The Oscar goes to…

1446751375574The 2018 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay went to James Ivory; little, if any attention went to André Aciman, the author of the book “Call Me By Your Name.” A film or a TV series “based on the book by …” generates a lot of publicity, but not much attention is given to the original book itself. Even readers fall into the adapt-for-film-or-TV trap, and one of the questions frequently asked of an author at a book signing, is “When will this be made into a movie?”

Why, why, oh why?

Yes, I know; the deal to adapt a book for film or TV generates a lot of publicity, fame, attention, and MONEY, but I really feel the book is always better than the movie. (I will discuss one exception in a moment.)

Films are short, only about an hour and a half or so long, so by design they limit the scope and the depth of the story. Films do have the advantage of being able to immediately define the sense of place with vivid indoor and outdoor shots. However, time constraints dictate that they leave out many of the rich details and intense characters that make books great.

A TV series has greater flexibility than a film since writers have multiple episodes in which to tell stories, and have the flexibility to pull details from multiple books rather than having to follow book with a linear story line. This makes TV “based on a book by …” much more “appealing” to me, a book reader.

Craig JohnsonUnfortunately, sometimes the TV series is so successful that the original books get lost in the whole process. At a recent book signing, Craig Johnson shared this story about his “Longmire” TV series. He was wearing a cap with the Longmire series logo while having lunch. The waitress commented that she loved the TV show, and asked him how he got the hat. He replied that he writes the books on which the TV show is based. Her astonished reaction was “There are books?”

Earlier I mentioned that there was one film I liked better than the book. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is based on the book by Lionel Shriver. The librarian recommended the book, but since there was a waiting list for it at the library, I found the 2011 movie on Netflix. For those not familiar, it is the anguishing story of Kevin’s mother as she struggles with Kevin throughout his life and “something” that happened, details of which were not revealed until near the end. We agonize along with her, observing her trauma and pain as well as his “lack” of it.  (It is a powerful movie with a VERY current theme, and if you haven’t seen it you should.) The movie was gut-wrenchingly tragic. Now I also loved the book, but in the book, there it was; the event that was hidden for so long in the movie was right on page twelve. The book was still excellent, but for tension, drama, and angst, the film wins.

Now, what do you authors think? Have your books been adapted for film or TV? Did you have input during the process? Is the film as good as your book? What is your favorite film or TV adaptation of a book?

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Author: 3 no 7

"3 no 7" presents Katie and Barbara who write about the books they love and the books they don't.

11 thoughts on “The Oscar goes to…”

  1. Ha! Craig Johnson came to Pittsburgh and told the same story. 🙂

    Obviously my books have NOT been adapted, and I don’t know how I’d feel. One the one hand, excited because it’s a new audience. On the other, worried because “what are they going to do to my book?”

    I find I have more success if I ignore the fact a TV/movie is “based on a book.” Sometimes, like “Lord of the Rings,” the movies may not capture the exact details, but it captures the spirit (true also of most of the Harry Potter movies). But one adaptation that I think really nailed it was “The Night Manager,” the miniseries that Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston did. Spectacular!

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  2. There was a producer sniffing around BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, but nothing has come of it … and probably never will. It was very gratifying that the books caught her eye, though, and she thought there was potential for some series based on those characters, or a Hallmark movie. It actually made me proud because I started out writing for kids and made a conscious decision to write cinematically so they could “see” the movie spool out as they were reading. Maybe I actually did that for adults too!

    I chatted with Jeff Lindsey (who wrote the Dexter books) about his journey with Hollywood. I was fascinated when he told me that after about book #4, the series went in a totally different direction from the books. He still got credit (and money), but nothing resembled the books that he’d written/was writing. Hollywood is weird.

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    1. I agree that “Hollywood” is non-standard to say the least. I think that a series based on a book takes its own direction most of the time, and it seems that the only similarities that remain after a few episodes are the names of the characters and sometimes the location.

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  3. Someday, I hope to have the problem of having my books turned into movies! I know from fellow writers that a lot of books are optioned, but not followed up on. That’s got to be the ultimate high/low.

    Books made into movies often lose a lot. As you said, books made into tv seem to translate much better.

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  4. Isn’t it interesting how wildly different the James Bond movies are from the Ian Fleming books? They’re totally different experiences, and I love them both. Usually I like the books better, but there have been a couple instances where the movies work better, for instance “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. Also, “Brokeback Mountain” the movie worked better for me, maybe because the source was a short story.

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    1. The Bond movies are great examples of the differences between books and films. The film’s special effects and whole visual experience make the films spectacular and thrilling, but to me, the books make the Bond experience more, I guess, human.

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  5. A couple of years ago I met with a producer to talk about adapting THE MISSINGS. I learned that projects where the author insists on staying involved often crash due to egos, and that projects given over to other creatives (all of whom want to put their own stamp on the adaptation) often have no resemblance to the original book.

    I did send a copy of TRAFFICKED to Ashton Kutcher. He hasn’t gotten back to me yet. *wink*

    I think the Mockingjay movies did an excellent job of capturing the overall books, but your comment that about a lot of things needing to be left out because of time constraints is true. And now that I’ve gotten used to Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, that’s exactly who I see even if I’m listening to an audiobook narrated by Len Cariou.

    Fun post!

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    1. I read all the “Bosch” books from the very start, and sorry, Titus Welliver will NEVER be “Bosh” to me. I had my own image of him as he aged throughout the books (one of the great things about Bosch) and it is just too much of a “reset” for me.

      Don’t get me wrong I LOVE the series, and I actually subscribed to Amazon Prime just to get Bosch. (Now zillions of “free shipping” orders later, I use it for lots of things.) But here again is a series that only loosely draws on the books and goes its own way much of the time. I can still see a thread of this book or that book in the series, but they are fundamentally different scripts.

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  6. I tend to prefer the books as well, but the one TV series that immediately caught my attention was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I read Cocaine Blues as part of my book club and enjoyed it, but didn’t feel the need to continue reading the series. Then a friend told me about this Netflix show she watched with her mom (and happened to be based on the book I’d just read) that she thought I’d love and…she was right. I think the actors brought life to their characters in a way that the book couldn’t.

    I’d love for my (future) books to eventually be made into movies since it’d allow me to reach an audience I normally wouldn’t, and actually make me some money. But the one thing fans don’t realize is how little say the writer has once they’ve sold their film rights. Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give, constantly has to tell people that she is NOT in charge of casting, screenwriting, distribution, etc. If you’re lucky, the showrunner/director/producer will consult you on certain things, but other than that, it is now THEIR project, not yours.

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