From Book to Screen
From KINSEY to HIDDEN FIGURES, some of the most compelling films and television shows featuring science and technology began as memoirs, biographies or other works of non-fiction. New books are being published and optioned every week. (Note: To option a book’s film/tv rights is effectively renting them, wherein one has the exclusive right to develop an adaptation for an agreed-upon period of time.) While not all our favorites will make it out of the dreaded development hell, we’ve selected six science or technology-themed non-fiction books on promising paths to the silver screen.
FINDING THE MOTHER TREE
Amy Adams will star as ecologist Suzanne Simard in the forthcoming adaptation of her memoir Finding the Mother Tree, which was published by Knopf in May 2021. Adams’ production company Bond Group Entertainment, in partnership with Jake Gyllenhaal’s company Nine Stories, won rights to the book in a competitive bidding. Simard is best known for her pioneering research on how communication between trees and plants occurs. She is a professor at the University of British Columbia. Simard and her theories were initially ridiculed, though they have since come to be widely accepted. (Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory, also set to be adapted, is inspired by her research.)
LEONARDO DA VINCI
Walter Isaacson is no stranger to the adaptation process. (In fact, he appears twice on this list.) His book, Einstein: His Life and Universe is the basis of the first season of National Geographic’s GENIUS, and his 2011 biography Steve Jobs inspired the 2015 film of the same name. Next up? Oscar-nominated writer John Logan (THE AVIATOR, LINCOLN) is set to adapt Leonardo da Vinci, which Simon & Schuster published in 2017. Paramount Pictures optioned the book on behalf of Leonardo Di Caprio’s production company Appian Way, and the actor is set to star as his namesake. While perhaps most famous for his paintings, Da Vinci was a polymath whose observational approach to both art and science put him well ahead of his time in the studies of anatomy, astronomy, engineering and mathematics.
Based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Sloan-funded book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, published by Vintage Books in December 2007, OPPENHEIMER promises to be a star-studded spectacle. Cillian Murphy will play the titular physicist in Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, leading an all-cast that includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, and Florence Pugh, among others. Set to be released in theaters on July 21st, 2023, the film follows Oppenheimer’s work with the Manhattan Project which would earn him the title, “father of the Atomic bomb.” Watch the teaser trailer here.
THE CODE BREAKER
Walter Isaacson’s second book to be featured on this list is his most recent. Simon & Schuster published The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race in March 2021. In July 2021, it was announced the book had been optioned by Mark Gordon Pictures for development as a limited series. (The Oscar-winning producer and Isaacson previously collaborated on STEVE JOBS.) Jennifer Doudna and her partner Emmanuelle Charpentier received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of a method for genome editing, marking the first time two women have won a Nobel Prize in the sciences together.
THE FEATHER THIEF
A bizarre theft from the ornithological department of the British Natural History Museum at Tring in 2009 highlights—albeit by unfortunate means—the importance of conservation and the enduring value of scientific discoveries long after their time. Published by Viking in April 2018, Kirk Wallace Johnson’s The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, investigates the theft of more than 300 rare species of birds by a 20-year-old flautist Edwin Rist. The book illuminates not only the how and why of Rist’s robbery but the scientific impact of the specimens: some of the most valuable feathers stolen were brought to England by Alfred Russel Wallace (a contemporary of Charles Darwin) and were still being used for research at the timeof their theft. Universal Interational Studios has optioned the book on behalf of Jenna Bush Hager’s newly formed production company in a competitive auction and Johnson will adapt his own book for the small screen.
THE PREMONITION: A PANDEMIC STORY
Not even COVID-19 pandemic fatigue can stand in the way of the perennially best-selling, perennially optioned Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short. Published in May 2021, the author’s latest work of non-fiction The Premonition: A Pandemic Story tells the story of the scientists and officials who made the earliest efforts to warn the United States about the COVID-19 pandemic. Universal has purchased the rights on behalf of Pascal Pictures and Lord Miller will produce. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller will direct the project, which is intended to have a tone akin to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.
More from Sloan Science and Film: