Posted On August 24, 2015 by Print This Post

MOVIES ‘R US by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Since I met Libby Fischer Hellmann some years back, I seem to come across her everywhere. Not long ago, I was sitting in my living room, watching a mystery on my local PBS station when suddenly Libby appeared on screen, being interviewed about her books. She can be found on the radio, too. Libby is best-known for her Chicago mysteries, series novels, stand-alones and anthologies she has edited. I was especially drawn to her book SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE because of its connection to Chicago in the late 1960s, when I was a teenager. Today Libby shares her adventures pitching her books in Los Angeles – it’s a long way from Chicago, and the two thousand mile distance is the least of it. 

A few weeks ago I flew to LA to participate in a film pitch conference. For those who don’t know, it’s kind of like speed-dating — you, an author or screenwriter – get five minutes with a production company rep to pitch your property, then you move on to the next. I had entered a “Book-to-Film” contest, which you can find here. Out of five hundred entries, my historical thriller, A Bitter Veil, was one of twelve semi-finalists. My reward was free admission to the pitch fest.


Most of the people who attended were screenwriters rather than published authors, which was good for me. I do have a film background – an MFA in film production from NYU (in another universe), but I’ve been seduced by the written work, and I have no interest in writing a screenplay. I keep thinking, “Hey, I wrote the book. Isn’t that enough?”  And I know that even if I had written a screenplay that sold, other writers would be “revising” or “editing” it anyway, and the likelihood of it being anything like my book would become more remote with each version.


Still I’ve been told I write cinematically, and I write scenes like mini-films, complete with establishing shots, dolly shots and pans, and intercutting close-ups. So I figured, why not give it a shot?


Because I have so many books and stories published, I prepared a packet of information before I flew out. I selected three books to pitch, but I prepared loglines — the two sentence elevator pitch that the film world requires– for most of my work  just in case.


So… how did it go? Well, it was um—interesting. I do have to say everyone, for the most part, was very nice. Except for the guy who told me how many characters there should be in one of my novels. Right, Mr. X. How many stories did you say you’d published?


But he was an aberration. Most of the production people who knew what they were doing lit up when I told them I didn’t want to write the screenplay. That I was simply interested in an option, and they could do whatever they wanted with it. Some reps , probably not all that senior, didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. But I’d expected that. I mean, whom do you send to a Saturday pitch session in the middle of August anyway?


About twenty company reps were present, but the way the sessions worked, I only made it to eleven. Which was okay by me.


But now for the humble part: I am used to speaking in public, and I used to teach executives how to do it. But pitching in 5 minutes? I wasn’t very good. In fact, during one pitch, I got so nervous my throat closed up, and my daughter, who thankfully was with me, had to pinch-hit. I have no idea why that happened, except that the format of the pitch was unfamiliar. I did get better, though, and by the end of the session, I could have done a few more.


The sponsors provided sugary donuts, cookies, and other pastries (no doubt to keep our energy flowing) and they also had lots of mints and TicTacs®, which was also appreciated.


I would say that out of the eleven pitches I made, six of the companies seemed to be very receptive, and five were “meh.” Then again, this WAS Hollywood and it’s really hard to tell what is real and what isn’t.


Suffice it to say this was a fun experience, once I got over my nerves, and I’d do it again just for the practice. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to something.

Chances are it won’t. I’ve been told that even snagging an option for a property only give you a ten percent chance of seeing the book on the screen. I was also told, by a Hollywood producer, that even projects that are “green-lighted” don’t always get produced. That, for various reasons, the project can falter at any time.


It’s a wonder that anything gets produced at all. And yet, hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?






THE INCIDENTAL SPY is a novella set in the early years of the Manhattan Project. The link above is for the paperback version. The ebook will be available in another month or so.

Young Lena Bentheim is forced to flee Nazi Germany for Chicago in 1935, leaving her family and boyfriend behind. After learning English, she eventually finds a new life as a secretary in the Physics Department of the University of Chicago. She meets and marries another German refugee scientist and has a child. Then tragedy strikes and Lena is forced to spy on the nuclear fission experiments at the U of Chicago. 

What about you? Have you had an option to produce one of your novels? What happened?

On Wednesday, August 26, author JOAN KAYSE presents, “A Hero for Every Story.”



Libby2013B copy

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Eleven novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery writing community and has even won a few. More at
Author of Compulsively Readable Thrillers
Nobody’s Child — September, 2014

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13 Responses to “MOVIES ‘R US by Libby Fischer Hellmann”

  1. Morning Libby!

    It sounds like you had an interesting day! =)

    What happens after? Do you wait for a phone call? or are they picking up options right there that day? Is it a lot like trying to pitch your book to an agent?

    Best of luck to you in future pitchings! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 24, 2015, 8:19 am
    • Carrie: I think they get back to the company that organized the pitch, and that company contacts me if they want the book or a script or whatever. I’m sure they don’t want to be bothered with a barrage of emails by anxious scriptwriters and authors.

      So far… nothing. But I’ve also heard that things move at a snail’s pace in TInsel Town, especially if you’re not a NY Times Best selling author.

      Posted by Libby Fischer Hellmann | August 24, 2015, 8:52 am
  2. Thanks so much for giving us this insight into the world of books-to-movies. On the one hand, it would be very exciting to see your books on film.

    But on the other hand, I’m often frustrated with movies that don’t do a good job of bringing stories to the big screen. I love movies, but it’s rare that I like a movie better than the book it was based on.

    What was the most fun thing you did in LA? I hear it’s gorgeous there – so, given the choice, what would you choose? Chicago or LA?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 24, 2015, 9:39 am
    • Becke… I’d choose Chicago in a heartbeat. In fact my daughter (who came with me) and I were discussing it. Despite the weather, neither of us would want to live in LA. Just not our style.

      I don’t know about authors’ street cred. I do know that when I said I had 12 novels published, some of them sat up a little straighter. But some didn’t. The people I was pitching to were mostly in their 20s and 30s. Very young. I wasn’t even sure we were speaking the same language at times.

      Posted by Libby Fischer Hellmann | August 24, 2015, 9:49 am
  3. Libby – Was it last year or the year before that I attended your talk on Cuba? It was fascinating! I’ve been thinking of you a lot with all the interest in Cuba these days. Has it caused a new surge of interest in HAVANA LOST?

    A friend of mine who was born in Cuba just went for his first visit in years. He hasn’t seen his relatives there since he was a child. I’m really interested to hear about his experiences there!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 24, 2015, 9:47 am
    • Becke, funny you should mention that. I did pitch (and am continuing to pitch Havana Lost. I was told by one producer “A lot of people are writing about Cuba now…” but I dont know if I believe that. HL came out 2 years ago, before anyone had any notion relations would improve so quickly. Then again, I could tell this producer had no idea what the “Special Period” was, so I have to take their comments with a grain of salt.

      Posted by Libby Fischer Hellmann | August 24, 2015, 9:51 am
  4. I remained polite. You have to. You never know who they’re going to talk to, and if the subject of Cuba comes up… well, you never know.

    Posted by Libby Fischer Hellmann | August 24, 2015, 5:00 pm
  5. Thanks so much for joining us today, Libby – and thanks for this fascinating post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 24, 2015, 11:13 pm
  6. Oops… just saw this. Hmm… my favorite book a movie? I think right now The INcidental Spy would be at the top of the list because it’s the “new, shiny thing”… but HAVANA LOST or SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE and NOBODY’S CHILD would make great movies or mini-series.

    Thanks for having me, Becke. Hope we can reconnect soon!

    Posted by Libby Fischer Hellmann | August 25, 2015, 6:53 am

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