Recently I got an email from a friend who was all abuzz about a prospect to turn his book into a movie. He had taken my class on self-publishing a while back, and had dutifully completed all the steps and published his first book. The book was a memoir, and although he wasn’t interested in continuing writing as a career, who doesn’t like hearing that his/her book is fascinating enough to become a movie?
The email was as follows:
Please accept this letter as a letter of intent from Malcolm Walker & David Yates, producer of the Harry Potter series, The Legend of Tarzan, Fantastic Beasts (both 2016) and Where to Find Them and its sequel and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald 2018.
We are a founding member of Directors UK. In addition, had a close partnership with Warner Bros. as a director and producer.
We also have access to all the major UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, C4, C5, etc.) Via our sales partners Movie House Entertainment Limited www.moviehouseent.com whose directors have been in the film distribution business for over 25 years, having previously worked for the ‘The Samuel Goldwyn Company’ and ‘Warner Bros’ and who can ensure a seamless flow of revenue in terms of licensing, delivery and collections.
We have seen your book’s information on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We have seen its potential for a movie adaptation. We would like to see a professional book movie seal or screenplay for your book.
Please feel free to reply to this email for further updates.
It was signed Malcom Walker, Producer/Director and CEO, but the email originated from a Gmail account with a username of yatesdavid###(random numbers).
My friend was quite excited about this. After all, having his book mentioned in the same breath as Harry Potter movies was an intoxicating surprise. When he replied and asked for more details, he was referred to a company that could write the screenplay, Alpha Book Solutions. ABS, they said, could help my friend meet the needs of a movie producer and get this ball rolling.
Well, you might have guessed; the proposal came with serious strings. I checked out Alpha Book Solutions and it has a variety of services they offer to those looking to make the jump to the big screen: none of them cheap. The cost to write a screenplay? A mere $5000-$8000. They say, “A professionally written screenplay is a great way to impress producers and show them your commitment to taking your book into the screen.” But as you’ll notice, there is of course no guarantee that any producer will be impressed enough to actually option your story.
The next cheapest service is the Hollywood Treatment for the bargain price of $3500-$4500. The description of this is a bit vague: “This tool is used to create a blueprint for the adaptation of your book into a screenplay, so you can easily pitch it to producers to convince them that your story is worthy to be adapted into the big screen.” Personally I would love to see this to know exactly what you get for the money, but I have a sneaking hunch it might be a simple suggestion to buy the screenplay service!
There’s also the offer for a Hollywood Synopsis for a paltry $1999-$2999. The hook here is that they will write a “producer-friendly” synopsis. I’m not sure how that differs from a “regular” synopsis; maybe they write in explosions and car chases? In any event, most of us writers know exactly what it takes to write a synopsis, but we’re sure not getting paid $2k-$3k to do it.
There are other offerings as well: an International Book Display package for $1899-$2299, a National Book Display package for $1499-$1699, an Author Launch program, a Book Tour package, and a Book Trailer package, all at similar exorbitant prices. I think most of us can recognize these types of “services” from some of the other scammy publishing sites we’ve written about here at IU, but because these are geared to Hollywood and the movies, the fees are exponentially higher. Where the bottom-feeders of Hollywood used to play on the dreams of young women yearning to be starlets, now they prey on writers looking for that one big break.
Don’t fall for it. Unfortunately, my friend did. It’s a common trade-off scam, offering huge rewards (movie deal, $10 million, etc.) for a not-so-insignificant “investment,” yet compared to the promised gain, it’s only a fraction, right? And unfortunately… it works. Which is exactly why these things continue to propagate.
So what are the red flags you should notice right away if you get an email or message like this?
· The first and biggest, as always, is they are asking YOU, the writer, for money. Any “offer” they make is hinged on you spending big bucks for no more than empty promises. Remember that any legitimate producer or film company that’s really interested in your story will pay you for it, not the other way around.
· They try to “stampede” you into a deal. These people will often offer a sweet deal but for a very limited time: act today before it’s gone! They don’t want you to wait, they don’t want you to take your time and think about it, or research it. They want to get you on the hook right now. Don’t be stampeded.
