Turning three books into three films

Matthew Cooper Digital Bod
Matthew Cooper script writer

About four weeks ago I was provisionally hired to write a proposal for turning three published novels into a trilogy of films.

When I went for the interview with the producer I’d only read the first book, and I had no idea where the other two books took the characters and the story. The first book fit in nicely with the kind of material that suits me as a screenwriter, and the job had come my way based on a recommendation from another screenwriter that I know – who knew I’d be the best writer for this project.

The producer and I discussed the first book in detail and we agreed to flesh out the characters a little more, add a bigger female perspective and increase the humour.

Based on this conversation and the familiarity of the material to me, and my experience as a script writer, the producer agreed for me to go ahead and put together a treatment for changing all three books into films.

The purpose of the treatment is to give the producer an idea of what I’d do with all three books as a working trilogy, and also create a kind of pitch document that the producer can put in front of broadcasters like Channel 4.

I went off with all three books and started reading. I read the first book again, then, with baited breath I read the second book and then the third book. While I was doing this I created a two page storyline of the first book, and then as I read them I created a storyline for each following book.

At the start of the document I wrote an introduction to the trilogy and listed each of the main characters with a short biography, which touched on the journey that each character would go on.  It’s pretty straightforward and simple document that explains the story of each film in a straightforward manner, while giving a taste of the world and the characters that would inhabit the eventual films.

The plotting for book one and two was fairly straightforward. I had to do more work on the actual plot of the third book, which I had a slightly different vision for. I also needed to end the trilogy without too many loose ends.

Once I’d completed this document, I let my wife and two other friends unfamiliar with the books read the complete treatment. Based on their notes I did some further rewriting – to make the document as clear and effective as possible.

A treatment is like a pitch, you need to sell the sizzle more than the sausage, but I also made sure that my treatment had the sausage recipe in there as well, just in case anyone looked for it.

As I write now, the treatment is finished and I’m sitting on it for a week before I send it to the producer. Sitting on documents is something that was taught to me by my old agent. I never, ever send a document out as soon as I’ve written it. You always need a period of time to ponder over what you’ve written. The only thing I ever publish straight away are blogposts and I often go back and edit my own blogposts at a later date.

I’m not revealing the names of the books at this stage (or the producer or production company). But if this treatment is picked up for production by a broadcaster I’ll be writing more about this in the future, following the whole process of writing three 90 minute films for production from the writers point of view from the start of the process to the end.

Keep checking back for news on this project, and my normal film related blogposts will continue from next weekend.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. Matthew was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge, the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on matcoop23@yahoo.co.uk