At some point in their careers, just about every novelist will yearn to see their books on the silver screen.
However, the number of authors who are fortunate enough to have movies made and actually like the final film version, are few and far between. Movies have been found to be a proverbial “good news, bad news” experience for authors.
An illustration of this is Roald Dahl’s children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written in 1964. The first movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971 was not what Roald Dahl had in mind at all. In fact, the “darker” remake in 2005 starring Johnny Depp was actually closer to the intent of the author, but not revered nearly as much by viewer as the 1971 version with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.
E.B White hated the “jolly songs” in the 1973 animated version of Charlotte’s Web. The 2005 live action remake was closer to the author intent.
Another interesting example was P.L. Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins books. She was so disgusted by the Disney movie that she placed a clause in her will that no American would ever work on future film versions of her books. This story is now depicted in a movie of its own which released last Friday called “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Tom Clancy widely disliked and distanced himself from the movies made from his books. Stephen King has had legendary battles with producers. Clive Cussler actually sued the film producers of the movie “Sahara” (see this link for some details as of January 2013).
So, what problems do authors have with movies made from their books? Complaints tend to fall into one of the following categories:
- Plot elements left out, changed or added
- Characters left out, changed or added
- Creative vision
To be fair, the producers of movies have time and money constraints. A 100,000-word novel might need a trilogy of two-hour movies to cover everything. So, at the outset, they need to cut out about half the content. Most likely a secondary plot line and numerous characters would be deleted. No doubt that writing a screenplay is different than writing a book.
A common battle is casting. If you envision your protagonist as a six-foot five-inch John Wayne-type and the movie producer casts a short and sensitive leading man, you can begin the cycle of disappointment. Even if the author is involved in the movie production is not a guarantee everything will run smoothly.
For Christian authors, the risks of working with Hollywood can be quite high. Spiritual content will most likely be eliminated or sanitized beyond recognition. Inclusion of violence, sexuality, profanity and general edgier content is almost assured. When you invite all your Christian friends to the premiere, they will most likely doubt your salvation after seeing a PG-13 adaptation of your Christian novel. Steve Laube tells me of a producer who wanted to add an opening scene to one of his client’s stories “to show the sinful depths to which someone could fall in order to show the arc of redemption.” And then the producer said, “I can’t get any funding unless we get the film rated at least PG-13.” (The client chose not to pursue the film option.)
Even for Christian filmmakers, where the Christian content is maintained and the edgier content is not added, authors will have disagreements over plot elements, characters and creative vision.
So, let’s assume everything goes to your liking with the production. Enter the reviewers and viewers. The reviewers are an entirely different group than book reviewers and they are very hard to please. Your movie receives bad reviews, it spends two weeks in theaters and goes to on-demand TV. Having fun yet?
So, you want to be in pictures? Fasten your seat belt low and tight across your lap and hang on to the handrails; you are in for a ride. A check of reality is that it can be a mixed bag for the millions of dollars spent.
Anyone with experiences with books to film?