Long lines at the movie theaters and a general buzz from the public arise any time a nationally recognized novel makes it to the silver screen. Whether the movie is set in the fantasy genre, like Harry Potter and Twilight, a John Grisham bestselling novel like The Rainmaker, or a comic book classic like Spiderman or the Watchman, screenwriters need to be adept at translating the rich literature to the screen.
While it may seem like an easier task to recreate a story than coming up with a brand new idea from scratch, turning a popular novel into a movie has its own set of challenges that the screenwriter and production company need to be aware of. Before altering a book to be used on the silver screen, be sure to ask yourself these questions.
Will it translate to the screen?
There are ultimately some books that should never be made into a movie because the complexities of the novel just wouldn’t translate. The book 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the stories of several generations of one family, over the course of 100 years. While the book is recognized as a masterpiece, it would be difficult or even impossible to represent it properly on the screen without taking away the intricacy of this epic novel. Marquez himself was the author of a successful book-to-film adaptation with Love in the Times of Cholera, but for 100 Years of Solitude, he expressly forbade the creation of a movie from this particular book unless a film producer was to “film the entire book, but only release one chapter—two minutes long—each year, for 100 years.”
How do I make the author happy?
Once a novel filmmakers should make sure they are holding true to the author’s intentions for the novel. Even if they manage to get most of the details spot on, it could still be off regarding delivery when it gets put together. The Shining is by all accounts a cinematic triumph, which has terrified generations of movie lovers for years, but author Stephen King has been outspoken in his regret for allowing the movie to be made because he believes there was an absence of certain supernatural elements that appeared in his novel. As a screenwriter and filmmaker, the challenge is being able to maintain an author’s direction while also adding components that make it a unique experience for readers and moviegoers.
Can I get it right for the fans?
There are more than a few examples of movies that were drafted after successful novels that just didn’t satisfy the fans. For directors and screenplay writers, there is a pressure to avoid hearing the phrase, “the book is better than the movie.” Prolific writers have a remarkable ability to weave a story together, allowing the readers to visualize the story in their minds. While the words on the page may say the same thing to everyone, their meanings are different for each reader, and it can be difficult to live up to the hype the novels brings. While there are going to be parts of the novel that are missing in the movie, it’s important to stay true to the story if possible.
When deciding whether or not your next film project should be adapting a popular book, make sure you ask yourself those questions and you better make sure that the film has legs and will make an impact with moviegoers and current readers. Not every bestseller will be made into a film and not everyone should either. Beyond this list, you also need to prove you have solid reviews, the ability to gain press coverage and licensing around the world.