The 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.
Unfortunately, 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?