the appeal of turning a book into a movie is that you have a guaranteed fanbase already – it feels like less of a gamble (even if it’s just a fraction less)!”
Perhaps too, it’s that Potter and Twilight in particular have demonstrated to young wannabe writers there’s actually money to be made in YA fiction. That combined with the fact that most young authors grew up on a steady diet of films and TV.
“I am a self-professed movie junkie and I tend to be a very visual person,” says Ally Carter. “For me, writing is largely about describing the movie that I see in my head. Whether or not any of my books ever become feature films, I still hope that readers get that same kind of visual, immediate experience from reading the stories. Those are the types of books that I enjoy reading, so they are also the type of books that I try to write.”
Keplinger agrees. “I always write somewhat cinematically – seeing how the scenes would play out in live action as I put the words on paper, “ she says. “I tend to cast almost everything I write, just to get a good image.” (she mentions Emma Stone, Ellen Page and Mae Whitman as some names who have been bandied around for the movie version).
But is there is a potential problem in people trying to write books (and publishers churning them out) just so they can be films and TV shows? After all, once people start writing to a specific formula with specific goals beyond mere passion, the results can become diluted.
“Honestly, I don’t think this is a huge danger,” says Roth. “Writing a book is such an involved process that it’s hard to get through one even if you love it for what it is, let alone if you’re just writing one so it can become something else. Basically, this would be like becoming a supermodel just so that you can become a fashion designer—becoming one is hard enough, let alone both, and they require a completely different set of skills.”
Adds Carter: “I for one don’t think that increased popularity or awareness of the genre is going to dilute the quality of the genre as long as readers, librarians, booksellers, editors and agents maintain their current high standards.”
Still, while the lure of Hollywood can be intoxicating, the landscape is littered with authors who have sold their vision only to see it trashed by the suits and focus groups as well as inept scripts and disinterested directors. This is particularly challenging with teen fare, whose fans are vociferous in their devotion. For instance, when blonde Jennifer Lawrence was cast as brunette heroine Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, the blogosphere went into turmoil, despite the actress’s Oscar nom.
Similarly, while lauded figures like J.K. Rowling enjoy tight control on the film adaptations of their properties, that’s not always the case with lesser names.
“I try to think of movies that are based on books as supplements to those books, not replacements,” argues Veronica Roth. “To be honest, I don’t want to be too involved – I don’t make movies, I write books and I want to focus my time and energy on that.”
Says Keplinger: “I knew going in that an option didn’t necessarily mean a film would happen, but that a producer was interested. That interest, for me, was flattering enough.”
In fact, it seems the best – and maybe only – way is to be sanguine about it and remember it wasn’t ever about seeing Gwyneth Paltrow playing your hero’s mum.
“In the past six years I’ve had two different books under option with three different companies, so I’ve been around the block a few times,” says Ally Carter. “I can’t control whether or not my books ever make it onto the screen. I certainly can’t control whether or not those movies would be any good. But I have complete control over my novels, so that is where my focus shall remain.”