Monday, March 8, 2010

Books and Hollywood

I can distinctly remember as a senior in high school being asked what I planned to do with my life. I had lots of plans, big plans. And number one on the list: write the great American novel and then the screenplay for the movie. I figured I'd be scooping up my Oscar by 30 at the latest.

Oh, the audacity of youth.

Now that I'm older (and one would assume wiser!) I'm not so sure that's still a goal. Yes, I'd still like to write the great American novel, but I don't know that I want Hollywood to come calling.

Arrogant words for someone who has yet to publish a book? Maybe. But how many book have you seen turned into movies that you actually thought were as good as the book? I've seen two: Presumed Innocent and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (NOT the BBC version, the Walden version that came out in 2005). They were practically perfect in my (not so humble) opinion. I couldn't have done a better job if I'd written the script and directed the movies myself. There are probably five or six more that I could watch more than once without complaining (although don't blame me if I alert everyone around me to how much better the book was, what the movie makers left out, and the parts they should have left in).

Don't get me wrong. I'd be incredibly flattered if someone wanted to make a movie out of my book. But most authors don't get to write the screenplays. (Suzanne Collins already had a background in film or television so she's been given the opportunity to adapt The Hunger Games. I'm excited to see how it turns out!)

The rest of us aren't usually so lucky. So how do you let go of the baby you've spent so much time working on and stand to the side as someone else tears it apart piece by piece? How do you hold on to your artistic integrity if they completely misinterpret your writing? How do you keep your mouth shut when people ask your opinion of the big screen version and you hate it?

My husband says if anyone wants to make a movie out of my books, take the money and run. I can laugh all the way to the bank. Easy for him to say. If the book has been a huge bestseller, and the need to pay off bills is no longer part of the equation, would I sell it off without a backward glance? I don't think so.

Maybe it's just further proof that I am a control freak.

What would you do? What books do you think made a good transition from page to screen?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I understand your concerns! Our books are our babies and in the hands of a screenwriter and director, they are no longer ours. I KNOW they would dump more drama and salacious content into my stories just to jazz them up, and that would just destroy the spirit of my books.

I also think the movie versions of LOTR were spot-on. Peter Jackson did a great job presenting the story.
My husband said Watchmen was the most literal translation he's ever seen from book to movie.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

That's a tough one. I have seen a couple of books slaughtered by the movies made. The author's whole intent was mushed into a formula. So I would fear that happening, because many people will never read the book and think that's the story.
But your husband has a point about taking the money...

Laura Pauling said...

I don't think it would bother me. Once I started seeing movies as not being a replica of the book but a different art form, not meant to imitate the book - I'm no longer as disappointed in movies. But I much prefer the book. Which is why I make my kids read the book before they watch the movie of it.

Yat-Yee said...

Authors ARE control freaks: didn't you know?

If ever Hollywood comes a calling, I think I may just do what your husband suggested: take and money and don't try to have a say because, really, even if I retain some rights, do I really think my suggestions will be taken? Just do a bunch of interviews to make sure people who read the book know that I have no say in the movie.

(I know, I don't have a book yet, so all this is mere talk. I can dream, can't I?)

I did like the movie adaptation of To Kill A Mocking Bird (Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch) and the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth as Darcy.) Among the John Grisham takes, The Firm was very good, except for the wimpy ending, of course.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I saw Presumed Innocent before I read the book. My thought in the theatre was "this plays like a book". Then I read the book and saw how true they were to it.

Color Purple - the book ruined the movie for me. It took a long time before I could allow that the movie was very good in its own right, but not nearly as good as the book.

I see my books as movies and then write them, so to see someone adapt it for the big screen would be interesting. Very different, I'm sure. And yes - every step of the way to the bank!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, I feel you here. I think the best movies from books are those that are fantasy. Because it's not supposed to be real anyway. A long time ago, I simply stopped caring if the movie followed the book. I just want to be entertained in both areas. So that's what I do now. And I'm much happier this way.

Tana said...

Pain, pain, I so feel your pain. Isn't it the truth? I haven't gone far and I would have never guessed that back in high school. The future still feels bright though. *sigh* I've got way too much hope.

Susan R. Mills said...

You know, I was just thinking about this when I was watching the Oscars last night. I saw an interview with Jodi Picoult about My Sister's Keeper. She was not too happy about the changes Hollywood made to her story. I can't say that I blame her, and I'm like you--if money was no longer an issue, I don't think I'd sell unless I had a little say in what they did to MY story.

Tess said...

It's a problem I long to have.

and, I really thought I was going to be the next Broadway star back in High School. Then I learned the directors are all picky about you being on key ALL the time. Sheesh!

kathrynjankowski said...

