By Mitali Chakravarty
Three Idiots, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Crazy Rich Asians have made history in cinema and they started out as mere books, Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Ahmad and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
Bhagat was cited by The New York Times as “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” and was also included in the Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Ahmad’s book made it big not just in its own rights, climbing up to #4 on the The New York Times Bestseller list and winning multiple awards and accolades, the film catapulted his book as one that addressed humanitarian concerns and won the German film award for peace and at least five more international awards. Kwan also made it to the Times list of the hundred most influential people and was named as “five writers to watch” on the ‘Hollywood’s Most Powerful Authors’ in The Hollywood Reporter. Their cinematic launches helped them make it huge!
But did you ever wonder how their books made it to the big screen? How did they sell their film rights? And as an author, what all should you be looking out for when you sell your book’s film rights?
Today, we meet the man who can help authors evade controversies and make it from books to movies… He is the man who has made it a business to help writers sell their books to film-makers. Meet Siddharth Jain, the founder of The Story Ink (TSI), India’s first story company for premium content for screen. It is also “India’s No.1 Book to Screen Adaptation Company” and has sold the adaptation rights of almost 70 books to Producers/Studios in India. It is now expanding its footprint by solving the story problem for Indian regional language content producers and international producers, who are searching for local stories for global audiences.
TSI was founded in April 2018 by Jain who had earlier worked for India’s largest OTT (over the top) — Hotstar.com (now acquired by Disney from Fox), iRock Films, Adlabs Films (Reliance Entertainment), Hyperion Studio — Los Angeles and Baazee.com (Ebay India). In a recent interview with scroll.in , Jain said that five years from now he sees himself “reading a book a day” and curating great stories for films. In this exclusive interview, he explains how books are made into films… through options agreements.
Kitaab: What do you mean by an options agreement?
Siddharth Jain: An options agreement is an arrangement between the author and the producer, in which a purchase price is fixed, a non-refundable, and usually adjustable advance (15-20% of the purchase price) is paid and a term is agreed upon (usually 12-18 months), during which the producer can make the balance payment and acquire the rights. If the balance payment does not come during the option period, the option money is forfeited by the author and he can then sell the rights to another producer.
Kitaab: Do you need help to understand an options agreement?
Siddharth Jain: They are very standard and basic agreements. I personally hand-hold the author through the entire process, so it’s pretty smooth.
Kitaab: Who should the author approach for making a film of their story? Does the story need to be published or not?
Siddharth Jain: Ideally the book needs to be pitched to a producer, who can then rope in the right writers and director to package it as a project. But since authors/publishers don’t have easy access, they engage – The Story Ink – and we do that on their behalf.
A published book helps. But unpublished stories can also be pitched, if written in the right format. An unpublished book is too long as a pitch format. It needs to be written as a 10-15 pager story.
Kitaab: What do you look for in a story when you make a film on it?
Siddharth Jain: Our quest is to find stories which have the following characteristics:
- Original voice of the writer.
- Engaging plots. In the case of episodic content – multiple plots.
- Relatable and/or aspirational.
- Entertaining in most cases.
- Fit for screen.
- Execution friendliness.
- Something that the film/TV trade will embrace with confidence.
- Ability to attract the right Film/TV talent in terms of Directors and Actors.
Kitaab: How do you get the best out of a TV or film rights deal for your book?
Siddharth Jain: By understanding the scale and vision of the project. Then it has to be structured to a commercial deal that’s a win-win for the author and the producer.
Kitaab: How can you make sure they do not spoil your story while filming?
Siddharth Jain: That risk will always be there. Film and television are collaborative medium and involve a large number of technicians, cast and crew, unlike the solo process of writing a book. Hence it’s important to find the right producer and be aligned with their vision.
Kitaab: Do you need to hire a lawyer for making this agreement?
Siddharth Jain: Usually yes. As a rule, one must always have a lawyer to consult. But just as builders have a standard agreement that property buyers sign, similarly studio contracts for assignment of rights are pretty standard.
Kitaab: How much money can be made from a typical option?
Siddharth Jain: In India on an average, option fee can range from Rs 2 to 10 Lakhs per book. In some exceptional cases, upwards of Rs 25 Lakhs.
Kitaab: Can you alter the agreement? Extend it or exit from it?
Siddharth Jain: Once signed, termination is possible only upon breach by any party or at the end of the term of the option agreement.
Kitaab: What kind of royalty can you get from such a deal?
Siddharth Jain: Royalty deals are rare. Usually a fixed payment is the norm.
Kitaab: How do you make sure you are not at the losing end?
Siddharth Jain: If any deal is structured transparently and fairly, no one loses. No one should lose.
Kitaab: If one were to sign an options deal, what would you advise?
Siddharth Jain: Understand the project vision. Be practical and realistic about commercial terms. Choose the right producer. Consult a lawyer. Or, you could avoid all of the above and come to The Story Ink.
Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and editor and blogs at 432m.wordpress.com.
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