In an unusual move, Entertainment One plans to share TV pilot scripts for two Wattpad stories it’s adapting as series with the most passionate fans of the original tales — bringing them into the development process.
Under its partnership with Wattpad, the Toronto-based production and media company is developing shows based on dystopian drama “The Numbered” by MJ Gary and time-travel romance “Kairos” by Leigh Heasley. EOne moved forward on the pair of projects after looking at dozens of potential candidates, flagged in batches of 10 per month by Wattpad out of the 500 million-plus stories on the story-sharing community. Those were culled based on eOne’s criteria centered around YA and sci-fi genres and female-driven dramas.
To adapt the stories, eOne is bringing in its own scriptwriters — which is a standard Hollywood practice. For “The Numbered,” it has tapped Sabrina Sherif (aka Sabrina Nouadir), whose credits include Netflix’s “Another Life,” the CW’s “iZombie,” and the company is looking to line up a writer for “Kairos.”
What isn’t standard operating procedure: eOne wants to take the scripts for each TV show to superfans of the original Wattpad stories to get their opinion on what works — and what doesn’t — at various stages in the development cycle, said Jocelyn Hamilton, president of eOne Television Canada. Starting later this summer, the company in partnership with Wattpad hopes to assemble groups of about two dozen fans each of “The Numbered” and “Kairos” to help shape the storylines before shopping the shows to networks and streaming services this fall.
“This is different and experimental,” Hamilton said. While such early audience focus-group testing often happens for kids’ TV shows, “in adult television we don’t do that.” Part of the reason is that producers don’t want plot details — which are subject to change — to become public in the development phase. Hamilton said eOne will ask Wattpad fans it consults with “to sign something that says they won’t leak it.”
For eOne, tapping into the user-generated stories on Wattpad is “just another arm of finding new voices,” Hamilton said. “It’s finding a needle in a haystack.” But, she said, the Wattpad partnership has yielded stories “we wouldn’t find elsewhere. The concepts are new and interesting and fresh. If we want to be in that younger-skewing arena, there aren’t many places to find things of that nature.”
Wattpad provides an entirely different way for TV and movies producers to benchmark audience engagement with a story, given the company’s reams of data, said Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO. Using audience data via Wattpad’s commenting feature, it can pull the exact moments in the story that inspired strong, neutral, or weaker reactions. It also looks at the different ways users interact with a story, including the number of reads attached to an individual story, reading time, commenting and sentiment, and shares.
“We are providing insights that didn’t exist before,” Lau said, noting that Wattpad users submit upwards of 500,000 comments on the service every day.
“The Numbered,” first published in 2013, has 4.9 million reads on Wattpad with users spending more than 20 million minutes reading the story. It’s set in an alternate world where everyone is assigned a genetic rating at birth that determines their capabilities, opportunities, and rights — except for five teens who were mysteriously mis-numbered. In analyzing data for “The Numbered,” Wattpad found dramatic spikes of engagement at certain points, particularly in chapter 24, which included the revelation that one of the characters introduced is gay. That clearly indicated that eOne’s adaptation should highlight that story arc.
Meanwhile, “Kairos,” first published in 2017, has relatively fewer reads (almost 525,000) and time spent reading (nearly 600,000 minutes) but had seen stronger-than-average engagement over the entirety of the story. Set in a near future where time travel isn’t just possible but commonplace and commercialized, protagonist Ada Bloom signs up for temporal matchmaking service Kairos, which lets clients travel back in time to date suitors of bygone eras.
In chapter 41 of “Kairos,” Ada accepts a proposal from one man over another — which sparked a vicious debate on Wattpad between the two choices. In chapters 81-91, the love complications only get more twisted, which resulted in a flurry of commenting activity. That reader reaction can inform how characters should be depicted, information eOne is incorporating into its adaptation.
The eOne pact is one of several Wattpad (which also is based in Toronto) has struck in its push into the entertainment biz. The company has similar development deals with Sony Pictures Television and Universal Cable Prods., as well as with France’s Lagardère Studios, Germany’s Bavaria Fiction, Singapore’s Mediacorp, and Huayi Brothers Korea.
In addition, Wattpad produces teen thriller “Light as a Feather” with Viacom’s Awesomeness and Grammnet for Hulu, with season 2 slated to debut July 6. Netflix’s romance movie “The Kissing Booth” started on Wattpad, where the story by Beth Reekles accumulated over 19 million reads, and a sequel is in development. And the film adaptation of “After,” based on Wattpad writer Anna Todd’s One Direction-inspired YA romance story and subsequent best-selling novel, has grossed over $67 million at the global box office (including $12 million domestically). A sequel to the movie with stars Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin reprising their roles, in currently in the works.
To be sure, eOne’s deals with Wattpad for “The Numbered” and “Kairos” are just a small slice of the 40-some TV projects it has in development. Hamilton said that even armed with the data about how the Wattpad stories have connected with readers, pitching series from unknown writers is a challenge. “In today’s world, people are looking for [intellectual property] that is known,” she said. “It’s a different hill than walking in with a Margaret Atwood novel.”
At the end of the day, adapting the Wattpad stories is not solely data-driven, Hamilton noted. “We read [the stories] the same way you would when you option a book,” she said. “It is more labor intensive because you’re taking amateur work and doing the heavy lifting to take it to a place where you can say, ‘Wow, this is great.'”