Adapting Yourself

So I’m about a third of the way through the Ichabod screenplay project now, and it’s teaching me quite a few things–the only trick is that I’m not entirely sure yet what those things are. Some things are obvious: my dialogue needs some work here and there to get it up to snuff. Thinking about someone actually saying what I’m writing in a conversation is different than writing it, if that makes sense. I should keep that in mind when I’m writing my next project. On the other hand, other things this process is teaching me are muddier. For example, I’m cutting out a lot. The book’s something like 70,000 words, give or take. 110 pages, where the length of “pages” in this case doesn’t really matter–it’s just a way of breaking it up. They’re Times New Roman single spaced pages, if that makes you feel better. Anyway. I’m shooting for 110 screenplay pages. For those of you who haven’t seen a screenplay page, there’s a lot less real estate to work with. Courier, for one thing, and dialogue is centered and has drastically reduced margins. So when you have a lot of dialogue, you burn through your page count pretty fast. I’m having to really be picky about what I put in and what I leave out.

As I do that, though, I find some sections that can really be cut without too much of an impact on what I’m trying to do. This leads me to ask myself why I kept those scenes in there in the first place. For a while, I was thinking that I really ought to trim down the manuscript, as well. But then I realized that there’s always something to cut. If you keep at it, you can get the Lord of the Rings down to a sentence: Furry small people have to throw a ring into a volcano or everybody dies. But what’s the fun in that? So much of the interest in literature isn’t just found in the plot. It’s found in all the different layers. Characterization, dialogue, setting, subplots. To trim too much of one would be disastrous, just like watching a film without any soundtrack would really detract from the film’s power.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I’ve studied adaptation a lot, but it’s one thing to study it and another to do it–and even another to do it to your own work. I put those things I’m cutting out in there for a reason. Sometimes it pains me to cut them, but *surprise*–books aren’t movies, and movies aren’t books. You’ve got to change things to be successful. So the next time you go into a movie and come out saying “it wasn’t as good as the book,” maybe you ought to ask yourself what you wanted in the first place, because that’s like biting into an apple and saying “it wasn’t as good as an orange.” Sure, they’re both fruit, but they both of drastically different evaluative standards to determine a “good” apple or a “bad” orange. I like my apples crisp, for example. If I bit into a crisp orange, I’d probably spit it out and wonder what was wrong with it.

And if you’re *still* thinking about how bad a job the movie you just watched did of adapting the book, start to think about what it was that went wrong. Why was it such a bad film? Because if your only justification is that it didn’t capture what you liked about the book, once again, I’d say your expectations were in the wrong place. Think about how you would go about adapting the book. What would you have kept in–and more importantly, what would you have kept out? Because no one wants to watch a seven hour exact filming of a book, regardless of what you might believe. At least, not enough people want to watch it that the movie would ever be profitable. The difference with books is that there are enough people willing to go through 900 pages or whatever. That make sense? ‘Cause if it doesn’t, I’d be happy to elaborate. πŸ™‚

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening.

8 thoughts on “Adapting Yourself”

  1. Of course. But it’s not the adaptation-as-process’s fault. There are awful movies. There are awful books. I’d argue that adaptation doesn’t inherently increase or decrease the odds of awfulness.

  2. I agree. However, I think sometimes the adaptation process does fail, not because it’s inherintly flawed, but because it’s done badly. Of course, this most often happens when the filmmakers try to please the book fans at the expense of making a solid piece of cinema.

  3. Honestly, I’m not sure how often filmmakers really try to please book fans. The audience just pales in comparison to the film audience. I certainly think there’s some effort not to alienate book fans, but in the end when I’ve seen adaptations really go wrong, it usually boils down to a few reasons: lack of ability on the part of the filmmakers, poor ability of a book to make the transition to film, crappy source material to begin with, or (one of the worst offenders) the movie was done to make a quick buck. If you have a good filmmaker with a good crew, adapting something he/she/they feel strongly about–because they want to, not because they’re getting paid to do it–then the odds are fairly high that the end result will be good. Sometimes things fall apart, but I usually it’s something other than the adaptation’s fault.

  4. I was thinking about the first few Harry Potters, there, where they filmed every bit of each book whether or not it would bore the audience to tears. Maybe that’s not as much common as it is high profile in that case.

  5. The motivation on the first few HPs would definitely fall under the “make a quick buck” category for me. For the later ones, I thought they started to take them more seriously. Or maybe they just ditched Chris Columbus as the director. Same difference.

  6. Hi
    Hi, Bryce–I just found your blog through Rachael’s. Anyway, I think it’s cool that you’re applying all that adaptation study to some practical use. I’ve never written a script, but Josh has written plenty (though no adaptations of yet) and so these are things we talk about quite a bit. Always trying to find a way to combine those elements you mentioned (characterization, etc.) with plot.
    Anyway, it takes such a different kind of brain to adapt and to analyze adaptation, so I’m impressed you can do both.
    Final comment–when are film scripts going to STOP using courier? It’s ridiculous, really.

  7. Re: Hi
    Thanks for tracking me down, Rachel–didn’t realize you had a blog. I’ve rectified that now. πŸ™‚
    Yeah, Courier is lame, but it’s the standard for a lot of literature editors, as well. I think people get used to a certain style, and then that style gets ingrained in the industry. If you switched to TNR, for example, would the 1 page=1 minute rule still apply? And how would you guestimate then?
    Just checked out your Icarus website–interesting stuff. Good to have you on the radar now. πŸ™‚

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