Guest Feature, Writer's Life

Thoughts from Kathryn Stockett: From Book to Movie

While tearing through my closet on a great spring cleaning purge, I came across a legal pad. Unsurprisingly, it was from the college days. I flipped through just in case there was anything I might want to type into a more legible format and save. Between class notes with no headings or dates to clarify where/when they’re from and pages of brainstorming for Thieves, I found an interesting entry.

More than once, I’ve referenced the time I got to ask Kathryn Stockett about deciding to let her book, The Help, be turned into a film. I wrote about it during my time with student media. In my post about Lani Sarem at the Agile Writers Conference this year, I mentioned that same conversation. I even brought it up during my interview on the amazing A Handbook for Handbook for Mortals podcast.

It should be obvious that what Stockett said at the 2014 Savannah Film Festival really stuck with me. Her talk was something I hadn’t really known was going to happen, so I hadn’t planned for. At the last minute, someone said we needed someone from student media to go and write about it, so I did. The question I came up with: “I’m someone who doesn’t want my writing to ever be adapted into film. As someone who did decide to let her book become a movie, can you explain what went into making that decision?”

I really wish I knew where my original notes from that conversation were.

The legal pad I found does not contain those notes. It does, however, contain something just as good: something else I wrote around that time when Stockett’s words were fresh in my mind. There are certain phrases that, upon reading them, I recall being direct quotes. However, I didn’t use any quotation marks in my notes. And judging by the incomplete last line β€” “And if you get it” β€” I never finished writing whatever this is. It could have been a class exercise. It could have been a draft for a blog post I never got around to finishing.

Whatever the reason behind writing it, it contains what I took to heart from Stockett. I asked her for insight into why β€” besides money β€” an author would consider selling the film rights to their book. At the time, I was vehemently against ever having any of my writing adapted. While I’m still not entirely in favor of the idea, I do know that, if the option ever comes before me, I’ll revisit this scribbled page of notes.

From my notes about Kathryn Stockett:

Kathryn Stockett visited for the Savannah Film Festival and I was able to participate in her discussion panel. When Q&A opened for the students, I said I had no intention of letting my fiction be turned into movies, so how did she make her decision?

Right away, she asked why not. Was I afraid to let go of my work? Yes. That was exactly it.

She said you can’t say no if someone wants the film rights to your book. But it was all about getting your work into the right hands. Find someone who cares about the story and wants to protect it.

The author’s job is to write a book. As she said, if you’re not a screenwriter, don’t write a screenplay. Write the book, cut the cord, and find the right hands to put it in. She said the best you can do is outline the key elements of your story and tell the screenwriters/producers that they have to hit on these points. From there, you can kind of negotiate some things like actors or certain scenes you don’t want out.

But you have to be able to let your story go. When the book gets published, your work is done. Let the screenwriters do their job now that you’ve done yours. And while the income from the movie rights is nice, a movie will renew interest in reading your book. And any kind of movie tie-in where you have famous actors on the cover is going to get you more readers. Selling the movie rights isn’t selling out if you just write a book to be a book. And if you get it

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