Adapting a literary work in France

A real challenge



By Jean-Maxime Feutry

SKEMA Business School

Paris, France



Since the birth of the cinematographic industry, producers and authors have taken inspiration from another form of art: literature. The adaptation of books is still today a very common practice. But the author’s rights are something to consider with great attention before starting any procedure. It is important to be aware of the various situations that can occur and how to deal with them. We will try to define the proper process to adapt a literary work, using the Multi-Attribute Decision Making method (MADM). Out of the three solutions studied in this paper seems to be the more adapted: to buy the rights to the right’s owner, as other solutions are too restrictive or risky. This solution might be the most expensive one, but it is the safest and it guarantees fidelity to the original work.

Key words: Contract, Literature, Audiovisual adaptation, Cinema, Option, Adaptation rights, Author, Fidelity


In 2018, a new TV Show will start on the French channel Canal +: Vernon Subutex, the adaptation from the book trilogy by the famous French Novelist Virginie Despentes. The success of the book, which you can see almost every day in the hands of people in the Parisian subway, has seduced the production companies Tetra Media Fiction and 27.11. Its success as a book guarantees several spectators for the TV Show.

Since the birth of the cinematographic industry in the early 20th Century, cinema took inspiration from other media, and especially books, graphic novels and comics. As a new art, it was indeed easy to rely on arts that had been here for decades or centuries. Also, the public was interested by the idea to see on a screen what they could only imagine from the books. At first, there were no rights concerning the adaptation on screen because no similar situation existed before. From the birth of cinema, so approximately 1891 with the very short movie (15 seconds) Dickson Greeting to 1913, if a movie recreated something from a book, it was considered as pantomime.

We can for example think about the short-movie Barbe-Bleue (1901) or Gulliver’s Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants (1902) both directed by Georges Mélies, one of the most important French directors from the beginning of the century, and both adapted from books.

But in 1913, after the reproduction of the adventure of Michel Strogoff, a character invented by French novelist Jules Verne, it was illegal to do so without any rights and the author could ask for compensation. The years that followed confirm this idea, and today, if someone, a director or a producer, wants to adapt a novel on screen, he must search for possible adaptation rights that need to be acquired.

Step 1: Problem recognition, definition and evaluation

From that point, many different situations are possible. The book rights can be free or in the possession of other people, the author or the editor mainly. The rights are released from the author 70 years after his death, but it doesn’t mean automatically that the rights are free because they might have been sold before, to an editor or to another production society. That’s why it is important to study with much care the situation of the literary work we want to adapt and act accordingly.

The question we will try to answer next is: What is the proper process to adapt a literary work?


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Student papers are authored by graduate or undergraduate students based on coursework at accredited universities or training programs.  This paper was prepared as a deliverable for the course “International Contract Management” facilitated by Dr Paul D. Giammalvo of PT Mitratata Citragraha, Jakarta, Indonesia as an Adjunct Professor under contract to SKEMA Business School for the program Master of Science in Project and Programme Management and Business Development.  http://www.skema.edu/programmes/masters-of-science. For more information on this global program (Lille and Paris in France; Belo Horizonte in Brazil), contact Dr Paul Gardiner, Global Programme Director [email protected].

About the Author

Jean-Maxime Feutry

SKEMA Business School
Paris, France


Jean-Maxime Feutry
is a 23 years old French student at SKEMA Business School, based in Paris, France. After studying general knowledge about management, accounting, marketing and law during his first two years in the business school, he is now specializing in Project Management in the Master of Science « Project and Programme Management and Business Development ». He will graduate in 2018. He received this year the accreditations AgilePM and Prince2. He also studied for one semester at NC State University, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States of America. Before SKEMA, he took a two-year course preparing for competitive exam, called Hypokhâgne and Khâgne B/L, specializing in sociology, economics and literature, in Lille, north of France.

He is planning to work in the cinematographic industry, and more specifically in a production company. He has already made a few internships in this sector, first in one the biggest movie theater of France, the Kinepolis of Lomme, as assistant to the content manager and then in two production companies based in Paris. He was responsible, as a Production Assistant and then as a Development Manager, of the subvention strategy, the elaboration of the subvention files and of the estimates and financing plans. He worked on animated or live short and feature films, which encountered success in festivals. He was also for one year (in 2015) the president of the student association “7eme Art”, which promoted cinema in SKEMA Business School. As the president, he was responsible of the management of a team composed of twenty individuals who were divided in team dedicated to specific tasks. He was also in charge of the organization of premieres and internal screenings, the writing of articles and reviews for the association’s blog and the administrative work related to the functioning of a student association.

Jean-Maxime can be contacted at [email protected]