Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Book to Screen Debate, part 1 by Toi Thomas

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 “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 😉).

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?
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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.

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