Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Book to Screen Debate, part 1 by Toi Thomas

Image from Pinterest via Buzzfeed.com
 “The book was better.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but have you ever wondered just how often this is true? Some people will argue that by definition, a film adaptation is always worse than the book because anything based on something else is always lacking. Others will argue that sometimes getting to the point is more important than the journey and that a visual presentation is naturally more entertaining. To some degree, I agree with both these generalizations. While I feel most books are better than their film adaptations, I’ve experienced it the other way around as well (that’s an installment for another day đŸ˜‰).

To get to the heart of the book-to-screen debate, there are a few questions you must consider. First, why turn a book into a movie?

What most people fail to acknowledge, even if they know it, is that movies need scripts before they become an enjoyable audio-visual experience. It’s slowly becoming less and less the norm for people to write original screenplays (a story written specifically as a movie concept). There was once a time when only original screenplays became films, but that has changed. People argue and complain that Hollywood has run out of ideas, but in all honesty, that is part of the problem.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t any new ideas out there to be explored, but I am saying that as a business person, I’d rather invest in something that I know people like as opposed to taking a gamble on something never before seen (taking risk can be good or bad based on your approach). Basically, Hollywood looked around at their piles and piles of original screenplays and compared it to the thousands and thousands of best-selling books, and a lightbulb went off that changed things forever.

The second question to consider, what purpose does a film adaptation serve?
Image from Pexels.com

If books are written for people who like to read, and movies are made for people who like to watch films, it would appear that the purpose of a film adaptation is to turn textual content into a visual medium. It’s all about entertainment. However, it can be more than that. How often do you think someone, who doesn’t read on a regular basis, go out and read a book because they know the movie is coming out or they've seen the movie and want to do a comparison? In this respect, film adaptations are just like song covers and retellings. One pays homage to the other and gets people talking about both. Adaptations are a great way to reach a new audience.

The last question you should consider is, why do so many readers dislike the movie?

The first issue with the whole book-to-screen debate is that readers aren’t looking at the medium in the right light. As I stated already, film adaptations are just that; they are retellings with lots of leeway. As much as we may not always like it, a film is a completely separate entity from a book, even if it is based on a book. The second issue is the obvious matter of time and details. Books have all the time in the world and hold all the details the bring about the plot. Films don’t have the luxury of putting in all the details. And lastly, there is the matter of individual perception. No matter how detailed an author may be, people are still going to see things the way they want to in their minds. Putting people and places on screen that differ from your perception of a particular story can be tough to accept.

For me, whether I like the film version or not, I’m always happy to know that there is an author, somewhere, receiving a pretty nice royalty for their big or small screen debut. Find out more about me, my work, and my inspiration at the following links:

Amazon | Goodreads The ToiBox of Words | YouTube | See a list of my other posts here.

#book2screen, bookvsmovie, 
COMMENTS

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Cindy Smith via Google+

5 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
 
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Cindy Smith

5 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
For the most part I dislike movie adaptations because they have very little to do with the actual book. They change the timeline and the characters and when it gets in the middle seem to rush to make it to the correct ending.  If you want to see a movie adaptation, watch it and then read the book!
 
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C. Lee McKenzie

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
What a great post, Toi! So glad I followed your link and had to chance to read your discussion. You've really made me think more about this film adaptation issue differently. Thanks.
 
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Ruth de Jauregui via Google+

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Which is better, the book or the movie? Toi talks about how they really aren't the same thing at all!!
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Ruth de Jauregui

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Great post. And remember, if a studio offers you money, you want your payments based on the gross, not the net, because some movies never make a net profit.
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Jamalul Haque via Google+

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
Joe Bonadonna originally shared this
 
Today on A Small Gang of Authors, Toinette Thomas discusses adapting books into screenplays.
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Joe Bonadonna originally shared this
 
Today on A Small Gang of Authors, Toinette Thomas discusses adapting books into screenplays.
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Rebecca Tran

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
I never thought about it that way Toi I just got annoyed when it wasn't right. But you are correct movies aren't designed for readers. I will look at book to film in a new light.
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E.M.A. Timar

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Great insight into book-to-screen, Toi. Although, I miss the originality and creativity of older movies, with the monetary investment required to make one, I can't blame the industry for being risk-averse. Personally, I try to treat the movie and book as separate entities, much like I try to view movie remakes as separate entities. (Sometimes, it even works.) For me, the most important part is story. If the movie veers far off the book's original path, as long as the story arc is there and there are no truck-sized plot holes, I enjoy it. When the movie strays and fails to create a consistent and compelling story, I start grumbling.
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I agree. The story is key.

