Novels and the Ghosts of Movies Past
by Bruce Cook/Brant Randall, author of Tommy Gun Tango
Most authors dream of their book being adapted into a screenplay. They want the paycheck (of course) but they also hope their story will reach a much wider audience, the potential millions that may attend the theater or see a movie later on TV.
However, these same authors are often disappointed in the way the script for the movie differs from the novel. What happened to their beautiful prose? Where did that intriguing secondary character disappear to? How did that that sub-plot get deleted?
Books run from 250 to 500 pages. A script is only 120. So the screenwriter who adapts the novel into a script must ask himself “Which 120 to 3809 pages shall I cut?”
The producer asks himself “How many actors do I really want to pay?” and encourages the screenwriter to cut or combine characters. And on second thought the producer wonders how many locations are really required to tell that story anyway—and asks the screenwriter to combine or eliminate settings.
Recently Richard Price had this to say in the NY Times:
"Writing a screenplay is a job. It's not like writing a novel where allegedly you're not writing to please anybody. The whole point of writing a screenplay is to please people. It's all about making people feel jazzed enough to write the big check to make the movie, getting actors psyched enough to overcome their anxiety about looking like fools, getting the director to feel it's a compelling enough story to give up two years of their life. So that's why everyone says they love everything and then they ask you to change everything.”
Wonderful means change it. Fantastic means change it. Terrific means change it. Thank you means you're fired.”
See how it goes?