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Book-to-screen adaptations pitched at 2018 Books at MIFF

The 12th annual Books at MIFF (BaM) event, run by Melbourne International Film Festival’s 37º South Market, was held at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre on 2 August.

Representatives from publishing and film companies attended two morning sessions—a panel discussion on the film adaptation of journalist and Saturday Paper editor Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune (Black Inc.) and a pitching session—before breaking into round-table and one-on-one meetings.

The panel discussion saw author Jensen (who also co-wrote the film script) speak alongside writer/director Thomas M Wright, executive producer Robert Connolly and Black Inc. international director Sophy Williams. They discussed the adaptation process of Acute Misfortune—a ‘fractured’ biography of artist Allen Cullen, who invited the then-19-year-old Jensen to stay in his spare room and write his biography under the false promise of a book deal.

With the book having been previously pitched at MIFF, Black Inc. and Jensen received four formal approaches for film rights, although Williams said the publisher did not wish to take it to auction. ‘What we were looking for was the perfect creative relationship for Erik,’ she said. When moderator Sandy George asked whether Australian publishers just want to see the highest bidder, Connolly said, in his experience, ‘It’s not about the money … Publishers and writers are keen to meet with people who have the best idea’. However, he also emphasised the ‘changing landscape’ in the Australian screen industry, noting an increased volume of drama in the market, and the presence of bigger production companies with ‘bigger pockets’.

Wright, who had read an extract of the book in Good Weekend, said he had ‘a visceral reaction to Adam Cullen’, and felt there were ‘oceans to unpick’ in the book. Similarly, executive producer Connolly said that he was drawn to Acute Misfortune because he had been looking for ‘bold and adventurous works’. Both Wright and Jensen emphasised their willingness for the adaptation to be ‘an exploratory process’, with the pair working together to develop the screenplay. Williams said, ‘It’s great when producers want to work with writers on their work’.

Black Inc.’s film tie-in edition of the book was also discussed, with Williams stressing the importance of collaboration between publisher and producers. ‘Communication is key. If you get the timing wrong, you miss that window,’ she said.

The panel was followed by a book-to-screen pitching session in which publishers and literary agents were given two-and-a-half minutes to argue why their book should be produced for film or television. Six titles were chosen for the pitching session from 133 submissions made by a record 35 publishers and literary agents.

The six titles pitched were:

  • Ruby Moonlight (Ali Cobby Eckermann, Magabala)
  • Dear Pakistan (Rosanne Hawke, Rhiza Edge)
  • The Sunday Girl (Pip Drysdale, Simon and Schuster)
  • Rapture (Jeremy Stanford, Tale Publishing)
  • The Elephant (Peter Carnavas, UQP)
  • Surrogate (Tracy Crisp, Wakefield Press).

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from 2-19 August. For more information, visit the website.



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