Most film makers spend more time raising money than they do making films. Budget looms over their heads in development, pre-production, production and post-production. The less money they have to raise, the better chance of getting the film made. That’s one of the reasons that so many bad films are made. The producers who can raise the money get to produce films. Their ability to raise money isn’t necessarily connected to their ability to make good films.
From the writer’s perspective, none of this really matters. There’s a general rule that the writer of the book won’t be hired to adapt it for film. That comes from long experience in which writers were found to be too difficult to work with in adapting. They wanted to stay with the original purpose, the integrity of the story or novel. The film people just want to buy the “property” and use it to raise funds to make a film. They don’t necessarily care about the original work. In any case, film is a different medium and, to be successful, has other demands.
Sometimes, if the producer has some extra money and really wants the property, he’ll buy off the writer by agreeing to his/her writing the first draft. It’s usually a meaningless exercise. A film script may end up going through fifty drafts and six or seven writers. The one still standing at the end gets the credit. Or, the producer will include a clause saying the writer will be consulted on the artistic integrity of the adaptation. It’s nonsense, of course. “Here’s a thousand bucks so we can consult you. Take the money and get lost.”
The truth is that most fiction writers don’t have the training or experience to adapt their work to film. They also bring with them a lot of problems. However, hiring someone else is no guarantee that the film is going to be adapted by someone else who is competent. It’s not unknown for the script writer’s job to go to whomever the producer is currently sleeping with. Even if someone competent is hired, the adaptive process involves many people. It’s collaborative. That is completely unlike what the fiction writer is used to. The fiction writer works alone, perhaps for years, on a novel, then gets a contract for a book and will work in an uneasy alliance with an editor. Script writing is a team effort and, often, the members of the team change during the process.
So, unless the writer of the original work has experience adapting scripts for film, it’s better to have an agent (yes, you have to have an agent in dealing with film makers, otherwise, they’ll skin you alive) get as big a payment as possible up front. Have her make sure that the writer’s name actually gets onto the screen credits. Film makers won’t just take all the money they can, they’ll take all the credit they can. It’s called building a career. Once the original work, “the property” is sold, the writer should go write another novel. When the film comes out, if it does, go to it just to see if your name is actually in the credits.