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?
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