Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coming Soon! Books vs. Movies...


A few of you have sent private messages asking if I'm going to write a follow-up post for the Start to Finish segment of this blog. By all means, yes, I meant to do that this week and I apologize. It will focus on what to do now that you've finished your first draft... aside from open a bottle of wine and celebrate.

I haven't had much time to blog, I've been busy with, oh, you know... stuff. I spent 3 days on the set of a reshoot for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, which is coming out on Oct 5th in both Canada and the U.S. It was primarily shot in Romania, so it was interesting to hear about the cast and crew's 3 month adventure there.

There's been some controversy about what "Hollywood" has done to this beloved story, based on the 2nd book of a series by U.K born author Susan Cooper. I totally understand the concerns. But some of the comments towards the "American kid" playing the main character are particularly venomous (in the book he's an 11 year old Brit and in the film he's a 13 year old American). It just breaks my heart that anyone would give him a hard time. First of all, he's Canadian, not American. Second, he auditioned for the part and they picked him - it's not like he was purposefully trying to ruin the story. But mostly, he's just a really GREAT kid. One of the sweetest and most conscientious young actors I have ever met. He was so eager and so excited about playing this part. He worked very hard at it, too.

As well, the rest of the cast and crew were the nicest people you could ever work with. And this doesn't always happen in the film business, so I was really impressed. I hope it's really good and does well. Everyone on that set was doing their best to make a really good film.

I used to be a snob about movies not representing books properly, and then after becoming a screenwriter and working in the film industry, I now understand that they are two completely different mediums. First off, novels are mostly solo projects. The author is the writer, director, actors, cinematographer, etc... and authors have far more luxury and leeway. You can do things in a novel that you can't do in a film. Films are collaborative, costly, have time / length limitations, and the stories need to be whittled down to their core in order to fit the format and keep an audience interested. Subplots and characters often need to be cut to make it work. It's a high pressure, high finance endeavor with many people making decisions (and audiences being very difficult to please).

I really discovered the difference between books and films when I wrote a treatment for the film version of Geek Love (I SO wanted to write the screenplay, but alas, didn't get the job). It's one of my favourite books and I had to cut out all the material set in the present, including the character of Miss Lick, as well as a few other subplots to make the story work for film. I thought Katherine Dunn would be offended, but when I told her I would have to make those cuts she said, "of course you do, it's an entirely different medium." I don't think I "butchered" it, but hardcore fans might have been upset.

She also pointed out that making the movie, whether it's good or bad, does NOT take away from the book. The book will always be there to enjoy. If someone makes a great movie based on a book, well then Bravo, even better! In addition, sometimes movies are "based" on stories or "inspired by" stories and not necessarily direct adaptations. You have to take all this into consideration.

And to all the people claiming they will boycott it because they don't like the way it's being done, film-makers have had over 30 years to make this book into a film and it hadn't been made. I'm sure Susan Cooper will get plenty of new fans out of it. I know I'm going to read her books now, I've already looked them all up on Amazon. And I think anything that gets people to read more is a good thing.

Some movies manage to stay closer to the book, some have no choice but to make changes. Some don't even try. Two of my favourite books-into-movies are High Fidelity (loved the book and thought by placing it in the U.S. it would be ruined, but I love the movie, too) and The Sweet Hereafter (It was totally necessary to change the structure of the story or else it wouldn't have worked as a film).

If anyone has read the Dark is Rising series, let me know what you think. I guess people think that if it's a BAD film, then no one will ever be able to fix it.

I have PLENTY of complaints about Hollywood, mind you. I just wanted to address the fact that books and movies are two different things and that people don't usually set out to make BAD movies. If you've ever made a film, you'll understand what a challenging process it is.


Annie said...

This is a big interest of mine, as my niche in screenwriting is book adaptations. My first movie, I had to change the ending (thankfully the author totally got why). I'm working on one now where I have to reinterpret one of the main characters to fit the network's strictures.

So I'm not opposed to making changes, and certainly don't advocate a literal translation (what killed the first few Harry Potter films).