· They offer a big freebie if you’ll pay up. My friend said he was offered a free screenplay if he would buy this “professional movie seal,” which none of us has ever figured out. I’ve done many online searches for this, and I never get anything remotely applicable. My friend’s film-industry lawyer had never heard of it, either. But let’s think about this: if a screenplay costs $5000-$8000, are they really going to give it to you for free? I think not.
· Beyond the absurdity of the offers themselves, look closer. What email address is this coming from? Is it a Gmail account, a Hotmail, or Yahoo account? Anyone in a legitimate business should have a business email account: [email protected] And the email should correspond to an existing, legitimate website. (The one I used above does not.) For that matter, is the person’s name part of the email? If you see something like [email protected], that’s a big red flag. Scammers will often use a jumbled combination of letters and numbers, “burner” email accounts that are easy to set up and easy to dump.
· Another tip-off: Did you see anywhere in that original email the name of my friend’s book? Was there any reference to the title, genre, or plot, any reason why they thought his book would translate well to the big screen? No. The email was likely a generic one, sent out to dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of indie authors with no personalization at all. That’s also evident in the fact that my friend’s book, while on Amazon, is enrolled in Kindle Select, so it is NOT listed on Barnes and Noble.
So, yes, the bad news is that my friend took the bait. I and some others cautioned him against it, but the pull was too strong. The good news is that he at least took some steps to safeguard his investment. He sent the money via his bank, so as soon as he realized he’d been scammed, he filed a wire fraud report though the bank. In addition, he also filled out a very detailed police report, and attached that to the wire fraud report. In very short order, he got a call from his bank telling him that the money was back in his account! In addition — and this was especially delicious — the scammer’s bank had closed his account. I’m guessing Malcolm Walker or David Yates or whatever name he’s going by is not a happy camper right now.
But my friend? Very happy. Happy he dodged a bullet. Happy that, although he at first answered the siren call of fame, he plugged his ears and sailed on by.
29 thoughts on “The “Make My Book into a Movie!” Scam”
Good public service article, Melissa. Alas, scammers are everywhere. You can’t take anything at face value, probably never could, but technology makes it so much easier for them to crawl out of the woodwork and get into your food.
A few years ago, I got a big order for books emailed to my publishing company. To make a long story short, the “purchaser” wanted me to go through their shipping outfit to “save costs,” which of course was going to cost me $$$$. I told them that as a small company, I needed them to pay up front, so I’d process the order once I received payment for the books plus shipping costs. For some reason, they weren’t too interested in the books after that . . .
I wonder, though, whether Malcom/David/whoever is much concerned about that account being shut down. Maybe he has a dozen others, just in case, and switches between them as needed?
I tell you, there’s no end to the trade-off scams. They can (and do) take a zillion forms. Good for you for catching it and setting boundaries. And you’re probably right about the bank account; there are probably several. These people change their names, email addresses and other details as soon as anyone gets a whiff of scam. We have to stay constantly vigilant. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you! We do our best.
Thanks, Melissa. Excellent information.
As soon as I saw the email address, I would have sent this to my trash folder.
Thanks, Kathy. Plenty of red flags there; take your pick. We’ll hope others will be as quick to dump offers like this in the trash.
Now that a writer can publish their own work quite simply and inexpensively it is not surprising that vanity publishers/scammers have moved on to the arcane world of the movie where many more of us know much less about the process than we do about publishing a (simple!?) book.
Actually, Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’ getting picked up and turned into a movie must’ve been a gift for scammers. It proves it is possible.
Glad your friend took precautions. Glad the scammer got their own fingers burned.
Interesting article. Thank you.
I think you’re right, Judi. The scammers see opportunity in every new wrinkle in the industry. And of course the improbable IS possible, which is why this works; every so often someone actually does win the lottery. But not this time. Thanks for commenting.
My literary agent sent my book to a film-maker just before he died a few years back. That movie maker read my book and contacted me all excited. He is a very small company who makes mainly short animated films and has never made a feature length film but he wants to make a feature length animated movie of my book. He has never paid me any money (called option) yet but he phones me from time to time just to talk about it and he has made several pinterest boards about my characters. I know he genuinely would love to make a movie of my book and the only teensy little thing stopping him is the lack of the many million dollars he needs to do it. LOL!
