Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on Screen Adaptations, by Cody L. Martin

Today I am excited to share with you an excellent guest post by Cody L. Martin of Resonant Blue. Before you jump in, just a quick reminder: the Ontario rafflecopter giveaway ends today, so watch for a winner announcement soon! Good luck!


You don’t have to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to link The Hunger Games, A Beautiful Mind, and The Great Gatsby. Their connection is that they were all books before they became films.

Adaptations are nothing new to Hollywood. The common lament has been: “The book was better than the movie.”  Audiences discuss the differences: characters missing, scenes deleted, things added that weren’t in the book. But if a movie is too faithful, they say it was predictable and boring. I use to think that adaptations were easy: just write down what was in the book into screenplay form. Wham, bam, it’s finished. Many people don’t think about the fine line screenwriter’s must walk when bringing an existing property to the big screen.

Books are difficult to adapt for many reasons. One of the biggest, however, is that books are so internal. Reader can get pages and pages of backstory, character history, and more, while the main character simply walks down a country road. How are you supposed to show that visually? Sometimes, you just can’t. This is one reason Stephen King movies are so hit-and-miss. There are passages, clues, bits of story that make a certain situation in his books seem perfectly natural, but strip it away and use only the visual images and comes off funny or boring. Internal monologues don’t translate well to film. Sure, there is voice-over, but that still doesn’t capture the struggle a character may have with their feelings.

Screenwriters must balance being true to the book while bringing something new for audiences. This mostly involves staying true to the spirit of the book, not the letter. New characters and new plot lines are invented to open up the story, while redundant and needless characters and stories are cut. If things are left as is, screenwriters risk alienating the reader, who will know everything that is happening before it happens, because they have read the book ahead of time. But those same readers still want to see their favorite characters and situations brought to life, and hopefully get something new.

I think the Harry Potter series was very well adapted. Everything major was kept in, while enough stuff was cut, added, or twisted to make the movies enjoyable. I enjoyed the movies for the story and the visuals, I enjoyed the books for the deeper story and history and mythology of Harry’s world. A more extreme example of changing while adapting is A Beautiful Mind. The movie stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. I read the book by Sylvia Nasar, and read some interviews with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman about the story. The book is a very detailed account of Nash’s life, but it is told from the outside. You know he has hallucinations, you’re told he has delusions, and that what he sees is not real. You know all that. The movie took a different approach; it showed his life from the inside. You experience his hallucinations as he does, not knowing what is real and what isn’t. Only when he is made aware of his illness is the audience as well. The book was an outside view, the movie an inside view. The movie was criticized for changing too much, not covering significant details about his life. But the book can go into much more detail than a two hour movie ever could. I feel that if you wanted to cover everything, it could take an entire television season. The point is that Goldsman had to decide what to keep and what not to. What was needed for a good movie story.

Adapting an existing property, as opposed to a single story, is much easier, I think. G.I. Joe, Batman, The Avengers, have all ready been made and remade in several different forms that one is free to tell it like they want, to pick and chose what worked best from the different incarnations and add their own personal touches. But again, there will always be detractors, mostly saying that it wasn’t faithful enough to the property.

The next time you read a book then watch the movie, think about the differences of the mediums. Read a passage and ask yourself how you would have filmed it. What would you have added or deleted? Don’t compare the two and bemoan the differences. Enjoy them separately for what they are.


Cody Martin was born in Edmond, Oklahoma but raised in Wyoming. After moving to Alabama and attending the University of Alabama, he moved to Japan to become an assistant English teacher in Yamaguchi Prefecture, helping teach junior high school students. He currently lives there, with his beautiful wife Yoko. "Adventure Hunters" is his first novel. When he isn't writing he enjoys watching movies, listening to Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, C-ute, and other J-pop singers, and reading.

Get Cody's book Adventure Hunters on Amazon and Smashwords today!

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