"Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

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"Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by AnimaDictio » September 26th, 2011, 10:58 am

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, says that he turned down Warner Brothers' offer to write the screenplay based on his novel. He wanted another writer to write the screenplay and he asked that they not stick too closely to the spirit of the book. He says, "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book."

Though my instinct is to hurl insults at him for selling out authors who work so hard to produce a particular vision and then have it mangled by heartless obtuse move producers, but I'm not so sure I disagree with him.

What do you think?

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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by dios4vida » September 26th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Hmm...I can think of some movies that diverged from the book very successfully (Stardust, The Lord of the Rings, Inkheart) and others that I really wish had followed the book better (Harry Potter). There are some that I don't even want to see because I love the books so much, I don't want the movies to ruin them for me (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief). Overall, I think it's better to stick to the spirit of the book, if not the words. With the exception of The Deathly Hallows, the Harry Potter movies have some major differences from the books. However, they still feel like Harry Potter. I love the movies. If Hollywood had changed the feel of the movies, I would have been outraged. But they didn't, so I can accept (most of) the changes without qualms.

If I ever wrote a book that actually got optioned for a movie (in my wildest dreams!) I'd want it to be as close to my vision as possible. If they mangled it, like some say they mangled Percy Jackson, I think it would squish my heart into teeny little pieces. But then again, I'm one of those writers who only writes what I'm passionate about. Love it or hate it, it doesn't matter to me (that's not true, but I aim for that to be true). Mess with it and I'd roll over and die.
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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by Doug Pardee » September 26th, 2011, 12:24 pm

That sort of statement is necessarily a generalization. But as a generalization, I agree with it.

On a quantitative basis, a screenplay is usually 120 pages or fewer, while novels run maybe three times that many. A lot of material is going to need to be cut. Could you cut two-thirds of your material? Could you do so in a way that "sticks to the spirit of the book?"

On a qualitative basis, one of the major advantages of novels over other story-telling forms is the ability for the reader to "inhabit a character," whether via first-person or close third-person. This usually gets lost in a screenplay.

Slightly off-topic: writing an adaptation is a special skill. They give Academy Awards for it. How many writers have the skill to write a novel good enough to be made into a movie and have the skills to do a good adaptation? How many of those writers will be able to view their novel dispassionately? How many of those would rather be writing their next novel instead of an adaptation of a work they finished a few years before? The list on the linked page shows that the Oscar for adaptations of novels very rarely goes to an adaptation by the novel's author.

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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 26th, 2011, 1:09 pm

I agree with the sentiment as well, though of course there will always be exceptions.

Timing is different in books than it is in screenplays and it makes it almost impossible to do a perfect 1 to 1 translation. I took a screenwriting class in college and hated it for this reason. It's just not the same.

Also, and this might be a personal thing for me, when I've read a book and loved it and it's made into a movie, I kind of don't want it to be exactly like the book because I already know what happens, you know? My movie going experience won't be as much fun if I know what's about to happen.

At the same time, there are some book to movies that I thought was terrible because it seemed like the screenplay picked the least interesting part of the story to run with, so there is always a danger. I think Harry Potter is a great example of why you can't do a perfect retelling. There are a lot of scenes in the book that were fun to read, but would have been dull as bricks to watch on screen. 30 pages about doing homework? Who wants to watch kids sitting around doing homework even if it is magic homework?
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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by CharleeVale » September 26th, 2011, 1:14 pm

I don't really agree with this. I think that the spirit of the book is what should be held to!

Like someone else said, Stardust, Harry Potter, LoTR, and many other movies may have plot variations from the books, but in the end the mood and feeling accomplished by the movies was the same as that of the books. That is what I think is important, and what I'll be looking for in upcoming movies like the Hunger Games and City of Bones.


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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by Moni12 » September 26th, 2011, 1:21 pm

All I can say is ELLA ENCHANTED. I like when the movie follows the book, but it's okay with me (as if my permission is needed) if the author has some input in the making of the movie. I know with Stardust Neil Gaiman played some role in the making of the movie. I can't be annoyed with the differences between the book and movie as far as this one goes, though. 1. DeNiro as the crossdressing Captain Shakespeare, what more can I say? 2. This movie led me to read Neil Gaiman (now one of my favorite authors) and that led me to Terry Pratchett.

I think it just depends on how it's all done. Someone mentioned INKHEART. I read the book, thought it was okay, and just a few months ago I saw the movie for the first time. Love it! I almost hate to say that, but I preferred some of the characters as they were portrayed in the movie, versus the book. I used to wonder if I preferred books to their movie counterparts because I read the book first, but I can say that with Inkheart that isn't the case.

Anne of Green Gables: First movie, but after that they went downhill. Little Women, the old movie with June Allyson and Peter Lawford versus the remake. The oldie was done well, I thought. As far as these go it isn't about book vs. movie, I love each telling of the stories!

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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by Quill » September 26th, 2011, 2:38 pm

"Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book"
I agree with some others here that a film should stick to the spirit of the book. The switch in mediums will necessitate changes in the story, especially details, but come on, the spirit has got to be there or it's a different animal altogether.

So far as length of screenplay vs. book, the comparison is not easily made page for page. A page of text is much denser on one hand, and one the other the visual medium affords reams of info to the receiver that isn't in the script. The book author, in other words, must be cinematographer, production designer, prop master, lighting director, etc, all through the words on the page. This makes the storytelling completely different. One is more akin to oral storytelling, wherein one person weaves a tale, the other more akin to plays, i.e. group dramatization.

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Re: "Films fail if they stick to the spirit of the book" ??

Post by oldhousejunkie » September 28th, 2011, 3:44 pm

I think he should ammend his statement to 'films probably don't do as well when they are complete dramatizations of books.'

I hate this though so so much! I would rather not have my book dramatized than see it translated into something so loose, you can barely make it out.

'Confessions of a Shopaholic' is an example. Utterly, horribly terrible. They took complete liberties with the whole thing and I want to say that the author, Sophie Kinsella, was on the production team. Taking pieces from three books plus changing multiple plot points = disaster. It got horrible reviews and I can see why. Of course, Becky Bloomwood is so endearing in print, and while Isla Fisher did a good job with her on the screen, it just didn't translate. It was done in the spirit of the novels, but it was a train wreck as a result. Slightly better was "The Princess Diaries" but still, the movie was a complete Disney-fication of the original book. They completely compromised Meg Cabot's biting wit in the name of having Julie Andrews play the benevolent grandmother figure (in fact, the grandmother was really a chain smoking, Sidecar drinking lounge lizard of a Queen...hilarious!)

Similarly, I recently saw the newest version of 'Jane Eyre.' Disliked it very much because it was in the spirit of the novel. They heavily edited the plot (which most adaptions do) but shockingly they managed to completely obliterate the smouldering sexual tension between Jane and Rochester. Michael Fassbender was an adequate Rochester, but Mia Watchamacallit was awful. In the commentary the director said that he wanted Jane to be more spirited. Saying that aloud shows his complete misconception of Jane's character. She was spirited in the novel; she just does it in a quiet way. Having spirit doesn't mean running off at the mouth at every available opportunity.

But I digress.

I guess what I am saying is that as an author and voracious reader, I would rather see a movie be faithful to the original book. But since Hollywood is in the business of making money, they are going to water down plot lines in order to reach a wider audience.

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