What Makes a Good Book-to-Screen Adaptation?

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Bhandari Raju says:

Can you tell me briefly about how can we adapted books to a movie like how copyright system does work, we can't take any scene without permission right ?

Stephen Malovski says:

Haven't seen child 44 but the trailer reminded me of an HBO film citizen X besed on a real event about a serial killer that murdered a lot of childrenin the Soviet Union!Dont know have you seen it but CITIZEN X deffinitely deserves a watch.

Sanderus says:

You raised many interesting points in your video.To avoid repeating what you've already stated I'd gather the points you made under one general rule – the filmmakers have to know and understand the source material and be respectful towards it. Sure, as you mentioned not everything which worked in the book will work on screen. You can add, remove, change, whatever. But in order to do it in a way that the whole thing makes sense, you need to understand what you can and what you shouldn't alter. Adaptations which keep the title but alter pretty much everything else I find offensive.

The tone of the book should definitely be transferred to film. For instance I was laughing my butt off while reading "Where the truth lies" by Rupert Holmes. It had a very strong female lead, but poor girl was extremely talented in putting herself in trouble, serious in nature for the character, funny for the reader type of trouble. But she was not held back by adversities, she kept her spirits high, saved her butt in a usually unorthodox way which resulted in more troubles in the long run. I watched the movie adaptiation and well … it was not funny at all and the female lead looked like she was gonna cry every 10 minutes. It's probably a decent film, holds 6.5/10 on imdb but it was off putting to me as an adaptation. I rated it 4.

As for positive examples – I may be biased here because he is probably my favourite director – I think that Roman Polański is excellent at transferring literature to film. A large part of his filmography are adaptations of novels, plays, diaries. Each one is different from the "technical" stand ponit. Some very faithful plot wise, some take same liberties. All are very respectful towards source material. To give the most famous examples: "Rosemary's Baby" is the adaptation of Ira Levin's novel, "Tess" is the adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel, "The Pianist" in the adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's diaries.

Derrek Ingledue says:

I disagree with the notion that you cannot alter the characters. One prime example is "Jurassic Park" by Michael Chrichton. Like "Gone Girl," Chrichton cowrote the screenplay in this as well. In the film adaption, the theme and impression were still present. The characters were changed. By making Grant dislike children in the beginning of the film, it added character development. It did deviate quite a bit from the second half of the book, but the additions and deviations were done effectively.

I do admit, however, that this alteration can be detrimental to the adaption. If done in a way that lessens a character's development, seems out of character, or is contradictory to the theme and style of the adaption, it can be injure the movie.

AU Packmule says:

Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz were such great books that when they were made to a movie they were better. Not all changes need to be made just for change sake. GOT have made changes that can't be undone. The story is so complex that when you make a change so early in the show it ruins the end story. That being said I will put up all the changes and keep Roz in the story. Either that or make Esmeralda play Catlynn Stark. Ned probably would have stayed in Winterfell.

S 00 says:

Tbh I'm kinda hard core about movies being exactly like the books, I don't like it when they deviate from the source material. Watchman is the one exception, I actually like the movies ending way better than the graphic novels. And the creative changes Zac Snyder made to 300 was also really a good choice, because all the Spartans are naked in the 300 comic, and King Leonidas had really funky hair, man Snyder is really good at direct adaptations!

And for me, Red Cliff part 1 and 2, prob mytop fav adaptation. Don't know if your into foreign films, but Red Cliff is a really great historical war drama with some jaw dropping moments, inspired by a couple of really famouse historical novels. It's one of those movies that's all about really smart people, and it makes you feel like your getting super smarter as you watch it

Hastati ™ says:

The Silamarillion would be a good tv series if the Tolkien estate would allow it. Sorry for my english.

Raphael Soares says:

This is a very interesting topic. I realized that you were very disappointed with the Child44 movie. For me, character development is the most important thing. This is the topic of greater importance and may undermine all the work. But deeply in my heart, what I like to see in an book adaptation is what my mind envisioned when reading the book. Child44 movie hasn't premiered in my country, but since you haven't like it, maybe cannot find a good idea to watch it.

Sarai Talks Books says:

You make some really great points Marianna. I agree with a lot of what you said, specifically that we cannot expect adaptations to be 100% faithful and that sometimes changes can be a good thing and bring a fresh perspective to the material.

My main issue with book-to-TV/movie adaptations is the focus on profit. Unfortunately, because it's on TV or it's made into a movie, there is a huge emphasis on making money, on appealing to broader audiences, on dulling down content, etc. In TV adaptations, you'll see creators take away important scenes or stretch out story arcs longer than they have to, and that always affects the end product in a negative way for me. The Walking Dead is the perfect example of a show that is more concerned with making money and having a longer season than bringing great content every single episode. I stopped reading the comics for this very reason, it ended up being a completely different show which isn't a bad thing, it's still a good show, but at this point I think it's more ~inspired by~ the comic than an actual adaptation, if that makes any sense.

