Change for the Worser

One of the problems with reading a book and then going to see the movie is how the movie people change what’s in the book to fit a movie format. RingstrilogyposterIf you look at movies that are generally credited with performing this trick correctly – such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – they make changes that fit the feel and the concept of the story; they are true to the author’s intent. Without the author being available to add their input into a movie, it’s up to the author’s estate and to the actual writers to divine and defend that intent. It seems to work more often than not, but that might be because if the author is gone, their books are probably more than 20 years old, and are considered “classics”. I don’t know.

CarrieIn some cases, such as the above-named movies, the authors are long dead and their intent can only be divined from their body of work. In other cases, such as Carrie by Stephen King, the author may be very alive, but their intent is changed with little or no input from said author. Mr. King states clearly in On Writing that Carrie isn’t a movie based on his novel, but rather a movie made out of the novel. It’s an important distinction.

I don’t know Max Brooks at all – and odds are I never will – but I’m willing to bet he didn’t have much say in the making of the recent major motion picture release of World War Z. To say the movie was ‘made out of’ the novel is being generous. I’m not going to do a review of that movie (2.5 out of 5. Meh. I didn’t walk out, but I wouldn’t see it again), but it brings to mind the topic of good versus bad movie adaptations of books, and why so many of them are bad.

I know this is getting ahead of myself, what with all the not-yet-published-even-one-novel-in-my-life, but I have a fear I will someday be forced to watch one of my books made into a movie produced and directed by Uwe Boll (and if you read that link, remember that Wikipedia tries to be as neutral as possible…).

I love movies. Good ones, at least. I love books. Also, good ones. And I know very well that books and movies are quite different. You can do things with one that you can’t do with the other, and that’s as it should be. They both have strengths; they are both tools storytellers can use.

hunger-games-movie-image-jennifer-lawrence-03If you’ve read The Hunger Games and also seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. The book is first person present tense. “I get up and walk over to the table” as opposed to “she got up and walked over to the table.” The feel the book has because of these tense and voice choices is quite distinct, and also very difficult to represent in a movie. Since you’re directly inside Katniss’s thoughts in real-time, everything is seen through her filters.

When they set out to make a movie, I was very skeptical. I was sure they would screw it up. But what the writers and the director managed to do was to pull the intent of the story from the mechanics of Suzanne Collins’s excellent novel and to retell the story through the mechanics of the movie medium. It was, in my opinion, well done. It’s no wonder that Mrs. Collins is listed as a writer under the movie credits. She was able to vocalize her intent during the process, and it shows.

So what can a writer do to make sure their work doesn’t get butchered? The answer as I understand it is ‘not much’. In the process of negotiating a book deal, movie rights are part of the discussion, and one that many writers don’t think about too much. If you’re offered a book deal (Yay! A book deal!) and one of the concessions you need to make is giving up the movie rights, most writers will take that deal. They’d rather have a published book that they don’t have movie rights to – in order to build their careers and get future books published – than an unpublished book that they retain movie rights to. Because who will care? No studio is going to call you to buy your unpublished book’s movie rights.

Part of the issue also has to do with the way Hollywood handles movies. From this Cracked article, it’s a funny but bleak outlook.

So the best thing you can do is to be aware of movie rights as part of the publishing process. Not many books get picked up and made into movies, but more than a few of them get purchased by a studio, and having some control over what’s done with your idea might just be important to you. Tell your agent you want to retain all possible movie rights; talk to them about your options. But don’t hold your breath, and don’t plan on having the next Twilight saga made from your books.

If you’re all excited about your book being made into a movie, it might also help to write your book with that in mind. I find myself doing that all the time. I imagine how a director might look at the scene I’m writing, and I try to remove anything that might get in their way. True, I’m not going to compromise my whole book for a movie that will likely never be made, but if I do have a choice between a few things, and one of them isnear_dark_ver2_xlg better for a movie, I’ll usually go with that one.

I have no idea if that will help me in the long run. But this I do know: Quentin Tarantino won’t be the director working on my film.

Please, please let it be Kathryn Bigelow!

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One thought on “Change for the Worser

  1. MaryBeth Richmond says:

    You could always do what King did with The Shining. Kubrick took parts of King’s book and made an excellent movie “loosely” based on the book (fan nightmare, but I appreciate the film, nonetheless). Later King produced and wrote the screenplay for a miniseries that followed the book much more closely (fan heaven). I am skeptical of any King book being made into a two hour movie. There is just too much there that is too important to cut–they usually come out unrecognizable. His work is much better served in a miniseries format (or extended summer series in the case of Under The Dome). Ultimately it is up to the writer whether or not they sell the movie rights to their books. Published authors have the luxury of actually making that decision, but when that right is virtually shanghaied out from under a new author as a condition of being published, it is…unfair. And yes, I am a parent and I said something was “unfair.” Guilty.

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