Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Let's Talk About Adaptations

This Frenzy I'm writing an adaptation of a short story about zombies and the Great Chicago Fire. I'm keeping my lips a little tight about who's story it is because my film team is about to enter negotiations for rights.

This is not my first adaptation. My first attempt at screenwriting was an film noir adaptation of Grimm's "12 Dancing Princesses." My second attempt a screenwritng was an adaptaion of H.P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model." I've learned alot about adaptaions just from that, and with my experience level leagues higher then when I was attempting those, I'm now doing yet another adaptation.

And speaking of adaptations, let's talk about the Hunger Games, the adapation everyone's talking about, and because I read an article about concept art that wasn't used.

Before I even begin to start, let's set some basics down in writing.

Point 1: Film and prose, be that novels or short stories, are totally different mediums. They share many characteristics, but they are quite different. Things that work in words do not work on screen and vice versa.

Point 2: Readers are more forgiving than Viewers. Books can get away with slower pacing and even some plot holes without upsetting readers too much. Viewers are much harsher. Then, there's also the filmmakers in which economy of scenes, characters, and time are a necessity.

My opinion: The Hunger Games is one of the closest book to movie adaptations, and while an excellent adaptation, its goal to remain so close to the book actually detracts from its value as a movie. When I talk about the movie, I think of it as an excellent visual companion to the book, not as an excellent movie aside from the book. This is because the movie hits every major plot point of the book, and in doing so, causing the importance of certain events to be underplayed. (Such as Rue.)

There are going to be some people who think the movie is better than the book (especially those of us who found Katniss' narration F***ing annoying). There are going to be many that find the book better. I can't say if it ultimately is, but I do feel the movie means more if you read the book.

Let's get to the nitty gritty. There are changes made from the book to movie. Most of them are minor, some, major, but ALL understandable from a filmmaking prospective.

So let's talk about that article from earlier, and if you haven't seen/read Hunger Games - be warned - spoilers.

When I first heard they were making the Hunger Games into a film, my reactions were "Hell yes!" and "How are they going to keep this PG-13?" (I had very similar reactions when I heard Coraline was being made into a movie.)

Keeping Hunger Games PG-13 is an absolute must because this is a teen novel. The major demographic is teens between 13 and 17. By no means is this a children's movie, and it is certainly enjoyable to adults. But, leave the little ones at home.

Let's go back to that article I mentioned earlier. One of the biggest deviations from the book is the Muttations at the end of the movie. Before the movie ever came out, I remember laying in bed with my husband talking about how they're going to handle the dog-people at the end of the movie. It's pretty horrifying. Dead tributes turned into monsters sent after the remainging few. How were they going to keep that PG-13?

The answer: they couldn't. At least, I would bet large amounts of money that the dog creatures at the end of the movie were just dogs more for rating than anything else. (Though, it could also be because the character creation wasn't working, but the bad CG of the dogs in generally lead me to believe that it was more a rating issue.) The dogs are actually so bad, it almost takes the viewer out of the movie. Many who didn't read the book are left wondering, what the hell was that about? Those who read the book, are just plain mad.

I'm going to address this in two ways: 1.) Why keeping the movie PG-13 was so important, and 2.) why staying so close to the book actually hurt the adaption (aka, my opinion).

It's clear from the concept art that the filmmakers were intending on doing the Muttations right. Which is so cool. But, somehow, this concept didn't make it to the final cut. My best guess, ratings. It could have been poor character execution (like the reason Peeves was cut from Harry Potter), and it could have been budgetary (though, this was not a movie lacking in budget or profitability).

If the Muttations meant an R-rating, then they had to be changed, or the profitability of the movie would have changed. Most parents wouldn't have let their teens go to an R movie, and the few movie people who just love movies, wouldn't have been enough for the movie to make back it's budget. Because we have to remember that movies are just as much a business as an art. So, to keep the rating down and keep the movie available to the target audience, the Muttations had to go.

This leads right into my argument that the movie is too faithful to the book. Ok, I understand that the Muttations had to go. They were only impactful in the book because they looked like dead tributes. Now that they're just dog beasts, well, it's kind of lame. So why keep it? Because they were being "faithful." This became an aspect of the book that needed to be changed, but wasn't, and lessened it's overall impact. Why couldn't they have set the arena on fire again? Or flooded it? That would have gotten them to the top of the cornucopia and achieved the same ending. And it would have felt more natural than the weird dog things that were left.

But noooo, they had to be faithful. And the movie suffers for it.

So, let's look at the lesson here. When adapting a work of fiction to a movie, there has to be a balance. Keep the story as close as possible without letting the movie suffer. Acknowledge that some things just don't work in movies, and some things just don't work in print. Once you recognize that, watching a movie adaptation becomes more enjoyable. A movie can still be a good movie even if it's not 100% faithful to a book, or even 90% faithful.

I am keeping the Hunger Games close at mind while adapting my work. And if you've always had a problem with books turn to movies, I think you should try to write a script based on that book (What a Great Script Frenzy Project!). You'll have a whole new outlook on theprocess.


  1. This is such a great post! I've never really put a whole lot of thought into what goes into writing an adaptation; never tried it-- I just try really hard as a viewer/reader to look at them as separate art forms because otherwise I end up picking it apart from a reader standpoint. But this is really enlightening!