Who hasn’t been watching Alan Ball’s brilliant adaption of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris?
But all is not plain sailing for authors whose intellectual property gets optioned for film and/or television. Firstly only a very small percentage that are optioned. My agent, John Jarrold, is associated with the Gotham Group in Los Angeles, a management production company. John says:
‘One in 1,000 books are actually optioned for medium to large amounts of money. One in 100 of those actually have a film made from them. Those are rough figures, obviously! The agency has had film interest in a number of titles, but NONE have actually had a serious option payment made on them.’
Here, Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girls series and Heist Society talks about her experiences with three different production companies on three different film options.
She starts with a disclaimer. eg. if you say authors never have a say in what happens to their books when they get made into movies, then someone will point to JK Rowling. Then she covers the different types of options and the other things such as the script, timing and talent (actors).
And here we have a look at what makes a good book to movie adaptation. They say:
‘a good bookish movie is more than a sum of the total of the book’s parts — the Watchmen proved that beyond any doubt. Watchmen stayed true to the book’s plot with slavish devotion, portrayed the characters with flawless accuracy, and even duplicated the look of the original illustrations. Yet, despite all of that, the magic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons managed to work with pen and paper didn’t translate to the big screen. It was a good movie, but it certainly wasn’t great.’
Unless we are JK Rowling, we authors usually have very little to do with the adaptation of our book into a movie or TV series. Books and film are completely different mediums and what works in one, will not work in the others. I teach script writing, storyboard and animatics and I am constantly saying to my students how are you going to show what your character is thinking? You’ll need a flashback. How are you going to convey the character’s realisation? You’ll need a visual metaphor. Don’t try to cover a story that takes 20 years, compress, set a time limit if possible.
When you do get someone who is able to crystalise the essence of the book and even improve on it, then it is a joy as with True Blood and Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.
Not every author’s experiences are so uplifting. Here Ursula Le Guin talks about how the Sci Fi Chanel whitewashed Earthsea. She says:
‘A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, which were published more than 30 years ago, are about two young people finding out what their power, their freedom, and their responsibilities are. I don’t know what the film is about. It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense.’
One of the main disappointments for her was the use of white actors to play coloured characters. Here on her own web site, Le Guin talks about her experience and how she felt the director was putting words in her mouth. She ends with:
‘I wonder if the people who made the film of The Lord of the Rings had ended it with Frodo putting on the Ring and ruling happily ever after, and then claimed that that was what Tolkien “intended…” would people think they’d been “very, very honest to the books”?’
The message seems to be for authors to go into movie/TV adaptations with their eyes open . You can be incredibly lucky and have a director/script writer who takes the best from you book and makes it more accessible to the general public, or you can be left wondering if they read the book at all.
What adaptations have you seen that impressed you?