In the Game of Thrones I have been liking the subtle changes the creators have brought to the story so far. I feel they have enhanced situations/people without losing the magic of the books, however throughout this season I'm not so sure. Sansa is one of my favorite characters, her development as a character is one of the best aspects of the books for me, and right now I'm worried for her. I'm willing to give the show a chance because you never know how things will wrap up, it might end up being better than the books, or it might not (which is where the worry comes in). I try not to think about it too much though, I always tell myself that if anything, I always have the original source material to go back to and love wholeheartedly. No hard feelings about a subpar adaption, but not everyone thinks like me lol.

nk1 says:

Very interesting topic! I too believe that the characters are the most important element that needs to be upheld. Often times I find with movie adaptations, is that there are chunks left out that often times explain changes that are happening, or the current situation. I dont necessarily think its a bad thing for the screen, but if you know the book, then theres so much more that you are aware of and understand that others might not.

Rob Iwataki says:

While I enjoyed your video and thoughts on adaptations, I feel this video should carry a "Part 1" or "Volume 1", because there is sooooo much to be said about adaptations and why they work or don't.

At this moment in time I am fueled by my annoyance at the news stories and commenters holding up the Editor of the 'Song of Ice & Fire's' disapproval of the show's changes as being justification for the holier than thou attitude. At my core, my belief are adaptations are different creatures. The books are the books; they sit on a shelf completely untouched by any other voice. Films/TV are collaborative, they are going to be different. A straight adaptation is kind of boring ("Watchmen").

I was tired of hearing franchise adaptation changes years ago with "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter". Those are going to change, it's sad, but true. But I think why I am in favor of changes is that with the book, you get one interpretation. With adaptations you have a chance at a fresh voice. Chris Columbus tried to film fairly faithful adaptations of the first two Harry Potter books. Now that they are said and done, no one ever ranks those two as the best in the series. The third film changed things around by getting a director who had a fresh take on the material. Surprise, fans of the books were incredibly vocal about the changes, but the film is still ranked as one of – if not the best on ranked lists.

My schpiel with adaptations always goes back to "The Shining". Stephen King wrote a masterpiece and it is because he was using it as therapy to overcome his own struggles with being a father and dealing with addictions. Stanley Kubrick made a masterpiece of film, which is significantly different than the book, because he made an utterly personal movie to him than his faithfulness to the book. King wrote a draft of the film and Kubrick threw it out. That was his thoughts on doing a 'faithful' adaptation. What grabbed Kubrick about "The Shining" when he read it was specific. It was certain elements in the story. He was throwing out tons of other books looking for his next project, but he stopped at King's book. He hired a different writer to craft a version of the story that addressed the story elements that he responded with. Despite what King says/thinks, Kubrick made a truly personal movie. King thinks it is cold and distant, but it is Stanley. Ironically, the film was his own therapy about his family as it was for King. It was also about pressures he felt needing to follow up his previous films. Kubrick went over time and over budget, not because he didn't care about the story, but because he really, really, really cared about it. I love the book AND the movie for this. They are both deeply personal stories and the products are terrifying.

My comment can be much longer, but the part in your video that had me wanting to respond the most was about changing the characters. I don't have a specific point to make, more of an anecdote. I took a few screenwriting classes in college and a number of them involved adaptations. I recall one lesson being focused on "A Rage In Harlem" where we read the book and watched the movie. Changes were made between the two, but the core story was there. But one huge topic of conversation was how they changed a couple of characters by trading character traits and plot points with each other. It was almost like they needed to trade the better qualities of a character who died to a character who lived. But this is some years ago and I do not recall the specifics should I be called to testify. I can see the reasoning sometimes of why they would change a character. "Dangerous Minds" also came to mind as that book was a memoir spanning years, and the movie mix-and-matched the best students together into one year and one class. Sometimes things change to tell the story the filmmakers are looking to tell. It's a tough call whether it's good or bad… Ultimately, it's a case by case basis. But I find the reasons behind changes to usually be very interesting.

Jen Talks Audiobooks says:

SUCH a good discussion!  You noted so many important points.  I thought of The Host movie – while many people thought it did a disservice to the book, I thought they hit all the high plot points and fleshed out the story well enough to make a good movie.  City of Bones?  Not so much.  Terrible movie!  Where were the special effects?  And what was up with that ending?  
Much of what annoys me with adaptations is just the casting.  The Hunger Games, for example, was horrible casting.  They pulled it off, but just barely.  It's a good example of what you mentioned, which is screwing around with the characters.  Peeta was supposed to be a big, tall, burly kid with a humble heart.  Katniss is a short, spunky little girl who can shimmy up a tree and shoot a bow.  This is not at all what we got with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.    
Outlander, though – I think that's following the book very well.  It treats the plot like a basic outline and fills in the details well without trying to be an exact copy of the book.  I love it.  And unlike my mother (who loves the books), I like the casting.
I need my movies & tv to just be well done – the Harry Potter movies are done well enough that I don't feel a need to read the books.  The Book Thief was done well enough that I don't need to read the book.  These were adaptations that captured the story without working overmuch to duplicate the book while being decent flicks.  
OK I'm going to stop now.  I could talk about this all day.  ; )

mollytherealdeal says:

Perhaps a book should not be turned into an open ended TV series, but turned into a limited miniseries instead like "Roots." Robert Kirkman agrees with you, Marianna because he said he approved how the Walking Dead TV show differed from the comic because it will provide a surprise.

