We all know it. Movies based on books are rarely good, and are never as deep and rich as the source material. The author creates a story and characters that we love, and we can’t help ourselves but get excited to see them on the big screen. We know it hardly ever ends well, but we simply can’t manage our hopes and expectations. That’s what makes a book worthy of being adapted in the first place.
But who do we blame for the disappointment? Does the burden fall on the author, who’s responsible for creating the content, or the studio who writes the checks and has the final say? Does the author have any obligation to be involved? What if they don’t know anything about the industry or the process? Story telling and screen writing are two completely different things. Or does their responsibility end once they cash the check? That’s a whole lot of relevant, valid questions, and naturally, I certainly think there’s more than one answer. Each scenario has its own quirks, perks, flaws, budgets, and people involved that all have an effect on the outcome, so let’s look at these questions a little more in-depth, shall we?
When a book adaptation fails to meet expectations, whose fault is it? The author created the content, so wouldn’t it be up to them to make sure the translation to film is true to the source material? Generally, I’d say no. The author did their job by writing the book that we fell in love with. When somebody buys the rights for the material, then a lot of the process is taken out of the author’s hands. Now some authors will negotiate in order to be included in the creative process to varying degrees. Some will want to write the screenplay. Others might want to be involved in casting. Some may request a Producer credit and be happy with merely being present during the process. Each of these situations has varying degrees of responsibility for the author. If the writer has difficulty giving up control of their masterpiece and wants to be heavily involved in the screenwriting process, casting, filming, etc, then they would have a large responsibility for how the film turns out. If the author cashes the check and leaves everything up to the production company, then I don’t think they have any responsibility at all. Like I said, they wrote the book in the first place. That was their intent, and they succeeded. Just because somebody sees potential in their work doesn’t mean the author then has to learn a whole new industry and ensure success for the film that they have nothing to do with.
So then it’s the movie studio’s fault? Generally, I’d say yes. Now I’m not saying that there’s ever any intent to make a bad movie. That would be asinine. The studios are the ones that are ponying up the cash, so they very much have a vested interest in the outcome of the deal. But because of that, I would say it’s their responsibility to lead the project and ensure the right people are assigned and involved. Personally, I don’t know the first thing about screenwriting or the movie industry. If somebody came up to me tomorrow and wanted to buy the rights to Crossroads, I’d be more than happy to facilitate that. At the same time, I have to recognize my limitations and not insist on being involved in processes that I have no business being a part of. That’s my duty – to recognize my limitations and not overstep my abilities. The studio’s obligation is to ensure the well-being of the project. They should be able to recognize that I’m not the right person to handle certain things. It’s up to them to identify that and make those decisions. Hire a screenwriter that’s passionate about the project. Find the right director. Cast the right actors/actresses. Just don’t let know-nothing outsiders dictate the process.
Right along those same lines leads to the budget discussion. I already mentioned that as an author, my duty is to recognize my limitations and not overstep my abilities. I feel this should also apply to the production company that acquires the rights to a book. If you can’t invest the proper amount to fund a legitimate production, then maybe don’t acquire the rights to that material. That’s pretty idealistic thinking, as nobody wants to pass up rights to something they think is good, but if it’s your responsibility to deliver a quality product, and your budget doesn’t fit the need, then you should have the self-awareness to realize that your end result is not going to be a quality product. So again, for this point, I put the burden on the movie studio.
So the next time you get excited to see a new movie based on your favorite book and it turns out to be a dud, make an informed decision on who to direct your ire. Once you’ve done that, then by all means let them have it! (Totally kidding! There’s enough negativity on the internet already. Let’s all be civilized, considerate, and respectful. By all means, express your displeasure, but do so appropriately.)
Thank you, that is all.