I guess I started my original writing career as a script-writer. In one of those “where do you think you’re going to be in ten years? Dream job, something you’d like to do, and the probable alternative” (one wonders if this is a healthy thing to ask eleven-year-olds), I listed ‘playwrite’ as one job in the middle category. Yes, I’d always loved making up characters (only child syndrome) and detailing their bizarre adventures on paper (my mind is bizarre), but I’d just finished writing a play about first love and bullying, and it was the first piece of writing I ‘got’, emotionally. Fanfiction about Hopper from Bug’s Life was all well and good (!) and a chapter book about being turned into a doll was fun, but I’d not put as much effort, in terms of feelings (you know), into them until I’d written my script.
It’s the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain for June! This month’s prompt is
“What are your thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations? Would you one day want your book made into a movie, or probably not?”
As you might have guessed from my introduction, I’ll be focusing on the latter question of what I’d want When the Clock Broke or Of Jackets and Phones to be like as a movie, and why I am always going to be disappointed. (Spoilers: because I’m a perfectionist!)
Whilst I don’t see anything wrong with screen adaptations in general – after all, I wouldn’t have started reading Harry Potter had 5-year-old me not loved the first film – producers, directors and even set/costume designers have to be careful where they tread. (I’ll take this moment to point out that my knowledge of the industry is skewed to stage, though I have worked on film sets, too – just not as much.)
As others in the chain have rightly pointed out, film is a completely different medium to books, and I’m lucky I have interests in both – especially since my imagination and memory are very photographic, so my stories are effectively movies in my mind before they become paper prose.
Whilst this can prove discordant for some people, I rather like adaptations that have their own spin on a book. Stardust is my all-time favourite film, but whilst the book is nothing when lined up with the cinematography and plot twists of the film, it’s not a bad book. The prose is sparkly, but not in an Edward Cullen kind of way! Neil Gaiman himself said:
“It’s a parallel Earth version of Stardust, which has Robert De Niro and stuff. And I get people who come to the book from having loved the movie who are really disappointed at some of the stuff that isn’t there that Matthew [Vaughn, director/producer] brought.” (Empire Online via Wikipedia)
One only has to look at how popular the BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch is to see what a great adaptation can do. As a Brit, that makes me immensely proud, especially this most recent season with CAM (no spoilers here!). They adapted my favourite Brett Holmes episode, but whilst they left some of the characters and details in for us Holmesian snobs, they put their own twist on it to give us entertainment and that surprise/shock value that is so prized in modern fiction.
And that works.
We’ve had some duds, yes. I liked the Series of Unfortunate Events movie – great casting, gorgeous sets (it was on TV over Easter, and, in retrospect, I think one could call the setting Steampunk :D), good script – but it didn’t win hearts because the series is so grandiose, so post-modern and extended, that, in the back of our minds, we readers knew a film was never going to do it justice.
Movies that have been optioned and I’d love to see: YA Irish urban fantasy series Skulduggery Pleasant; NA/Upper YA alternate London/Oxford fantasy The Bone Season; adult fantasy Vicious.
Noticing a trend? I do like to read contemporaries, and I’m currently planning one or two in my head, but they’re not the sort of thing I’m very interested in watching. What I really love to see adapted for viewing is fantasy or off-world stories. I think this may be due to academic interest; from my work experience aged 16 at a local theatre and my subsequent year of Theatre Studies, I developed an interest in not only the acting side of performances, but also the producing side of theatre. Only yesterday did I post about my uni drama society’s 24-hour Musical in which everyone had to lend a hand in creating.
In this way, I love fantasy adaptation for sheer curiosity – how will they make this world? Will they stay true to the book’s costume descriptions or will creative/availability licence be added?
One way I gauge if I’m excited for a film adaptation by whether I react less by fangirling and more by treating the coming film as a professional opportunity – ie. whether I’d jump at the chance to be cast, even as an extra, in the film. I’m very hands on when it comes to projects I love, and this is reflected thus in one of my personae.
This brings me to the clincher of the post: When the Clock Broke’s (WTCB) hypothetical adaptation.
