How do you turn a book into a movie? While organizers of the Berlin film festival may not have the ultimate answer, they've at least come up with a way to give producers and publishers a chance to size each other up.
It's not that easy to get a book on the silver screen
The question at the entrance was simple and yet profound.
"Book or film," a young woman asked people, sending them to seats at the breakfast tables decorated with blue and red napkins respectively. But the color-coding wasn't meant to keep the spheres of literature and cinema apart: It was an easy way to get the two groups to mingle at the Berlinale's Breakfast & Books event on Tuesday.
"We're trying to serve as a bridge between the two worlds," said Syd Atlas, who is in charge of the project that's part of the festival's co-production market.
Now in its second year, Breakfast & Books drew some 100 film producers, publishing and literary agents to Berlin's city parliament to talk about possibilities for turning books into movies.
"It's an important exchange," said Astrid Kahmke, a producer for Germany's Bavaria Film production company. "The books presented here might not work for me, but I can ask people: 'What else have you got?'"
Adapting a book like Patrick Süskind's "Perfume" goes beyond the means of most producers
While Kahmke said that literary adaptations still only make up a small percentage of productions because of extra costs in obtaining book rights, she added that she'd be taking a closer look at some of the nine books that had been chosen for brief presentations at the event, which took place in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"We told publishers to keep in mind that these books should have budgets of between 2 and 8 million as movies," said Sonja Heinen, the head of the Berlinale's co-production market, adding that at last year's breakfast, several publishers had presented books for period drama adaptations that went way beyond the means of producers in attendance.
Tasting the popcorn
To drive home the economical nature of this year's choices, Atlas presented them along with useful tips about their adaptability to the screen.
"We should emphasize that this can be shot entirely in one location," she said about the horror novella "The Stain" by British author Paul Finch.
Publishing agent Gregory Messina from France's Editions Robert Laffont meanwhile gave the ultimate sales pitch himself.
"The author is well aware that you need to add things to the plot," he said of "The Runaway" by Valerie Sigward. "She's not against any changes."
A scene from "After the Picnic"?
Random House Germany's Bettina Breitling, who had brought "After the Picnic" by Dutch writer Renate Dorrestein, even had a suggestion for an opening scene.
"You see a field, you can smell the flowers, you hear the bees and you can fell that something horrible will happen," she said.
"I can already taste the popcorn," was Atlas' reply.
Bouncing off project ideas
While her audience had to make do with pancakes, literary agents especially seemed to enjoy the casual atmosphere.
Are things more uptight at book fairs?
"Unlike the book fair, it's much more open here," said Thomas Wiedling, who had presented "The Children's Ark," a book by Vladimir Lipovetsky about the true story of a US journalist who rescued 800 Russian children on an odyssey around the world in 1918.
"You can just approach people and bounce off projects," he added. "Maybe the one you're talking to might not end up making the movie, but he might tell someone else about it."
Follow the money
A few tables over, Argentinean producer Juan Ignacio Ciordia expressed his interest in the book, but said that it was a few sizes too big for him.
"It's the kind of movie that Hollywood can do," he said, adding that "Leila" by Alexandra Cavelius, a book about a Bosnian girl that survived systematic rape during the war, was more feasible for him.
A literary agent's heaven?
That's what Agnieszka Golosch from Germany's Ullstein Buchverlage had been hoping for. "Leila" had already been optioned by a German production company that couldn't find the financing.
"International funding is the last chance," she said. Despite the money that could be made from marketing a book that has been turned into a film, Golosch added that it wasn't very lucrative to sell the film rights to a book -- at least in Germany.
"If I'd sell something like this to America, it would be a different story," she said." That's where the money is."