Went and saw the documentary movie Abe Lincoln The Vampire Hunter last night (with all footage historically accurate I’m told).
People keep telling me I’m messing that one up. I tell them their elementary schools didn’t learn them very well then.
But one fellow twitterer pointed out that s/he wanted to punch Grahame-Smith for being a sellout and destroying a crappy book by letting it be made into such a shitty movie.
Defending the guy, I replied that as under-appreciated writer-artist-types, we have to make money, and sometimes we make that money by taking a risk on Hollywood.
Response went that being a bad movie was one thing, fundamentally altering plot points and changing the story was something else. That if changed so much, the title should change to reflect that, and that if a writer respects what they do, they won’t sell out and can pump gas for money.
And as a writer and dabbling-filmmaker-photographer-helped-a-friend-on-a-film-and-worked-in-television type, I’ve got to say this bothers me some. So, if you don’t mind, I can’t resist taking this apart a bit.
First off, there’s this difference between movies and books that people seem to be forgetting these days. They’re two different artistic mediums. When I was younger, I used to love the idea of seeing a movie made out of my favorite book because I wanted to see it come alive the way I imagined it. The inherent problem here is that no two people imagine books the exact same way. The adaptation to film involves taking the heart of the story and translating it to film. What this heart is may be interpreted vastly different from writer to writer. And also, which themes are presented and work in text versus film can widely vary.
It’s like translating a poem to a photo or a painting. It’s going to be totally different, even if the inspiration is noted. Sometimes this difference is enough to prompt a change in title, sometimes not. But the change in medium should be enough to suggest that the story is going to change.
Sometimes plot points and story have to be changed to fit a movie. Sometimes radically. The message and meaning and value can still remain.
So, the first conversation should be whether the movie was good on its own, and should focus on what the themes and heart of the story was, what it was saying and doing and how it made you feel and respond. Then, if it’s so blatant that it was based on a book, you should judge the success of the work compared to each other. Sometimes they’re too different to compare. That happens.
But the fact that they’re different shouldn’t stand to discredit one over the other.
Here, with Abe, maybe the movie sucked. I thought it was fun and entertaining. Pretty much exactly what it seemed to have been made out to be. Maybe it could have been better. Maybe the book could have fit into a great movie and this was poorly adapted. Maybe Grahame-Smith should stick to books instead of screenplays.
But should a writer work shitty jobs in order to sustain himself because he respects his work too much to sell it to someone else?
Maybe other writers will disagree with me on this one, but I think that the author should produce work he’s proud of and understand that other variations may come about, but that it’s okay to make money off them. They may link back to the book but the book will always stand on its own. Like I said earlier, it’s a new interpretation, a new art form.
I don’t like calling people sell-outs unless they change their beliefs for money. And I think letting Hollywood take a stab isn’t a wrong belief to hold. Even if it gives extra bucks. If a movie sucks, it sucks. Maybe even likely it will suck, since so much of what Hollywood produces anymore is shit. But I don’t think that’s the author’s responsibility.
Now if he penned the screenplay himself and it sucks, maybe he should be punched in the face. But hey, sometimes people mess up.
But I don’t think that we writers should be forced to take shitty jobs instead of make money off our work, especially when the integrity of the work remains so long as the book remains. To think that Hollywood can destroy a book is to idolize Hollywood if you ask me. The books will always live on.
My book, Hallowtide, I think will make a great movie if done right. It’s very visual and intense and fresh. I’d happily sell it to Hollywood. But if the movie sucks, that happens. That’s the risk you take, but it’s not the responsibility you take. My integrity will remain in tact.
I’ll repost this again because I’m a big fan of this video. Filmmaker and friend AJ Street takes this apart some more in a video he made a few weeks back, and does a far more elegant job taking this apart than I do:
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let me know down below. And ParanormalNJ, thanks for letting me use your comments for a sounding board!