But his vote of confidence in my story is a big enough thrill to keep me going and probably more than most other SP authors ever get.
He had a surreal experience when he first opened the packet from my agent and saw the cover of the book. It has two leaping dolphins on it. He tells me, he raised his eyes, looked out over the city harbour and saw something there, he’d never seen before – the harbour covered with leaping dolphins.
My agent said he phoned him on the spot all excited, saying “Is this a sign?”. My stern and unemotional agent just ordered him to read the book. A few weeks later my agent died, aged in his nineties. A few weeks after that, the film-maker did read the book and his contact with me has continued ever since. The two of us continue to dream happily, from our opposite ends of the North Island.
I remain convinced that the real dolphins arrived there that day to welcome my fictional characters to the city.
Tui, sounds like you’ve got a great connection with your filmmaker, even if he is a bit short on funds to make the movie. That’s not unusual in the movie business. We’ve all heard of film ideas being bought, only to take years to make it to the screen, if at all. I do hope someday he’s ready to move forward with your book. You’ll have to let us know when that happens!
Very glad to hear that you’ve made that catch and your friend was able to get his money back. I’d be even happier to know that the scammer has been arrested and charged with wire fraud, but that’s probably too much to hope for.
For what it’s worth, I’ve boosted signal on my own LiveJournal, The Starship Cat.
Leigh, with a police report filed, that might be a possibility. We can hope, right?
Yes, let us hope.
Wow, thank you, Melissa! Great timing. I’m working on TV script as we speak. So sad the stark reality is we have to be soooo aware of scammers in all factions of our life anymore. Anyway, again a sincere thank you for this one!
Glad it was timely for you. It’s something we all dream about, and for that very reason, we must be cautious. Good luck with your TV script. Maybe one day, with my characters…
Thank you for your time on this.
You’re entirely welcome.
Yes, I’ve had one of these film offers! the lack of info about my book made me suspicious and I ignored it.
Fingers crossed for you, Tui. Your dolphin book would make a great animated film.
There’s a company showing up on Facebook and probably elsewhere that promises that your book will become a movie. They bill you $88 (at last appearance). What they do then is unclear. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware looked into this company and said that one of the people involved did have minor creds, so she hesitated to call it an utter scam. Still. I’ve written comments trying to remind people how challenging it is to sell a book to legitimate film companies. When thousands of people dream this dream, $88 a shot could really add up, especially if all the company does is add your book title to a database. I’ve been unwilling to spend the $88 to find out, but maybe others have given it a try. I come back to what seems basic: these people are acting as agents–but they want you to pay THEM instead of the other (correct) way around. Beware.
That’s always the big red flag, Virginia–the money flows the wrong direction. Thanks for letting us know about this one.
The scammers are alive and well. I got two or three phone calls from different people with false praise. I tend to be skeptical by nature anyway, but these were bad actors. I took down their “company,” so I could see if they were even real. Sure enough, when I ran a search, there were a bunch of complaints against them by some who took the bait.
One thing that was a dead giveaway was when they couldn’t tell me anything specific about my book after claiming to love it.?
That’s always a big red flag, Pete. I’ve had friends ask the people on the other end of the line, “What in particular did you like about my book?” and of course the answer is “Um, oh, I don’t know–all of it!” Ha. Good for you for doing your homework.
Thank you, Melissa. I found your blog through Chris, at ‘Story Reading Ape’ and I am glad I did.
I’m glad you did, too!
Apologies Melissa, just adding a new comment with a different email, so I can follow you. W rejected my first one… 🙂
The webmail account is a BIG flashing light. Someone with those connections would have their own domain.
Second big flashing light: charging for writing the screenplay. That doesn’t happen in legitimate movie deals.
You’re right, Jaq. We keep telling people the money always flows TO the writer, not away, but when you’ve got stars in your eyes, it’s sometimes hard not to believe. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you for the warning. I am ‘fortunate’ not to have enough spare cash to ‘invest’ in such things, but it must be a real temptation to those who have.
I think the clue, as you say, lies in the requirement for cash. Genuine companies pay you!
Count your blessings, right? There are many red flags, but as you say, the one that stands out more than any other is the money requirement. As soon as you hear, “For only a small investment of…” RUN the other way.
Comments are closed.