Here come the film podcasts, Hollywood! When we think of adaptations for film and TV we usually think of a book as the source material. But here’s a reality check. The industry has been keeping up with hit podcasts for years and they’re poaching all of the good ideas. In fact, podcasts are now considered a backdoor to TV and film. The reason? Podcasts are a low-risk testing ground for the pricier mediums of film and television. In a podcast, the narrative strength of an idea can be tested on audiences before the suits invest millions of dollars to produce it as a film or TV series.
Some show creators are unleashing compelling stories over the internet with the hopes of getting picked up by Amazon or Apple later down the line. Hey, why not? Clearly, it happens! In some ways, the podcast harkens back to the golden age of radio 100 years ago. Now, the medium has become another source for feeding Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for the next hit. Some of these 9 podcasts that were picked up for film are currently available for streaming, and some are still in development. However, all of them happened to be internet sensations before producers optioned the rights.
1. ‘Heaven’s Gate’
This podcast hosted by Glen Washington of NPR’s Snap Judgement fame tells the story of the 1990s most infamous and fashionable cult, Heaven’s Gate. Devotees of Heaven’s Gate were convinced they could transform into aliens worthy of being whisked away by a UFO into the afterlife. Everyone knows how the story ends. However, this podcast-turned-documentary explains the cult’s journey from rural Oregon in 1975 led to the largest mass suicide on American soil in 1997. One of the great points made in the series is that this could happen to anyone if the circumstances are right. Many who joined Heaven’s Gate were well-educated professionals who were brainwashed.
HBO picked up Heaven’s Gate as a 4-part docu-series that premiered in December of last year. This is one of those next-level podcasts that also makes for a compelling film. The podcast provided the framework for an in-depth look at a group striving for “next-level” spirituality who took things a little too far.
2.‘Wind Of Change’
Was the CIA behind the 1990 hit song Wind of Change by kick-ass German hair metal band, Scorpions? Yes! That’s what this podcast aims to prove. Why would they do such a thing? You’ll have to listen to find out because the TV series is still in development. The point is, the CIA may have written the song to help topple the Soviet Union. True or not, the American government infiltrating pop culture is always a fun topic to explore. Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau (no, not that one) produced the podcast via his company, Crooked Media. Fellow former presidential speechwriter Jon Levitt co-founded the company with Favreau. Together, they are the team who brought us acclaimed podcasts like Pod Save America and The Wilderness. Pineapple Street, the same production company that adapted the Heaven’s Gate podcast for HBO-Max is responsible for developing the project for Hulu.
Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg say they didn’t intend to find a way into television success. It just kind of worked out that way! Their intent was simply to tell a great fictional story that could have some basis in reality. Well, they did just that…and then some. This series unrolls a host of conspiracy theories for your inspection. However, they did it way back in 2017 before it was “a thing.” Homecoming takes a fictional look at how the system deals with military personnel struggling to make their way back into civilian life. Rather than help veterans deal with trauma, The Homecoming Initiative simply erases their horrific memories, to a larger, more disastrous effect. In 2019, Amazon premiered the TV series adaptation of the Gimlet Media podcast, starring Julia Roberts. And with its huge success, Homecoming proves why adapting podcasts can be a smart investment.
4. ‘Dirty Diana’
In September of last year, Amazon announced it would be adapting the erotic-drama podcast Dirty Diana as a TV series starring Demi Moore. The actress starred in the QCode podcast and will be headed for the show, naturally. The series focuses on a woman reconnecting with her sexuality through her erotic website where women open up about their fantasies. Creator of the podcast Shana Feste says her aim was to explore sex from the perspective of female pleasure. Her inspiration for the show came from her own experience going through a rough spot in her marriage when there was no sex, “…one of the loneliest, hardest places that I’ve been in my entire life.” Turning that experience into one of Apple’s top 10 podcasts and now a TV show for Amazon is one way to turn life’s lemons into lemonade.
5. ‘The Left/ Right Game’
Here’s another win for Amazon. The paranormal sci-fi thriller The Left Right Game starring Tessa Thompson will be making its way from audio phenomenon to binge-worthy Amazon series. The streaming giant won screen rights to the podcast last year in a seven-figure deal, beating out 10 other production companies. The story follows an idealistic journalist covering a group of paranormal explorers. Through an activity called the Left/ Right Game, she and the other explorers must beat the odds for survival in another dimension. Intense. This is one of those podcasts like Limetown that are presented as a true story, which adds to the mystique. Thompson, who stars in the podcast, reprises her role on the Amazon show, which is currently still in development.
6. ‘Dr. Death’
Dr. Death is one of the bang-up successful podcasts out there currently in development to be turned into a TV show via the streaming service, Peacock. Much of the TV adaptation is being filmed in Albuquerque and Moriarty, New Mexico. Jamie Dornan stars as Dr. Christopher Dunstch, a grossly negligent and sociopathic surgeon on a malpractice spree. As the title suggests, many of Dr. Dunstch’s patients have a terminal condition…they’re being treated by him. This show is based on a recent true story but man do we wish it was fiction. Knowing people like this are out there will make going to the doctor for a routine check-up all the more anxiety-inducing.
7. ‘Serial: Season 3’
HBO announced earlier this year they are developing an adaption of the podcast Serial: Season 3. The show is an indictment of the Ohio criminal justice system, exploring past cases of police brutality, racism, and corruption. The HBO limited series will be brought to us by director Shola Amoo and executive producer LeBron James. HBO had originally optioned the rights for Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin. However, they shelved the project after he declined to direct. This time, Lebron James revamped the project via his production company SpringHill Entertainment. With Amoo signed on to breathe new life into developing the limited series we should be seeing Seria: Season 3 streaming sometime next year.
This podcast documents how those sleek rent-an-office spaces in downtowns of planet earth almost went completely belly-up. In late January of this year, Apple TV+ jumped on the rights to create the WeCrashed limited series starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway. A Wolf Of Wallstreet-style story of greed and narcissism in what was one of the world’s most valuable start-ups. From ground-breaking success to the embarrassments of Silicon Valley, WeCrashed leaves no stone unturned. The show, created by Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crivello, will be directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. WeCrashed joins a slew of recently adapted podcasts in development at Apple TV+.
9. ‘Happy Face’
This iHeartMedia podcast tells the story of Dr. Oz contributor Melissa Moore’s journey after discovering at age 15 that her father was a wanted serial killer. However, there is a silver lining. Moore is now a recognized expert on recovery from trauma. Her own horrific experience led her to write several books on the subject of recovering from family trauma and grief.
Her father, Keith Hunter Jesperson was known as “the happy face killer” because of the happy face stickers he used to leave on letters to taunt the press. The podcast picks up where Jesperson contacts his daughter from prison while serving his life sentence. Years before, Moore started a new life after changing her identity and cutting off all ties from Jesperson. Now she is forced to confront her father’s twisted crimes and their consequences. Not only for her family but for the families of his victims. CBS All Access optioned the rights, and if the project becomes a series, sources say it is likely to premiere on Paramount+.
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