April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Interview: Literary Manager Eddie Gamarra on Turning Kids’ Books into Movies

Ever wonder how some of your favorite books make it to the big screen? School Library Journal spoke to Eddie Gamarra, a literary manager and producer of the Gotham Group who specializes in representing works for TV, film, and dramatic right. His latest hot project is Libba Bray’s latest, The Diviners (Little, Brown), which comes out September 18.

You sold the screen rights to The Diviners even before it was published. How’d that happen?

Lots of book-savvy producers track the deals announced on Publisher’s Marketplace. The good producers identify the titles, authors/illustrators, and loglines that seem most interesting and are persistent about getting access to the manuscripts as soon as possible.

Why are so many children and YA books—from the Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Where the Wild Things Are and even Judy Moody—being adapted for the big screen.

Family films often prove to be very profitable as they play to the widest audience. Classic titles like Raggedy Ann are beloved by many generations. Newer successes like The Kane Chronicles often have crossover appeal. If studios and producers are going to spend millions of dollars on a film, they want to make sure as many people see it as possible.

Dystopian tales seem to be big now. Are there any other trends you’re seeing?

Every studio seems to have optioned several dystopian titles, so there is a glut within the development pipeline. Only so many films of this nature can be produced. The trend that is most surprising is the demand for love stories. It’s great to know that people want to produce and to see movies that make people swoon. It’s a welcome relief from the dark and serious movies that dominate the multiplexes these days. The movie posters for “Batman,” “Superman” and “Spiderman” are nearly pitch black. Let’s add some color back into our lives!

You work with some big names in the kid lit world like Mo Willems, John Corey Whaley, and Libba. What do you look for in your clients?

Each one seems to have a very unique and immediately identifiable voice, and yet each has a sense of flexibility as storytellers, crafting amazing narratives across genres and formats.

What kind of relationship do you have with publishers to get galleys or advanced copies of books?

We represent a number of publishers and a number of book agents, so we get to see material at very early stages very often.

Can you tell immediately after reading a book whether it’s going to be a hit?

I can’t always tell, but sometimes when you see it, you know it. There have been a handful of titles that I knew would make great movies or TV shows. Almost all have been optioned by now. I work in Hollywood and I read. There are many smart book-friendly executives who do read.  Anyone who wants to work with underlying material really should read. That said, Hollywood traffics in screenplays and so most people are best trained to read that medium. Reviews are helpful for summary more than for commentary. I want to make up my own mind.

Name some famous kid lit authors you’re successfully brought to the big screen?

Our company has the good fortune of working with many of the best in the business. We produced The Spider Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones is going into production shortly.

Obviously, you need a good book first, but tell us what happens after that.

There is no one definitive process. There are many roads, all rambling, to make it to the screen.  Typically, producers will read a book—or the coverage of the book—and say “Great book. Get a screenwriter.”  The screenwriter—or five—will adapt the book. Add a director who can get a great cast. Then add cast who are economically meaningful to an international audience. Make sure there is secure financing. Shoot the footage. Fix everything in post. Then maybe, hopefully, we’re off to the premiere. It all takes about eight years.

Does this bring in big bucks for you and your clients?

We always aim to get the best deal for our clients, and the best deal isn’t always about the biggest paycheck. Some have done very well, but everyone wants to do better.

How long have you been doing this?

I worked at Alloy [Entertainment] for a year before Gotham, where I’ve been now for eight years. Prior to that I was a college professor at Emory University in an interdisciplinary program. My favorite class to teach was “Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Folklore,” where I taught books like Coraline, and Harry Potter, along with classical myths and Disney movies.

Do you have much competition out there in LA?

In the grand scheme of things, there is a relatively small group of people who speak Hollywood and publishing with equal fluency. When it comes to children’s and YA, there are even fewer. I am lucky enough to work with some of the best here at the Gotham Group.


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About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.