Some movies are padding out one book into several movies like "Mockingjay" and "The Hobbit."  The big question is what is the essence of a book, of the characters and themes. I prefer to have some connection. I hate the Starship Troopers movie because it seems like a satire on fascism because the director hates and misunderstood the book from Robert Heinlein who was expressing libertarian ideals in future space exploring civilization which contradicted and criticized Voerhoven's left wing ideals. However, I love the movie "Limitless" which was very different from the source novel "The Dark Fields." The movie celebrates the drug induced genius of the hero while the novel lets the hero be destroyed by his hubris and willingness to cut corners with pills. Perhaps I am a shallow, egotistical person, but I prefer the movie more.

Paradox Acres says:

Yeah, I'm just going to be brutally honest: people who want literal translations of their novels or comic books are annoying. I'm no film snob but demanding movies/tv to be literally the same as their source material (the books) is kinda disrespectful of both mediums. Every medium has their own unique strengths & weaknesses.

I think Game of Thrones is a fantastic example of a live-action adaptation done right. Not only does it add scenes absent in the book (eg:Varys-Littlefinger conversations), they do it in such a way that you believe those characters would definitely talk that way (even if it were written in the books). 

Also, the changes they make are fantastic, too. TV version Robb Stark married because he was desperately grasping for whatever happiness he could find (his father died & his mother betrayed him). Original version Robb Stark? Basically: "Hey, Ma! Guess what? I got married!". It was dumb but the tv show actually made Robb Stark a better character. Also, aren't they all 13 y/o in the books..? Gross.

I remember the late, great Roger Ebert had a problem with Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings trilogy, in that it didn't feel like Tolkien's books (they were more RPG-ish than a Hobbit's journey of discovery, I guess). So, maybe having read the source material beforehand (novels or comics) is a disadvantage? I don't know.

Lindsay Weimer says:

This is a great point of discussion. The biggest problem I have with book to movie adaptations is when they change major plot points or characters without logical reasoning. Or… reasoning that makes sense to me as a viewer. They should expect that there are two types of people sitting in the theater, ones who read the book and have high expectations and those who haven't and need a fully fleshed out story. I realize that it is hard to cater to both audiences, but there should be a happy middle ground. Or else, maybe we shouldn't make an adaptation? When I saw Child 44 with Jordan (who hadn't read the book) neither of us were happy with how it went and I had to explain to him what the story was SUPPOSED to be about. That's just wrong if neither audience understands the point of the film.
Another issue is when you have source material that has diehard fans (ASOIAF or LOTR), you know you're going to piss someone off, but HBO has done an amazing job considering. IMO, a big part of that is having Martin heavily involved in the writing and consulting on the show. He also trusts HBO to have creative control over the changes that need to be made to fit the story to screen. In the end, having talented directors and producers that CARE of the source material is something that I think makes a big difference.

michellenia says:

you brought up some really good points. for me, I just like when the movie can produce the same feelings that I got when reading the book..exactly what you said!

Books & Waffles says:

Great discussion topic!

I'm one of the people who do not need the adaptation to be exact same thing as the first resource. Firstly, I think that some change sometimes is better due to the difference of media (as you said). Secondly, not everyone will admit, but if you read a book and you fallen in love with it, you want extra material – more scenes, more interactions, more everything. Since the book is not going to deliver it, you go for the movie/tv-show, or you go to read fanfiction. Which is another talk, but in that way these two medias are similar – they provide a scratch to your itching. Somebody smart in the history probably said already, that good art leaves you hungry for more.

So the extra something in the adaptation is a necessary hook to attract at least a part of the first group – people that read the book. I actually think that there are three groups – people that read the book, people that are hyped due to the cool trailer and pr, and the last one is genre lovers. Genre lovers are also important AND hard to please! Let's take romcom lovers for example. What do they want? They certainly watched everything that is popular, they know all the cliches. But do they love them or do they want something fresh? Little of the both. What if creators want to make a difference in the genre, but the core audience is conservative and cannot accept it. I'd say do it anyway, cause that's the point, but in reality money decide. 

That's why I have issues with ASOIAF adaptation. It's believed that the core audience of fantasy genre is middle aged man, which is obviously an overstretch. But that's what the creators of GOT are doing – they add sexist jokes and naked women, they change characters in the way that people are used to see certain characters, and more importantly they have favorites, that are their favorites for the reasons of whom they are. White middle aged man. And there's nothing wrong in being whatever you are, it's just they do not take enough advisors to make it a better product. How cool are the episodes that George wrote? There were some extra scenes and they were amazing! Why is that? Because he as an author that loves all his characters equally.

The key is dedication, self-check and a true desire to make something better out of something you have. That's what I think 🙂

Also off-topic, this lipstick is very on point!

Salah J. says:

All filmmakers should watch this video. Seriously

Impression Blend says:

There is a new discussion video up on my channel: What Makes a Good Book-to-Screen Adaptation? Let me know what you think!

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