Big Bucks in Teen Book Series Adaptations

"Other than Marvel, which obviously works a very different way, we're really the only company that's doing this," Morgenstein said. "We're not just focused on selling books anymore. We're focused on building brands. We view the projects as competitive entertainment properties, concepts that translate easily to other media like film and television. At the heart of it all is the story, but it has multiple lives. From book to film or TV show to Web property to mobile content and so on. The kids are all over the place these days. So we are too."

While it's hardly a new trend -- remember "The Princess Diaries" and "Ella Enchanted"? -- why is it booming now?

"There's definitely a lot of spending power there that Hollywood is discovering," Morgenstein said. "But like everything in Hollywood, it's cyclical, it comes in waves. And right now, especially with teen girls, we're in an upswing."

If the upcoming slate of Hollywood films from teen books is any indicator -- including "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" on Oct. 3, "The Secret Life of Bees" on Oct. 17 and "Sex Drive" (adapted from the Alloy book "All the Way") on Oct. 10 -- the trend will continue.

And let's not forget the "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth film in the series, due Nov. 21. Also in development are film adaptations of "The Keys to the Golden Firebird," Marina Budhos' "Ask Me No Questions" and the "Au Pairs" series, penned by "Gossip Girls" producer Stephanie Savage. Plus, Alloy plans to release a straight-to-DVD version of its best-selling series "Clique" on Nov. 11.

Professor Richard Walter, UCLA 's screenwriting chairman, believes the girl power thing plays into it a bit. "The success of female films parallels the expansion of female talent among writers, producers and studio chiefs," he pointed out. "Coincidence? I don't think so. Maybe there's a keener sense of what sort of programming would appeal to women."

And there's a keener sense that female audiences can stir up big box office. Former Scholastic editor turned film producer Jane Startz, who has produced film adaptations of teen books such as "Tuck Everlasting" and "Ella Enchanted," suggests it's the young readers themselves who are creating the demand.

"This trend doesn't come as a surprise to me at all. As with all businesses, it's a viral phenomenon," said Startz, who's currently developing a string of teen book-based projects, including Judy Blume's classic "Deenie." "Girls are voracious readers. They spend money on books. So if you're making a film version of a successful book like 'Twilight' or 'Traveling Pants,' you're one step ahead already. It's a presold audience."

But UCLA's Walter also sees the flip side of this coin. And it is all about coin. "Whatever happened to the original?" he laments. "Everything is an adaptation or a remake or sequel or prequel or franchise. Hasbro has a deal to turn board games into movies. What drives this? Executives' need to blame someone or something for the anticipated failure of the particular venture. It's, 'Hey, it's not my fault it lost a zillion dollars; it's based on a bestselling book or a popular movie or TV show or board game.' To me the obsession with adaptation and the reluctance to produce original fare represents the suffocation of the imagination. They don't want to take risks, even though adaptations are themselves risky. Most of them fail, don't they?"

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