As the latest step in its efforts to become a global entertainment giant, Wattpad Corp., which began as an online platform that allows writers to self-publish, is starting to develop TV and film projects based on fiction that has appeared on their website.
The 14-year-old Toronto digital company has built one of the top Canadian-based consumer internet businesses, with more than 80 million monthly users, primarily young women. Millions of writers post fiction, often serialized, on its online platform. Readers access the content primarily on their smartphones and post comments as they read, often interacting with the authors themselves.
Wattpad generates revenue from its mostly free platform in a range of ways. It sells advertising on the platform and offers an advertisement-free paid subscription service, and charges pay-by-the-chapter fees for access to certain popular stories.
Its four-year-old Wattpad Studios arm has also struck licensing deals on behalf of writers with publishers and studios around the world to adapt stories first published on Wattpad into other formats. Wattpad has close to 50 TV and film projects in development after a string of successes. Those include The Kissing Booth, based on a Wattpad story, which was one of the most-watched films on Netflix in 2018, and After, based on a popular young adult romance series by Anna Todd that started life on Wattpad, was one of the top-grossing independent movies of last year. Hulu series Light as a Feather, another Wattpad adaptation, was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
After helping hundreds of its writers secure book deals with third-party publishers, Wattpad last year started its own publishing arm to produce book versions of its stories. Developing film and TV projects on its own before securing production partners is the company’s next move.
Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios, said the self-funded development initiative gives the company the opportunity to develop stories that, data show, have had strong reader responsiveness, but which its TV and film production partners have passed over. “It’s an evolution of how we’re going to verticalize this business and create opportunities [for Wattpad writers]," he said. “We want to see scripts getting written and we want to see more of those stories on screens everywhere. We’ll get to the point where we have scripts, we may have talent attached, we’re going to control that whole creative process that goes right up to the second someone says, ‘We want to put that in front of a camera and start shooting.’”
Wattpad has started out by hiring Hollywood screenwriters to adapt two stories from its platform into feature films. It tapped Academy Award nominated Children of Men screenwriter David Arata to adapt What Happened That Night, a young adult fiction whodunit written by Deanna Cameron, a 23-year-old dollar store clerk and community college student from a small town west of Rochester, N.Y. The company’s Wattpad Books division published the story last September and is publishing her next story, Homewrecker, this year. Ms. Cameron has been writing on Wattpad since her teens. “I would have never thought that at 23 I would be having this discussion where we’re talking about a potential movie," she says, "but here we are. It would blow my mind to see other people re-enacting what I’ve written.”
Wattpad has also hired Angela LaManna, who has penned scripts for Netflix series The Punisher, Syfy’s Channel Zero and Hannibal on NBC. She is adapting The Hound, a Wattpad story by Albuquerque writer T.L. Bodine, described as being in the “horror/paranormal genre that combines elements of romance, supernatural, mystery, demons and ghosts, along with an inclusive LGBTQ+ lead.” It will be pitched to studios as an indie, high-concept project comparable with Get Out.
“I say no to almost all books that are sent to me" for potential adaptations, Ms. LaManna said. “But when I read The Hound, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I cannot say no to this. It’s so special.'” She described the story – which, as well as a haunted taxidermy dog, features a same-sex couple who own an antique store and are raising a son – as “very high quality” writing with many cinematic qualities. “There’s so much here, I just want to put it on the big screen so everybody can see it,” she said.
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