February 14, 2014

Casual Friday: What I Learned from Being a Hollywood Intern

Hello there, Misfiteers! Whether you're forever-alone like I am or having a romantic outing with your significant other, happy Valentine's Day! (It was unavoidable, I'm sorry. You can go indulge in dark chocolate now. That's basically what I'll be doing all day.)

As many of you may know (or not), I recently started working as an intern. Not for a literary agency or a publisher, but for a production company at Universal Studios. But wait! What does that have to do with this blog? You may ask. I thought this was a writing blog?! About YA?

Actually, one of the things I learned from being a intern is that writing/YA lit/etc. surprisingly goes pretty hand-in-hand with film development. Let me explain:

One of the things that my boss has us interns do every day at work is go search through Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher's Marketplace, and etc. to look for books/book deal announcements that could potentially make a good movie and list about ten separate upcoming or newly released books in our database. That's right, ten per day. For each intern. Every week. And we're only one of the many companies out there in Hollywood. If you add up the math, that's a lot of books being considered every day. 

What does this have to do with YA? Well, let's just say that YA is REALLY BIG right now. I know this might seem obvious with all the YA-to-film adaptations this year but let's just say that those movies were probably optioned years ago and are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of books that are being considered right now. (So, like it or not, YA to film adaptations are here to stay.)

Just some of the many YA-to-film adaptations coming out this year.
Image Cred: NovelNovice

And let me clarify that the company I work for does not specialize in just "teen" movies. We're actually behind a lot of cool, generic action/thriller movies, so we don't specifically cater to YA audiences, even though we may be looking at a lot of YA projects.

As an intern, I also read submissions, which actually consists of about 50% manuscripts/books and 50% scripts (rather than just 100% scripts like I originally expected), and many of them have been YA novels/scripts-based-on-YA-novels. In fact, on just my first week of the job, I got assigned a soon-to-be-published YA novel and a screenplay adapted from a YA book.

So why hasn't my book been optioned yet? You may ask. Where is my Hollywood movie deal? Well, first off, let me just say that our prime/ideal timeframe for projects are books that come out within this year or have recently come out. So if you're in the Class of 2015/2016/whatever, don't lose hope. Your novel is probably just not on the radar yet. Also, the project optioning process in the movie industry is really subjective. (Like, way more than publishing.) Sometimes, the question isn't simply "Do I think this is a good story?" or  "Am I liking the characters/plot/world-building/etc?"--although those are certainly the first things we look at--but also "Can I  clearly picture the goings-on in this book in my head?" "Do I think this can be visually retold in a way that attracts audiences?" "Do I think this project will be worth the money needed to develop the project?" etc. etc. Which leads up to my next point:

The other significant thing that I learned as an intern is about rejections. As I was reading through submissions and labeling reader reports with things like PASS, CONSIDER, and STRONGLY CONSIDER, I realized...that I was doing what literary agents have done to my own writing projects over the past few years. Before my internship, I really had no idea what people meant when they said publishing was "subjective." Sure I understood what it meant on a dictionary-definition level, but still, when agents said in their rejection letters that they just "weren't feeling it" or that it wasn't "right/a good fit" for them, I got frustrated. Like, what do you mean, you can't "feel" it? What's not right for you? But after working as an intern, I think I have a better understanding of what went behind all those rejections.

As an intern, I have a huge stack of submissions to read through every day. Often times, when I read a submission, I know right away whether or not I like it. And admittedly, for projects I really like, I'm more permissive about its weaknesses and more generous on describing its strengths. On projects I don't particularly like, it's harder to overlook the flaws, which makes my overall reader report pretty negative and usually culminates into a "PASS." So yes, I am biased in my evaluations, which are based on my own personal, subjective impressions on the submissions, but so is everyone else. Sure, sometimes my boss has multiple people look at a submission, or sometimes he even reads a few submissions himself, but in the end, it's all based on our own personal opinions and impressions on the work. That's just the way things are and it has nothing to do with the writer him/herself

As for the "isn't right for me" or "isn't a good fit" responses, during the first few weeks, our boss handed us a sheet listing the specific genres, character/story types, and etc. that he's looking for (kind of like an MSWL). Like I mentioned before, our company specializes in action/thriller movies. And one of the things our boss has us consider is: Would this submission fit well with the other movies we produced in the past? Would it seem appropriate to introduce the project as "By the producers of the XXXX movies?" So naturally, we are less inclined to accept, say, romantic comedies or melodramas--although there are one or two exceptions if a project is strikingly good. And although agents/publishers might not have this specific of a niche in what they're looking for, they do have specific things that they'd like to see, and are thus more likely to be on the look-out for those types of things. This also goes with the "I already have a project similar to this on my list" rejection (I got plenty of these, back in the day!) If the new project is too similar to some of the movies the company made, we have to  regrettably reject them.

Okay, this was a rather long post and I hope it was at least a little bit interesting/informational! If you'd like to talk more about the things I mentioned above, please feel free to comment below or strike up a conversation on Twitter~


Stephsco said...

This was so fascinating! I would have loved to work as an intern for a movie studio. Sounds so interesting. This also really highlights how important it is to include diversity at all levels, even down to interns. Women in media see different things than men, people with different cultural or ethnic backtrounds will pull out different aspects based on their subjectivity. It starts from the ground up. Glad to know there is a YA champion in the mix at Universal :)

Sarah Hipple said...

That was really interesting! And I promise, I did read and understand the part about upcoming books, but I am going to choose to ignore it and recommend that you immediately make a pitch for "Sabriel" to become a movie to the Powers That Be.

Or not. I suppose it is your career on the line.

Thanks for sharing!

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