With the Hunger Games franchise wrapped up, foreign buyers are ravenous for new young adult adaptations that could potentially launch a franchise. A slew of projects have invaded the market in Cannes this year, offering fantasy and supernatural tales involving witches, ghosts and dystopian-set drama.
"I think there’s a real interest in young adult product ever since Twilight,” says Mimi Steinbauer, president and CEO of sales company Radiant Films International. "Because the distributors have figured out how to reach that audience, they’re looking for good, consistent product to feed that demographic."
Radiant is selling The Changeover, an adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s Carnegie Medal-winning novel, which follows a 16-year-old girl (Erana James) who discovers her supernatural ability after an ancient spirit attacks her younger brother.
"The directors want to keep it very real and grounded," says producer Emma Slade of the film, which will be helmed by Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie. "The research that we’ve done with the young adult market shows that that’s what they like and what resonates with them."
But they don’t always work. While the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games has made the YA genre a box-office force — especially at drawing in the young female audience — there have been several films sold at markets that didn’t have the same happy ending.
Beautiful Creatures, a $60 million fantasy film released in 2013, earned only $60 million worldwide, while The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was released the same year to sputter out with just $90.6 million globally. And The Host, an adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s follow-up to Twilight starring Saoirse Ronan, also flopped in 2013 when the $40 million film took in only $63.3 million worldwide.
"People who lost money on the YA pictures that came after Twilight were because they went crazy on the budgets," says Lisa Wilson, co-founder and partner of The Solution Entertainment Group.
Indeed, the YA projects being sold this year all have tamer budgets, including The Solution’s Anna Dressed in Blood, which will feature rising stars Maddie Hasson and Cameron Monaghan. Wilson says working with Meyer, who developed the script based on Kendare Blake’s book about a ghost teen and also is a producer on the film, was one of the biggest draws for her. And with a budget under $10 million, Wilson says, “with this one, the downside is small and the upside potential is major."
The biggest upside is the possibility of a franchise that could reap big rewards for years. Both Anna Dressed in Blood and The Changeover are multi-book series that could be turned into several films.
Unwind, another YA adaptation for sale, is based on Neal Shusterman’s four-book sci-fi series about a dystopian world where young people that are considered difficult or troubled are harvested for their body parts. The Constantin Film/Don Carmody co-production, being sold by Voltage, will be directed by Roger Avary.
Buyers say interest continues to be high in the genre, especially if the budgets are conservative and if the story works. Adds Slade: “This audience is sophisticated. You have to have a good story. They’re not tolerant of a bad story.”