Rebecca Tran

8 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Join the debate on Our Author Gang. Film vs Book which is better?
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Erika M Szabo via Google+

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
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Erika M Szabo

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Great post Toi! I've experienced this a lot and made me angry, but now I'm looking at it from a different perspective. You're right, it's entertainment with leeway and not just following what the author wrote. "The first issue with the whole book-to-screen debate is that readers aren’t looking at the medium in the right light. As I stated already, film adaptations are just that; they are retellings with lots of leeway. As much as we may not always like it, a film is a completely separate entity from a book, even if it is based on a book."
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Thanks.

Joe Bonadonna via Google+

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Today on A Small Gang of Authors, Toinette Thomas discusses adapting books into screenplays.
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Joe Bonadonna

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Excellent topic and an excellent post, Toi!
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Thank you. Been reading about screenplays and thought it would make a good topic.
 
+Toi Thomas -- I wrote 3 screenplay and co-wrote 2 others between 1997 and 2002. On spec. Never sold. I turned into a novella -- part 3 of Mad Shadows 2; 1 turned into Three Against the Stars; 1 turned into a Sinbad novella; and 1 turned into a space opera that will soon be published. My zombie script I'd like to turn into a novel, but need a good hook, a good gimmick.

Mary Anne Yarde

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
You cover some interesting points, Toi. Great post.
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Thank you.

Ellen Jacobson

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
It does make sense when you point out that from a business perspective it makes more sense to invest in a proven commodity already, i.e., a book that's selling well.
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Chris Weigand

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Interesting. I like you have a mixed opinion on this topic. For the most part I think the books are better for the reasons you stated, but there are times when I have seen a movie be better than the book. I'm not sure why that is the case, but it does happen.
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I'll admit that I was shocked the first time I experienced it. I think some stories, a small few, have a greater impact when told visually.

Chris Weigand via Google+

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Book or Movie: Which is better? Explore this with Toi.
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Nikki McDonagh via Google+

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
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Nikki McDonagh

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Thanks for an interesting piece. Toi. Film adaptations can never be 100% faithful to a text since the medium is so different. Like you say, you can take time to read a book, but a film has a limited amount of time to get the story across. As for royalties earned by the author, Margaret Atwood has had very little for the adaptation of A Handmaids Tale. From an article in Variety Magazine: "...author Margaret Atwood reveals that she has made little profit off of the hit Hulu series adaptation.She says that the show, which has won Emmys, Golden Globes, and Critics’ Choice Awards for its first season, “was not my deal. I sold the rights to MGM in 1990 to make a movie — so when the TV rights were sold to Hulu, the money went to MGM. We did not have a negotiating position.”
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That's terrible; but, you have to wonder why she sold the rights without a contractual clause allowing her to earn royalties on future adaptations or have at least have a say in the form in which her work is adapted. Saddly, I feel that a lot of artists, not just writers, sell or giveaway their rights, only to be angry later on when someone else profits off it.
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I've read about this in other blog posts. Movie studios come in offering a lump sum and a contract for a potential movie deal and buy an author's book rights then shelve it till they need it or never use it at all but they're stuck in a contract. The contract almost always is exclusive and buys all rights without the author knowing because its all legal speak and the author doesn't get a lawyer to read it before signing it. so beware.

Grace Au

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
Very interesting take on this,Toi! Thanks for sharing!
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Thank you.

Rich Feitelberg via Google+

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly
 
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Rich Feitelberg

9 months ago  -  Shared publicly