But with The Dark Is Rising, I think the concern is that the marketing makes it out to be a VERY different movie than the book. Narnia is sunshine and adventure, while The Dark Is Rising is Gothic in a particularly British way. It's fens and bogs and King Arthur on his funeral barge. The actor playing Will Staunton, unfortunately, looks more like the former than the latter. The fact that he's not British doesn't help, and personally I'm really worried that he'll be given the wisecracking that's come to be such a blight on the characterizations of children in so-called family movies.

After the botch that the marketers made of Bridge to Terabithia, I think that there's good reason to be nervous that marketplace concerns are being taken too much into consideration, as opposed to recognizing what's special and unique about these books. The Narnia audience will be there--that doesn't mean the movies have to look like Narnia.

OpenChannel said...

Thanks for commenting... as I've said, I haven't read the books, so I'm interested in hearing about them. I get what you're saying. And I very much agree that Hollywood often pays far too much attention on marketing concerns vs. what unique qualities the books have. I truly hope they haven't "dumbed down" or "toned up" the story too much.

From the first day I was on set asking about the books, no one was pretending they were making a literal adaptation. They said straight up that the film was "based" on the second book and that there were some major changes. I don't know if this will work in their favour. And yes, I think fans are going to be pissed by the changes no matter how good the film is. I think in this case, the film will just have to be taken as a separate entity.

As you know, while making adaptations, things come up during the filming and rewrites happen. By the end, they're so deep into the process and not even considering the book any longer.

It's hard to say, really, what it's going to look like since I was only there for 3 days and it was mostly green-screen work. I was actually surprised when I saw the trailer, because the stuff with the mall and the girl seemed completely counter to what I saw being filmed, which was mostly about dealing with the apocalypse.

It was just one of the more positive experiences I've had on set and I really love the actor who plays Will. Like I said, so eager and gracious. It's his first major role, so I want the film to do well for his sake. It was just tough to see people I liked so much being bashed... but we'll just blame it all on the studio heads. I didn't meet any of them. Haha.

poodlerat said...

As a reader and a fan, it's always disappointing when favourite scenes or lines of dialogue are altered or cut from film versions, but I agree with you that it's unfair to automatically take filmmakers to task for those kinds of changes.

Still, I think it's fair for fans to expect that changes made in translating from book to film will not seriously lower the quality of the story. When they do, I don't think it's unreasonable of fans to take filmmakers to task for them.

It isn't nice that fans are blaming the lead actor for having been cast, though! Especially since he's so young.

Danika Dinsmore / OpenChannel said...

I agree that we should expect film-makers to respect the story, the author and fans and do their best to make a quality adaptation. Taking time to do a good story edit is essential and I know that Hollywood often skips this part or favours other things instead, which is a shame.

That said, I don't think many non-industry people understand the challenges of film-making.

Yeah, I know... the venom towards the kid is just wrong. Some people keep referring to him as the "Bratty American" kid and that's what was breaking my heart.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen too many people attacking the kid who was cast to play the American character, just the character. Why change Will from a local British kid to a Yank at all? The fact he was a local and that the landscape *he grew up in* had all this history and mysticism was part of the whole point of the book.

And I agree that nitpicking fans whining about small but necessary changes in the transition from book to film are annoying. Look at all the angst over Arwen's beefed up role in the LOTR films, but that worked perfectly in the finished films.

What the fans aren't complaining about here are some changes or even the fact the movie is only "based on" the book. It's the fact that the studio has taken the names of a few characters and a few general concepts and then put them in a totally different story.

It's like if Peter Jackson had decided to make Frodo an elven warrior with a flaming sword who uses his super powers to fly to Mordor and kick Sauron's butt. That's not a movie based on LOTR's story - that's another story altogether.

This is what Fox-Walden has done to *The Dark is Rising*. It's a classic case of Hollywood ruining an excellent opportunity to make a good movie of a great book. The trailers for this movie are so far from the book that if they hadn't have tacked "The Dark is Rising" on as a subtitle I'd have not recognised it at all.

Disgraceful garbage and typical dumbed-down American dreck.

Ashura said...

Susan Cooper isn't all right with it. She didn't even sell them the rights. She sold the rights to Jim Henson, and the two of them couldn't work out a script they liked...because it IS a hard movie to film. That doesn't mean that a beautiful story needed its guts ripped out and stomped on.

