Movies and Books

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!


3 thoughts on “Movies and Books

  1. Well put sir, and though I’ve Twitter bombed you on it, I’ll just add that books and film are two different mediums that surprisingly, well for many, have a stark visual aspect. The difference is with books the individual creates the image and projects it in their brain. Films on the other hand are a medium where the image is projected on to you. There will always be different interpretations. Case in point, Douglas Adams and ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.’ Every single adaptation is different, but they’re also genius in that too. Also, how one person sees something is not how someone else will see it that is the greatness/downfall to interpretation. You will never please all, you will always let down some and maybe most. But does that mean we should give up? Hell no. I’d also point out films that go above and beyond the book, but I’ve gone on enough.

  2. Katie says:

    Great post. Film adaptions also have the challenge of delivering information or motivations that may have been revealed internally in the book. Things that we read as thoughts may get turned into conversations or sequences cut down for time and simplicity’s sake. I’ve learned to remember the ‘based on’ disclaimer to soothe any surprise I may have at differences from the book, and enjoy the movie for what it is.

  3. Steve Choy says:

    Karl, been a long time, hope all is well. I’d like to add an additional perspective that most people outside of the industry rarely realize. Screenwriters have the least control of their work. It sounds absurd, especially as a writer. How could this be? Whether it be adaptations or original screenplays, the screenwriter has little to no say once the script ends up in the hands of producers and especially directors.

    A few years ago, you helped reinvigorate my passion for writing during NanoWriMo. Ever since, I’ve dedicated myself to learning the craft of screenwriting and pursuing my dream to become a filmmaker one day. I packed up all of my crap and moved from San Francisco to Atlanta (because someone once told me that if I wanted to get into film, I should head South… I like writing, not geography…). What I have realized is how lonely and unrewarding being a screenwriter can be. What’s worse is when you pour every once of soul into a piece and you’re LUCKY to get it in the hands of a producer wanting to film it, you’re essentially locked out of the filmmaking process and some director, someone you may never even meet, will apply HIS vision to the work. Isn’t it great?

    So, I guess my point is, give writers a break. They hate themselves and their work enough as it is. We yearn for acceptance and affirmation so much that a single negative comment can easily destroy all the courage it takes to put our creativity out there. While some screenwriters attain a certain cache to be involved in some production, most are likely as surprised as you are when they see the final product. I think it was John Turman, the screenwriter for the Ang Lee directed HULK, that said the final product of that film was barely recognizable to what he had originally turned in.

    As an aspiring screenwriter, that was disheartening, but then you sit back and realize, John Turman got paid to write his version of the Hulk. Now, how cool is that? And speaking of which, Karl, hit me up if you ever want to help me write a spec screenplay focused on Nightwing, could be cool, right? 🙂 Maybe get AJ involved, he’s spot-on!

    Definitely let me know how to get in touch by email. I’d love to float some of my ideas/work by you to possibly get an opinion from someone I really respect. So, hoping you could put me in touch with that person…kidding.

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