"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

How to Turn a Book Into a Movie with Ken Atchity

Kenneth Atchity began writing stories as a child under his mother’s supervision. By the age of 16 he was a book reviewer for the Kansas City Star (no one at the newspaper realized how old he was when they hired him over the phone).

Ken started in the film industry after working as a professor for 17 years because he wanted to work on the creative side of story rather than the critical side. He came up with an idea that turned into 16 films and never looked back. His company has developed over 30 films and published over 150 novels. Ken has a reverence for stories and the art of storytelling that shines through in this interview.

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  • The way to sell a story to its largest audience is to write a book and make a movie out of it. You can also do it the other way, and write a book based on a movie.
  • The power of having a story that is both a movie or TV show and a book is that you have two separate audiences that discover the story and each of them will seek out the story in the other medium.
  • People who read the book first will watch the movie or TV show, and people who watch the TV show first will buy the book.
  • To make your story into a movie or television show, it has to be highly dramatic and have a universal message that a large audience can connect with.
  • A good treatment can sell them with the idea of your novel even if your novel is missing some basic elements of a good Hollywood screenplay.
  • A treatment is a brief written pitch that shows the movie that exists in the story. Ken’s book on treatments can be found in the Links and Resources section below.
  • After you’ve written your treatment you should reach out to a contact in Hollywood.
  • If you don’t know anyone directly to you don’t have any friends who might be able to connect with someone one place to look is writers conferences. You can go to writers conferences and sign up for a lecture from somebody who is connected in Hollywood and that will give you a point of contact.
  • When you meet your point of contact simply ask them for their advice. Don’t ask them to buy your story idea. Give them the elevator pitch of your story. If they’re excited by that give them a copy of your treatment and they’ll look at it seriously. Often if they aren’t interested for some reason they may be able to point you in the direction of somebody who might be.
  • Don’t offer to buy them lunch. Just ask for five minutes of their time.
  • You should be able to tell people what your story is about one or two sentences. If it takes longer something is wrong with your story.
  • The pitch for under siege starring Stephen Seagal was Die Hard on a boat.
  • the pitch for Splash starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah was: It’s a fish out of water story only she’s a mermaid.
  • The secret to a good pitch is to make it short. Make it something that leads the person you’re talking to to ask questions.
  • If you’re in a producer’s office in Hollywood and they ask you five questions about your story, they virtually invested in your story already.
  • The most important character in every story is the audience. Always pay attention to the audience. Always be thinking about where the audience’s attention is at.
  • Structure your story for your audience.
  • How to engage your audience when they aren’t responding to the story you’re telling.
  • After you’ve sold your story stop talking.
  • Never bring notes to a pitch meeting.
  • Stories are about humanity.
  • Storytelling is about capturing the audience in a relationship with you that leaves the rest of the world out.
  • The audience lives inside your story. That’s why it’s so important to not have anything in the story that takes them out of the story.
  • The most important thing when selling your story is to keep the audience on the edge of their seat all the way through the pitch. If you can do that chances are very good story will sell.
  • Ideas themselves don’t make movies. Good storytelling makes movies. Writing a good story shows that you’re a good storyteller.
  • There are no new stories. It’s how you tell the story that makes the difference.
  • An idea can’t be protected. Only written documents can be protected. If you have a good story idea at least write a treatment of it so it can be protected.
  • The human race runs on stories.
  • Storytelling is a sacred vocation.
  • Before the written word storytelling was how civilization got passed down from generation to generation.
  • Storytellers were a protected class of citizen in ancient times.
  • Storytelling is our primary way of holding reality together.
  • The myth of the starving artist is just another destructive story we tell ourselves. It’s a story rooted in victimhood, and no good protagonist is ever a victim for long. Western culture prefers stories of heroes who overcome their obstacles.
  • Salvador Dali once said: The difference between a madman and myself is I am not mad.
  • The only difference between an artist who is seen as crazy and an artist who is seen as a genius in success.
  • The only way to combat the naysayers in your life is simply keep writing.
  • As a writer always remember that your calling is writing. Keep a sense of perspective when people try to tear you down.
  • Start writing more it will get rid of all these moods you’re having.— Ray Bradbury
  • You have to have the story you’re telling nailed down, but you also have to have your personal story nailed down as well.
  • Writers write. That’s what they do.
  • The only way to be sure they will succeed as a storyteller is to keep telling stories until you succeed. You have to persist as long as it takes.
  • The only way to fail is to give up. If you don’t give up you will eventually succeed, or die trying.
  • As a writer you’re living a dream life. Millions of people dream of having the courage to do what you’re doing. If you die without any external success, you still died in the middle of living a dream life. Is there anything better than that?
  • The sure fire cure for writers block: never sit down to write until you know what you’re going to write about.
  • The good thing about writing is that it’s a democratic art form. Anyone can write. It’s not limited to a specific social class or morality.

Basic Elements of a Hollywood Story

  • A protagonist we root for and identify with.
  • An antagonist for the protagonist to struggle against.
  • A visible goal that the protagonist wants to achieve.
  • Obstacles for the protagonist to overcome.
  • Follow the three act structure. Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end.
  • Make sure that your story has a big climax. Hollywood movies need big climaxes.
  • Make sure your story has a satisfying ending. If the ending to your room a satisfying the moviegoer won’t care how much it costs. If the ending is satisfying to be saying to themselves, That was a waste of $12! 

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