Content is king in Hollywood.
Or at least it used to be. In fact, super producer Robert Evans made it sound so easy in his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture – pay attention to the New York Times bestseller’s list, gobble up the film rights of those beststelling novels you think you can adapt and bada bing, bada boom, next you know you have a #1 movie in theaters and a signature catchphrase, you bet your ass you do.
But who has time to read books any more? This is 2017. Everyone’s working four jobs, struggling to keep up with peak TV, mostly ignoring any movies not made by Disney and drowning in must-read articles. Make me read a book? Um, can you just have my Kindle read it to me while I’m walking on the treadmill while also catching up with the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Go, go, go people. Time is money. And other such cliches.
I exaggerate, of course. People still read books, and books are still made into movies, but not like they used to be unless those books happen to be graphic novels or feature superheroes in spandex. However, there is a mini-trend brewing which prioritzes short-form non-fiction content over long-form. Within the pages of every new issue of Rolling Stone or The Wall Street Journal lies a story or two which might catch the right film producer’s eye. Recent examples include but are not limited to:
War Dogs, the Jonah Hill/Miles Teller dramedy about two gun-runners exploiting bureacratic loopholes during the Geroge W. Bush administration. The film began its life as a Rolling Stone article which director Todd Phillips read and decided to adapt.
War Machine, Brad Pitt’s $75m budgeted Netflix movie which fictionalizes the downfall of U.S. Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal as part of a larger commentary on our fundamentally and continually flawed approach to what is now the longest war in U.S. history. The script is ostensibly based on Michael Hastings’ 2012 nonfiction book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, which was itself adapted from Hastings’ own 2010 Rolling Stone Article “The Runaway General.” However, if you’ve read the article and seen the movie you know there’s very little in the film which was not already in the article, regardless of whatever elaborations Hastings added in his book.
Tag, New Line’s star-studded comedy (Isla Fisher, Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Annabelle Wallis and Rashida Jones) which is inspired by a 2013 Wall Street Journal article detailing the true story of “a group of friends who have been playing a no-holds-barred version of the children’s game Tag for the last 30 years.”
So, the next time you read an amazing article about some largely unknown true story and think, “Somebody should make this into a movie,” it’s entirely possibly that somebody’s already trying.