I think you'd have to weigh the added exposure your book will receive against the possibility that the director might not share your vision (all points being considered while you're sipping margaritas in the Mexican Riviera with the movie sale proceeds, of course).

Sherrie Petersen said...

L.Diane: That would be my worry, too.

Tricia: I've seen a lot of book "slaughtered" at the movies and I always feel badly for the book and the author.

Laura: I always make my kids read the book before watching the movie, too.

Yat-Yee: It all comes down to the control, doesn't it? And feel free to dream. We're all dreaming :)

Sarah: I didn't see the Color Purple. But I agree that your writing is very visual so it might transfer well on screen.

Elana: I guess if you can see them as separate entities that would reduce the (inevitable) disappointment!

T.Anne: I'm hopeful too. At least I took some fun detours :D

Susan: I think I would want a director who shared my vision of how it was supposed to play out.

Tess: Agreed, it would be a lovely dilemma, wouldn't it?

Kathryn: The margaritas sound really good :)

Kelly Polark said...

Presumed Innocent was an excellent movie. I also really like A Time to Kill, I thought it was as good as the book, but Matthew McConaughey may have just charmed me to think that way...
Wouldn't it be lovely to have that quandary? Hmmm,should I sell the movie rights or not?

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I used to think I couldn't stomach it, but then Scott Bailey kept telling me - it will mean more sales for your book, and then when people say the book is better, that makes you look even better, and then even more sales. So don't diss the movie, for sure. If the book is fantastic, the movie can only make it look better, even if it's bad. Maybe...or maybe I'm living in a dream world. :)

sarahjayne smythe said...

Great post. As I get older I think I'd take the money and run. :) BTW, I just wanted to let you koow that I was over here following you from Laurel's blog.

Anonymous said...

Your husband & mine need to get together--mine's mantra is "Screenplay...screenplay...!"

Honestly, I think I could do it. (Not that Hollywood is pounding at the door.) Not to sell my soul, but if it meant I could keep writing and not think about earning other! And, the other, is I would TRY to respect someone else's creative vision, even if it wasn't completely true to what I'd written. I heard that Maurice Sendak told the writer (or producer or director--I can't keep them straight!) for the Wild Things movie to make sure the movie showed HIS version, not what he thought Sendak's would be. Whoops! How in the world did I ever get to a paragraph that sounds like I'm comparing myself with Sendak? NOT!

MeganRebekah said...

Oh my gosh I can't wait for The Hunger Games, but only because Suzanne is writing it herseld. I think that will make the biggest difference!

Suzanne Casamento said...

Oh, such a good question. It would be tuffy to let someone else take my novel to film. But maybe we'd get lucky, like Sapphire who wrote the book Push, that Precious was based on.

Now, I'm way too chicken to see that movie or read that book, but from what I understand, she had a lot of input. Or like S.E. Hinton. She was on-set a lot during the filming of The Outsiders and also had creative input.

In that case, sure. Or if I was still broke and the book wasn't a best seller (But how could THAT happen?) I'd take the money and run, just like your husband.

Rena Jones said...

I can't think of any movies I liked more than the book. How sad. Definitely a control freak too. Somehow, I don't think Hollywood's gonna come knocking on my door about a little rat who loves pickles, so I guess I just better keep writing!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Kelly: It would be a lovely quandry. And Matthew McConaughey can charm me without even trying :)

Michelle: That's a good way to look at it!

SarahJayne: Glad you stopped by to visit :)

Becky: I was the only one in my family who even came close to liking WTWTA, but I already knew it would be nothing like the book.

Megan: Me too! But my expectations are a lot higher, too, knowing that she's doing the screenplay!

Suzanne: I hope you're not still broke after your book becomes a best seller!

Rena: Lots of PBs have been made into movies: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Where the Wild Things Are, Jumanji, Polar Express -- there's hope for Dilly!

Casey Something said...

It happens occasionally! John Green is writing his screenplay for Paper Towns with no background in screenwriting.

But I agree, generally adaptations aren't as good as their books. I do think they draw a lot more readers to the books though, if they're done decently.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If you haven’t seen Sweet Liberty, you really should. A non-fiction writer and the making of the movie about his book – he has consultation rights. Very funny movie.

MG Higgins said...

I also heard recently that Suzanne Collins is writing her own screenplay. That is so rare, and I really wonder how she managed it (having good representation and a best seller help, of course). Without that kind of control, I'd be very uncomfortable releasing my book to Hollywood.

PJ Hoover said...

Screenplays seem to hard, but I think that's because I have no experience with them. I'm looking forward to seeing what Suzanne Collins does since it will be insight into what she views as key to the movie.

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