WHEN HOLLYWOOD COMES CALLING:
The Book Was So Much Better!
We’ve all read a book, then enthusiastically sat down to see the movie play out. Two hours later, we’re disappointed. “The book was so much better!”
I’ll try to explain why this happens so you know what to expect when (rise of dramatic music) Hollywood comes calling on you.
Years ago, I wrote a YA titled Will the Real Renie Lake Please Stand Up. A producer contacted my publisher, Atheneum, and expressed an interest in optioning this book. An option is a small sum of money, or none, to take your book out of play. While they sit on it, you can’t make a deal with anyone else. It was pitched as a possible ABC Afterschool Special.
I said yes, but wanted to do the script. The producer insisted authors are too close to the project. If I held to my demand, it was a deal-breaker. I gave in. I had plenty of other things to do and thought it wouldn’t ultimately make any difference to me. It didn’t.
They made the movie and titled it Tough Girl. I went on to work in daytime television. There I met a producer whose background was theater. He saw the movie on ABC and said to me “They missed every dramatic set-up in the book.”
How did they go so wrong? Easy. I was to find out when I was asked to turn a book by Francine Pascal (Sweet Valley High creator) into a script. Between the demands from her agent and all those involved, I couldn’t accommodate everyone and do justice to her story.
What is so hard about turning a book into a movie?
It’s like nailing jello to the wall in some ways. A book is long and complicated and a movie is short and simple. With a book, if you don’t remember something, or get confused, you can go back and reread the last few pages. Movies don’t stop. They have to be simple so the audience can understand the story at speed.
In this process of simplification, details the reader may consider crucial and explanatory are lost. There isn’t time for much exposition. As they say in Hollywood “These are MOVING pictures.”
What is difficult and takes enormous skill and wisdom to do, is to know what can’t be left out. This is a chief reason why we often find these books-to-films dissatisfying. The screenwriter might not have been able to get a grip on what the essence of the story was. The action and plot were understood, but not the theme.
Don’t rush to blame the screenwriter who must please everyone in the production company, studio and network. Everyone has input and perhaps some decision makers lacked understanding and storytelling skill.
If some elements are missed, those in Hollywood are satisfied to “Give them the sizzle, not the steak.”
Our goal as novelists is different. We want to give our audience the sizzle and the steak.
The movie is not your book, just based on it and won’t be a perfect representation. Take their money and run. If you can be involved in the process–good; you’ll have the opportunity for fight for your baby. If not, remember what Barth Gimble of Fernwood 2-Night said about show business. “Dignity is when the check clears.”
Barbara Morgenroth Bio
Barbara was born in New York City and but now lives somewhere else. Starting her career by writing tweens and YA books, she wound up in television writing soap operas for some years. Barbara then wrote a couple cookbooks and a nonfiction book on knitting. She returned to fiction and wrote romantic comedies.
When digital publishing became a possibility, Barbara leaped at the opportunity and has never looked back. In addition to the 15 traditionally published books she wrote, in digital format Barbara has something to appeal to almost every reader from Mature YAs like the Bad Apple series and the Flash series, to contemporary romances like Love in the Air published by Amazon/Montlake, and Unspeakably Desirable, Nothing Serious and Almost Breathing.
YOUNG ADULT/MATURE YA
Bad Apple 1 (Mature YA)
Burning Daylight–Bad Apple 2 (Mature YA)
Rise–Bad Apple 3 (Mature YA)
Flash–Kip Chanin 1 (Mature YA)
Flash of Light–Kip Chanin 2 (Mature YA)
Mounted–Bittersweet Farm 1 (Mature YA)
Pass or Fail (Mature YA)
Unheard (Mature YA)
Nothing Serious (Romantic Comedy)
Murder Is Exhausting (Cozy Mystery)
BARBARA HAS OFFERED TWO BOOKS FOR GIVEAWAY! TO ENTER THIS GIVEAWAY, ASK BARBARA A QUESTION. IT CAN BE ABOUT THIS GUEST POST, BOOKS, WRITING…
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