From Page to Screen – The Creative Keynote Panel

Posted on: Friday 02 July 2010 12:17pm

Real experiences in the sometimes complicated world of adapting children’s published works for film and television.

Moderator: Karl Woolley, Producer, Impossible Films


Anthony Horowitz, Author and Screenwriter

David McKee, Author and Co Founder, King Rollo Films

Michael Rose, Producer and Co-Founder, Magic Light Pictures

Francesca Simon, Author, ‘Horrid Henry’

The creative keynote session was a big draw at this year’s CMC and if you check out the guest list above, you’ll understand why!

Francesca Simon author of the phenomenally successful Horrid Henry series kicked things off with a reasoned argument as to why she dislikes the word ‘brand’. As an author she finds it is very hard to think of her characters as monetary entities. This clash between creativity and brand was a theme that continued throughout the session with all the speakers giving examples of moments when they felt their creative vision was being compromised in order to get their work adapted.

Antony Horowitz revealed some of the story and character sacrifices he was forced to make when writing the Stormbreaker screenplay. This included trivia such as the decision to cast Mickey Rourke as the villain rather than a Middle Eastern actor (as in the novel) because the studio was nervous about the publicity ramifications. And despite making around £5 million at the UK box office, the film was never released in the USA, a decision that still frustrates Horowitz.

David McKee, author of beloved Mr Ben and Elmer said he’d never given permission for Elmer to be adapted for the screen. McKee feared 100+ episodes would mean a loss of creative control that would have a detrimental effect on the long term future of his books and merchandising. But broadcasters shouldn’t be too easily put off – when asked what a producer should do to get a writer to sign up, his response was ‘get him drunk’!

Michael Rose, producer of The Gruffalo Christmas Special was the sole non-author on the panel but concurred with the general view that remaining true to the source material is often the crux of a successful adaptation. After falling in love with the Gruffulo, Rose didn’t think the text would work as a film or television series but a 30’ special seemed the ideal fit. He fought off a long queue of Hollywood studios and fellow independents to win the rights. He consulted author Julia throughout the entire process which he argued was incredibly important in convincing her that her property was in safe hands.

The issues of control and money sparked lively debate amongst the panel. McKee’s reluctance to allow Disney to adapt Elmer led to Horowitz calling him ‘a mad man’! While Francesca Simon’s revelation that she had not seen ‘a penny’ in royalties from the animated Horrid Henry series raised a few eyebrows…

The session may have focused on four success stories, but the panellists agreed that this was perhaps not always the case. The message seemed to be to keep story at the heart of any adaptation and try to find a personal balance between creative and commercial pressures.