I guess – like most authors – I have given thought towards what I’d like for a movie of mine. No, scrap that uncertain tone. We’re writers here – no room for ‘seems’ or ‘appears’ or guesses. I have given thought to having my stories performed, no question about it. I think it would be a dream to see my work performed – be it on stage or screen. Now the former has its impracticalities, as I found out when, during the aforementioned theatre work experience, I tried turning the first few chapters of WTCB into a stageplay, editing as I did so. Whilst, as I say above about fantasy place-setting, one can use one’s imagination for sets, what if those sets have to be extensive and changing? For a Steampunk and NeoVictorian writer, in particular, one can either go minimalist or all-out Stanislavski-style naturalist. I found that, as I started planning the script from a we-have-to-recreate-this-novel-on-stage point of view, I hit the problem of the first three chapters being in two different locations (now three, if one is counting the taxicab station as an actual place, rather than simply a passing-through area, as I imagined it when that scene was not yet written).
The upside of staging a novel: a balcony. Whenever I write for stage, I imagine a balcony – simply because of how awesome a place that is in terms of transition and road scenes. In the London theatre permanent host to the musical Wicked, the balcony directly above the stage has its own personality and [musical] number.
So: give me a balcony, where I can throw a narrator or drag around characters or use physical levels as symbolism for socioeconomic levels. Yeah, I do that.
That would be cool, but the verdict is that a WTCB adaptation would be royally in the film camp. Of course, I’d want to be on board as much as possible. I know writers get barely any further than a creative consultant, but it would be good to give my suggestions in terms of character as well as costume and décor. In fact, I’d rather that. Although there are those stupid moments where important visual elements are missed, and the fans are allowed to get angry about that, having an actor/actress portray a character doing something said character would never do is the real insult, to both the character and to the reader. And, I guess, to the author, whose spent so long crafting consistency.
I guess that’s perhaps why I’d love to act in my own adaptations. I knew, being the wrong age and all (were we to start filming now; considering that it takes years from unagented MS to film, I’d be the right age for Aidelle at that later year), I’d make a terrible Aidelle, but I have found a place for myself as one of the maids…though maybe not the vindictive one who comes back in the third book. ;) Maybe.
To conclude this bit of my rambling (!), I’d love to help write the script – the words, not the screenplay – and provide my, ahem, wisdom with the NeoVictorian design, and add thoughts for the characterisation as it unfolds.
Of Jackets and Phones, however, is a different kettle of fish (what a bizarre idiom, by the way!). When entertaining thoughts of making my other favourite novel(s) into something-to-be-acted, I can imagine that Agnetha’s mysteries could go any way, as long as the main storyline remains intact. Whilst it probably would be too extensive in content to condense the entire trilogy into one film, I did originally conceive of Agnetha journeying from Oxford to Moscow directly, then through to London for her final third. It helped that I was, at that stage, working with half of the sequel (now 70K ish) and the first book as novella-length.
I may be offending strict-rule bibliophiles here, but OJAP could be cut in so many different ways that I don’t suppose I would much mind if the film lacked certain content. The point is that genre plays a heavy part of my personal decision as to whether I’m likely to enjoy an adaptation of a book (be it mine or another author’s).
Besides, I’m unhelpfully biased when it comes to OJAP: I still think I’d make the best Agnetha – take a couple of years, hence why compounding the trilogy into a film with the heroine as her final age of eighteen. (Though we won’t think about the ages of the actresses playing the reboot St. Trinian’s girls, for who knows how old Annabelle is supposed to be?)
In the end, I admit that I’ll never be entirely satisfied with the result of an adaptation of any of my novels, but I’d still love to be there for the final unveiling of the in-my-head-stuff into the on-the-screen-stuff.
And, if you’re wondering what answer I put when my teacher asked me what I was probably going to be doing aged 21: I put ‘unemployed’. And I hadn’t even factored in university back then!
The rest of this month’s chain. Yeah, I’m last because, you know, life. However, this gives you no excuse not to (have) read the other posts.
20th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/
27th - http://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/ <you are here>
28th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for July’s blog chain will be announced.