Regarding great novels written by great writers:
Why must people who write scripts for movies, use their "creative license" to make sometimes drastic changes and deviate from the original story of a popular novel? Why can't they "stick to the book?" If the book was good enough to be chosen to be made into a movie, why can't the original content get tranferred over to film? Of course, I have seen movies that followed the storyline, but most are changed, sometimes creating a whole new story? Why?
Anyone out there got any thoughts?

02/20/09 - Booted up my computer this morning, and guess what popped up on MSN? An article entitled "How Hollywood takes good books and makes them into bad movies." Talk about perfect timing!!!

Charlotte Williamson

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It is the studio's fault. Don't shoot the messenger as they say. The screenwriter has little say or control, unless of course, you're Quentin Tarantino, but he is an exception to the rule and can, for the most part, write his own ticket.
Once the script goes through 20 different heads the end result is often a convoluted story, hardly resembling the orginal story. I speaking, in general, of the bad adaptations. However, there are many examples where Hollywood gets it right and often times even improves it. Take Minority Report or the original Planet of the Apes... Hollywood made much out of tenuous material. Another good and bad example of where Hollywood got it right:
Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight and Rum Punch. Where they got it wrong: Be Cool... it stunk as an adapted screenplay. I'd also be interested in hearing other people's opinions on where Hollywood got it right and where they screwed it up.
Thanks for your response. I sure stirred up a lot of dander on this subject. But that was the point. Gets people's creative juices flowing. Gone with the Wind, and The Thornbirds were two books that was brought to the screen successfully. A good book that was really screwed up in the process from literature to movie, was the sequel to Gone with the Wind: Scarlett. When the much anticipated televison movie debuted, the movie and the book had very little resemblence. I was soooo disappointed, because I loved the book. Raymond Chandler's books were sucessfully brought to the screen.
I wonder: Where is the author's input on his/her book? Maybe I'll be lucky enough to find out one day.
Michael's right, but there's one more thing to consider. Movies and novels are two entirely different storytelling media. A novelist has time to develop as many things as he wants, in whatever depth he feels is appropriate. A screenwriter has two hours. A novelist's descriptions are suggestions: your mind's eye will still see what it wants. In the movie, it's right there. Of course, the screenwriter can use a three second establishing shot and save a page of description.

This first occurred to me when I got the flu several years ago and watched Get Shorty, then read the book straight through the next day. I love that movie, the first Elmore Leonard adaptation to really get it right. The next day's reading showed me in how many ways is differed from the book. Scott Frank got the essence of the book, which is what was important.

To use one of Michael's examples, the movie Jackie Brown differs quite a bit from Leonard's novel Rum Punch, but the important stuff is still there. This might be Tarantino's best movie. (Or Reservoir Dogs.)

Screenplays that get it right? The Maltese Falcon is about the most literal adaptation I've ever seen, and it's perfect. Certainly the examples already cited. Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone are also good representations that stay close to the book.

Once in a great while a screenplay actually improves on the book. The two best examples I can think of are Jaws (cuts out a lot of boring stuff on the land, like an affair between the chief's wife and the ichthyologist), and The Godfather (leaves out a lot of Las Vegas stuff that doesn't really move the story at all.)
The "Treasure Island" version featuring Christian Bale and Charlton Heston was another adaptation that closely resembled the book, even reproducing bits of dialog from the book verbatim in several scenes. This is how I like my book-to-screen adaptations. I simply want to see a visual and sonic version of what enchanted me in book form; no artistic licenses, no improvision, no abracadabra.

However if the movie concerns a book I haven't read, I approach it with the same attitude I take to movies made from original screenplays - just give me a good story and great lines.

Thanks for responding to my discussion. I certainly have learned a lot about what others think about my subject. Another book that stuck to the storyline pretty close was The Thornbirds. It also left out a lot of the "boring stuff." Gone With the Wind went strickly by the book (again, leaving out stuff that wasn't really Scarlett having a child by each husband, instead of just by Rhett Butler) I guess the "old" Hollywood writers knew what they were doing.
Now see, there I would disagree. The movie clearly wanted to turn life into romance. The fact that Scarlett had children by two men is for an author an interesting and realistic complication in the character's life.
Gone With The Wind is a romantic story. But it's also about a woman's strength of courage and character and how she overcomes adversity and hardship in the face of overwhelming odds. Her determination and grit is conveyed in the movie, just as in the book. The little things, like having three children (three husbands, three children) can be left out of the movie, and still manage to convey Scarlett's conviction: that in spite of everything, she won't be beaten. I read the book every five years or so, and I'm still amazed at Margaret Mitchell's writing. (I'm a Georgia gal myself)
Running tiem may have had something to do with cutting the other children, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn the Hays Office (movie censors) might have had something to do with it, too.
I wish we had a "Hays Office" again. The contents of movies have gone waaayyy past the boundries of decency.
In real life, Gone with the Wind would be a 16 hour miniseries.
In my writing I practise my own "decency" code - almost no four letter words (I use "crap" instead of its more unseemly alternative), no toilet humor, no grossness, nothing. The strongest word in my latest private eye novel is "asshole," and it occurs only once. It is not because I am a prude. In my private life, I swear frequently and regularly enough to put sailors to shame. However, I make sure to restrict profanity to friends and co-workers who are similarly inclined. Abstaining from it forces you to be more creative IMO. That is why the quality of writing has diminshed so much. Lines that were formally defined by wit and immagination are now fuelled by profanity.
Language is language. I try to write dialogue that sounds the way my characters would talk. Cops say "fuck" a lot, it turns out. If a cop comes home and finds her apartment trashed, she doesn't say "Oh, crap." I actually had a funny moment in this regard at our local book festival last fall: I was reading/discussing with a very Christian guy who lives nearby and writes cozies. The contrast between the dialogue-writing in our work was pretty striking: his sounded like Nancy Drew and, in contrast, mine sounded like one of the more comic scenes from the Sopranos. He dealt with it pretty gracefully, to his credit.

And I disagree that profanity somehow replaces or negates wit, necessarily. Some of the funniest guys I know use profanity and wit to great comic effect.


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