Film-makers raid bookshelves for inspiration

L'Amant Double, directed by Francois Ozon (second from left, with cast members, from left, Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier and Jacqueline Bisset) is adapted from Joyce Carol Oates' sexual psycho drama, Lives Of The Twins. It is in the running for the Pa
L'Amant Double, directed by Francois Ozon (second from left, with cast members, from left, Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier and Jacqueline Bisset) is adapted from Joyce Carol Oates' sexual psycho drama, Lives Of The Twins. It is in the running for the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.PHOTO: REUTERS

CANNES • Hollywood has always adapted the classics, but film and television's voracious appetite for new material now has film-makers raiding the bookshelves like never before.

Six of the movies in the running for the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or top prize - which was awarded yesterday - are taken from books.

Sofia Coppola drew from Thomas Cullinan's classic Southern Gothic novel for The Beguiled starring Colin Farrell as a handsome Union officer who stokes sexual tension and jealousy inside a girl's school during the American Civil War.

Francois Ozon turned up the temperature of Joyce Carol Oates' sexual psycho drama Lives Of The Twins to almost unbearable levels for his steamy L'Amant Double.

The thirst for gripping new yarns has been fuelled by the boom in high-quality television series, meaning there are only so many good scripts going round, experts noted.

Which is why "cinema, like TV, is on the lookout for really good stories", said Ms Judith Becqueriaux of French publishing house Denoel.

"And a good book gives you a story which has already won over the public," she added.

A good book gives you a story which has already won over the public.

MS JUDITH BECQUERIAUX of French publishing house Denoel on why cinema is looking to books for inspiration

"There is more and more demand" for books to adapt, said Ms Nathalie Piaskowski of the main French publishers' body, with cinema adaptations rising by a fifth, according to the latest available figures.

Such is the demand that film- makers are not even waiting for books to be published before snapping up the rights.

More than 130 international producers took part in a special book rights market at Cannes last week, with publishers pitching them some of their new releases and soon-to-be-published novels.

"A book adaptation gives a certain guarantee of success and helps the film get made," Ms Piaskowski said.

Cannes is only one of a growing number of festivals where publishers are bringing books to be optioned for the screen.

The Berlin festival has its own showcase called Books At The Berlinale in a link-up with the world's biggest book market, the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Similar organised "pitching sessions" are now also taking place in Los Angeles and Shanghai.

Some of the biggest deals in Cannes this year were for children's books, with the movie franchise of the Moomins, the Finnish storybook characters, sold to China.

This comes as Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets - the most expensive European film ever made at US$190 million (S$262.3 million) - is about to hit the screens in July. The massive project from Luc Besson, of The Fifth Element (1997) fame, is based on a French comic book.

"For the last decade or so, more and more film-makers are drawing from graphic novels because it's a super base and the stories are already well developed," said Alexis Ducord, whose animated film about a family of zombies, Zombillenium, was shown at Cannes.

Ms Helene de Saint Vincent, who handles the rights for three graphic novel houses, said: "In a 12-month period, eight films drawn from books in our back catalogue have either been released or are about to be released."

But most directors are not interested in directing a book's narrative "straight", said Ms Nathalie Carpentier, whose company CAL deals with a number of international publishing houses.

Instead, they are looking for a "story which they can play with like a Playmobil toy and that will have enough action and emotion for the director to show that their film isn't simply bringing the book to the screen".

But having a book optioned for a film is not quite the financial boon that many people believe.

Average rights now sell for about €45,000 (S$69,500), with the biggest deals reaching €200,000 - with only a fraction of that going to the authors.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRECISE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Film-makers raid bookshelves for inspiration'. Print Edition | Subscribe