Inside Warner Bros.’ Storied Feature Story Dept.
Some of Warner Bros. Pictures' most successful and beloved films were not written as films at all, but are adaptations of literary works. The folks who first shepherded those titles from page or e-reader to the big screen work in the studio’s Feature Story Department, which serves as the hub for all potential material that comes into Warner Bros. Pictures for production consideration.
There is without a doubt a lot of “magic” in film-making, but it’s a pain-staking process that starts with these folks and a whole lot of reading: In addition to its staff of five housed on Warner’s Burbank lot, the Story team also includes upward of 15 readers who work offsite. As you can imagine, every day, the studio is flooded with written materials of every kind from agents, publishers and development executives. So each week, the team collectively reviews approximately 100 stories—in the form of novels, manuscripts, magazine and newspaper articles, graphic novels and essays. (And yes, original screenplays too). The readers draft reports known as “coverage”—consisting of a brief description of the work and a detailed analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, dialogue, characters and plot. Further coverage information includes the scope of story concept, its driving force, existing awareness of the property and its potential as a feature film. This analysis is then used by Warner Bros. Pictures' creative team to help determine if a project meets the objectives of the company's release slate.
"As obvious as it sounds, it cannot be overstated that you need a good story to make a good movie," says Greg Silverman, President, Production, Warner Bros. Pictures. "With so much source material available, we rely on the Story Department to help narrow the field and identify properties that will work as broad-appeal feature films and franchises."
When a work has a high level of existing awareness and an established fan base, maintaining the balance between page and screen can be a challenge, yet is crucial. The Studio's Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises are quintessential examples of the necessity to keep a strong link to the source material for their diehard fans. Other franchises, such as Sherlock Holmes and The Dark Knight, combine elements of their well-known source material with the movie-makers’ own creative vision, resulting in unique interpretations that ring true with fans.
In addition to the iconic franchises mentioned above, some Warner Bros. Pictures' recent page-to-screen adaptations include Argo (from the real-life story and CIA documentation that was declassified in 1997); Cloud Atlas (from David Mitchell's time-jumping epic novel); the upcoming Bullet to the Head (from the French graphic novel); and the highly anticipated The Great Gatsby (adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterwork, and seen in the photo above).
While these titles are being finished by filmmakers and prepped for exhibition, the Story Department is already poring over the titles that will make their screen debuts in 2014 and beyond.