Paul Lieberman, whose newspaper series is being adapted into the film “Gangster Squad,” offers tips—and cautions—for journalists when film or TV folks are interested in a story you have reported.

Leapfrogging the Book: A Newspaper Story Jumps to Film
– Paul Lieberman

  • Make sure the rights to your story are yours to sell—some publications may insist that they retain any film or TV rights.
  • Don’t take any steps to sell story rights until your piece or series has been published. Otherwise you have dual masters … and perhaps a financial stake in puffing up the material.
  • Keep your editors informed of what you are doing to make sure you are complying with the ethical guidelines of your publication.
  • Understand that while producers may want rights to your story as a way of developing a film or TV project, they may instead seek “life rights” from the characters about whom you have written.
  • The deal often starts with selling merely an option to buy rights to your story. While this can be profitable in itself, especially if a project is nursed for years—requiring renewal of the option—don’t be shocked if the initial option payment is quite small.
  • If there is considerable interest in your work, don’t try to weed through the offers on your own. Get an agent who can better evaluate the legitimacy of potential bidders and which one has the best chance of actually getting a film made, the step that triggers the bigger payoff.

Your role in the actual production is, like everything else, negotiable. You may play no role, serve as a consultant—perhaps with a producing credit, or even write or co-write the script, though that would be rare.

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