It's true that writing for the screen requires changes. Lord of the Rings required changes--but you knew, the whole time, that even if you didn't agree with those changes they were being done with love, and thought, and not because someone thought the story "inaccessible" or that they could make it better by stripping out its entire mythos, character, and cultural identity. Maybe if you read the books, you'll understand what's wrong with this--even if you don't understand that they mean just as much to us as LotR, or Narnia, or any other magical adventure we had as children that got under our skin. I'm basically getting my Masters degree because of these books. I'm a writer because of these books. And no, making a crappy movie isn't going to make the books cease to exist--but it's still heartbreaking, because it could have been so good. It's like if Peter Jackson had cast Frodo with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This movie isn't "based on" or "inspired by"...it happens to have some of the same names, though inexplicably not all. The themes of love and family and good at all costs? Gone. The Arthurian mythos? Gone. The connection to place that is such an overriding theme in the books? Gone. It's not only unrecognisable, but was done with such utter disrespect for the author's wishes (did you know she wrote them and asked for changes?), for the fans,f or anything but the money they hopefully won't even make.

I have seen a grand total of one comment anywhere that said anything against Alexander Ludwig, so I don't think that accusation is the least bit fair. But we're not going to be guilted into pretending everything is okay just because there's a kid involved. It's not okay, and the studio apparently has no wish to even attempt to make it so.

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Hi Anonymous -

Thanks for dropping by. I don't know why they changed the character to an American kid, seems silly to me, too. Especially considering the success of Narnia and the Harry Potter films (hey look, we can have young British characters AND make money!)... imagine the uprising if they had turned HP into an American. I have no issue with complaints about that.

After being on set and getting inspired to find out more about the story, I looked through dozens of websites and found some misplaced anger directed towards the actor himself. At the time, I had just finished working with him, so I was especially sensitive. Two comments that stick in my mind went something like "I can't believe they hired a bratty American kid to play Will" and "they've cast some stupid American to play Will." I just wanted to defend the kid a little. (plus, he's Canadian)

I still have yet to read the books (our municipal employees have been on strike for 3 months, so no libraries are open), but I plan to. I was really surprised I hadn't heard of them and neither had some of my friends. We're all pretty big readers, too. (Although, I can't tear through them like Superfast Reader can.) Perhaps they were more of a British phenomenon?

As I mentioned earlier, when I saw the trailer I was really puzzled. I'm not sure it represents the film very well, though I doubt that will change your mind about seeing it.

Hollywood may very well have bungled this one. It wouldn't surprise me. I was just torn due to having spent three very pleasant days on set with the cast and crew.

Studio Execs are another story entirely. I'm not even sure if they read.

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Hi Ashura, Thanks for stopping by. I don't know how you found such a buried post, but welcome to my site.

I'm not trying to guilt anyone into anything. I simply saw several posts where I thought anger was misplaced. Sure, be upset at the studio heads, be upset and the treatment of the writer, be upset at stripping key things unnecessarily, but I don't think it's fair to call the actor a "stupid" or "bratty" American kid when they've never met him.

Like I told Anonymous, I was sensitive to the comments at the time. I really appreciate good on-set experiences, and had such fun on this one that I rushed home to find out more about it... and was really bummed to see the responses.

I didn't know about Susan Cooper not being all right with it. That makes me sad, too. First and foremost I'm a writer. In the writing world, screenwriters have the least amount of rights. And I send a warning to any novelist who sells his or her rights to a studio, sometimes it's a fabulous collaboration, sometimes they never want to see you again. Your vision might well not exist. I'm not saying this is the way it should be, it's just the way it is. I'm thinking it's worse in Hollywood than it is here in Canada, but I've seen some horribly disrespectful behaviour towards screenwriters here as well.

I did read an NPR article recently that explains some of the changes from John Hodge's point of view, which I thought was interesting:


And states: "Cooper is waiting for the movie, but with a certain sadness. She says she sent a letter requesting changes to the film's script, but she's not sure any alterations were made."

I'm just wondering how you know they've stripped "The themes of love and family and good at all costs?" Have you seen the film? I know you probably won't, so I'll watch it and report back. Haha.

BTW - I'm glad the books inspired you to be a writer and get your masters degree. I can see how passionate you are about them. I love that books do this to us all. And I maintain that there will be a resurgence of interest in the books due to the film.