Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Writing: Adaptation, Pt. 2

Those Who Can't Teach, Develop.

Why are so many adaptations written? Many were born of something beautiful: passion. Somebody read the story, and it thrilled them or inspired them or terrified them. Many directors want the challenge of bringing images to the screen they'd only imagined. Sometimes writers love something, and they just want to share it with their friend sin the darkness. Adaptations like that are often nursed for years, clutched to one creative madman's chest like a baby chick with a wet cough. Some -- but not all -- adaptation jobs come about this way.

So where do the rest come from?

The real bear is the "business" side of this business we call "show." In 2002, Sony was the box-office winner, garnering 17% of total box office for a staggering 1.5 BILLION dollars. You know how many of that year's top 100 movies they released?

Thirteen.

That's right. Don't focus on the obvious win, focus on this: those poor bastards in the Sony exec offices were gambling in a billion-dollar game based on just thirteen movies.

Movie executives do not lead happy lives. If you are an executive, this is your day: a scruffy man in a Hawaiian shirt walks into your office and says, "I need you to be personally responsible for giving me one hundred million dollars so I can go to Ireland and have people who pretend for a living act like they're fighting imaginary dragons."

"Will I get to see the dragons first?" you ask hopefully.

"Oh, no the dragons won't exist until after we're done shooting. The professional pretending people will be yelling at sticks. Occasionally, they will flee from a mop."

And your job, as the exec, is to write him the check. Any sane man would break.

So, what would any sane person do? Hedge the bet. Generate as many scripts as possible, to get as many choices as possible. If I'm Joe Blow executive, I need ten movies this year. That means I need ten shooting scripts -- how many scripts are the right budgets AND attracted a director AND got the right actor involved? One in ten? So I need a hundred shooting scripts! How many scripts are far enough along to be in that pile? One out of ten? I need a THOUSAND scripts in various stages of development! How many major Hollywood studios are there? Ten. At any given time Hollywood the industry needs ten thousand scripts in development ...

I'm exagerrating, of course, but not by much. Faced with such high stakes, studios and the people who sell to them try to find an edge, any edge. This book already has an audience? Well then, hell, at least those people will come. This comic book is practically a storyboard! It's 90% of the way to being a movie! Buy it, buy it, BUY IT!

Is this insane? Yes. Is it artistic? Hell no. Will it change any time soon? I have my theories, but no, I wouldn't bet on it. In theory, pure capitalism always creates the most efficient market. But in the movie business, Adam Smith's invisible hand is giving us the finger.

So there they sit, literally vaults of stories waiting to be readied for the big screen. Somebody's gotta turn 'em into 120 pages. Might as well be us. Now, roll up your sleeves, and let's get to work ...

Next week: Rules 1 & 2 of adaptation

32 comments:

Koenig said...

Personally, I enjoy seeing a good story transformed from text to screen- and if I do not like the result, I can always read the book again.

Likewise, I also enjoy remakes- there are a lot of really good stories that could be expressed in a more contemporary context.

Artistic expression is not dependent upon subject matter, even if the message is. Make a name for yourself and then you can dictate the message.

1031 said...

As someone who wants to write comics as well as films, this is a very interesting topic.

I was up in San Francisco over Election Day and this great comic book store there, Isotope, was having a party. Free booze and we watched the election results projected on a wall. Fun times were had by all...except later in the day, when the results were more depressing.

Anyway, I was talking to some of the creators and fans about my own work, and the whole comics vs. movies thing, and one of the employees said something that I hadn't really thought about. At least, not in this way.

He said that I should focus on the comic book stuff first (I need an artist, by the way. Anyone know anyone?) and the movie stuff comes later. Like, I get a story published as a comic. A mini-series, an OGN, whatever, and that story, that comic, is mine. It'll always be there in the form that I want it and no one can take it away.

Whereas with a movie, however many people throw their two cents in, and it goes through a huge number of rewrites by a lot of different writers, so by the end of the process, whatever it is that I had originally written, it's, more often than not, not what I had envisioned at all.

Right, John?

So by that logic, it would be "easier" to make a comic and get Hollywood interested that way, than just write a spec script and hope it catches someone's eye.

That make sense to anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, John. This is perfect for the Assignment Workshop I host at http://www.thewritersbuilding.org/

I've posted both columns, as well as the address of your blog. I hope that's okay. Please, anyone who might be intrested, come and check out the site. It's a not-for-profit organization that tries to connect screenwriting aspirants to pros in a mentorship sort of atmosphere.

We're new, but growing, with several Pro Members on board already.

Thanks again for the awesome Blog, John.

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Great post and very interesting topic. There was a nice discussion going until the spammers rolled in. But I've gone back and forth on this topic about whether people actually write good screenplays anymore, or if everything is just borrowed or repackaged in Hollywood. The movie business is mostly responding to what kinds of films make the most money. And that seems to be comic books and book adaptations. So as movie goers we're as guilty as the movie execs are shaping hollywood the way it is.

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