Perhaps, like many others, I am delving into this topic too much and too often. But after nearly bashing the screenplay adaptations of books, I have come accross articles and movies which have compelled me to give the industry of adaptation some more thought.
One of them is the interesting series run by the Book Forum on ‘Fiction into Film’. Apart from some recommended adaptations, the series also presents view points from different ends of the adaptation traiangle: the director, the screenplay writer – and of course the author. Some interesting quotes from all these angles:
…That was another surprise: how many changes were made in the editing. Whole subplots and characters were shed, and with them some of the subtleties of characterization and ambiguities in relationships. What it gained, however, was a focused, driven plot…
– Tracy Chevalier, Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, adapted in 2003
The decision to hand over one’s own work to strangers packs all manner of trepidation: They’ll fuck it up, I’ll look like an idiot, and If it’s a great movie, no one will remember it was a book being just the first three that come to mind
– Jerry Stahl, Permanent Midnight adapted in 1998
It turns out during shooting, despite all your enthusiasm and planning, you discover too late that you have not carefully thought through one of these favorite scenes, and you end up defeated by it
– Janes Ivory, Director of adaptation films like A Room with a View (1985), Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), and Howards End (1992)
Good literature succeeds on terms exclusive to literature. Good cinema succeeds on terms exclusive to cinema. The better the book, the more literary, the more the screenwriter must alter, adapt, or simply jettison the source material in order to conceive a work of cinema, although I very much enjoy the challenge of creating cinematic equivalents to literary effects
– Alexander Payne, Director of adaptations like Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), and Sideways (2004)
In adaptation, the basic material is spelled out ahead of time; the better the book, or play, the more respect it seems to warrant. For this reason, it is often more enjoyable to work on material that falls short of excellence. Piety is not of the essence: More bad films have been made from masterpieces than from potboilers
– Frederic Raphael, Screenplay writer for adaptation of Far from the
Madding Crowd (1967).
And here is a lovely comment from none of the ends in particular:
If you liked the book, don’t see the film. Why let the images that the words
stirred up be overruled by some director? No matter how painstakingly a writer
describes his heroine, each reader sees her differently. But on the screen,
everybody sees Sandra Bullock
– Tim Krabbe, Author, Adapter
I guess each of them has been articulate in bringing the adaptation dilemma to the forefront – what I don’t understand is ‘Why cause this dilemma’? There are perfectly cinematic books nearly jumping to be turned into movies (like Devil Wears Prada), while there are books like ‘Women in Love’, which are best left alone and not touched by a movie maker.
In the movie ‘Adaptation’ (yes, a very descriptive and simplistic naming!), Nicholas Cage in the form of Charlie Kaufman shows the frustration of the screenplay writer who is trying to write an adaptation which respects the author. Though it never says so explicitly, the underlying theme of the movie is : Once you get a screenplay, Forget the author! It is your work now. Twist it, shake it, churn it and make it picturable.
Of course at the same time it is imperative for the author to let go as well. It is like surrendering a child to the governess and let her take over. But how many mothers are able to do this without remorse? And how many governesses are capable of being perfectly curt with the mother? Then why hand over your child – because you want to make it famous? Well then, if your book is already famous, then let it develop on its own feet rather than sign up for an adaptation.