Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Misinterpretation

I just finished reading Peter Mayle's A Good Year. For those of you who don't know his writing, most of it is set in Provence and is smattered with French words and phrases, has a lot of food and a lot of wine. Makes we want to go there, like right now.

Anyway, a movie was made out of this book and it's one of my absolute favorite, favorite, favorites. It stars Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hollander. I've seen it (have it on DVD) at least 100 times. (Told you I loved this movie.)

Here's the thing, because I liked the movie so much I decided to read the book to see if there was anything in the movie I missed, some backstory, or maybe another plot twist. What a big fat freaking surprise when I finished it last night.

The book is nothing like the movie. Or should I say, the movie is nothing like the book. NOTHING. The main characters are shown in a completely different light. The plot in the movie is nothing like the plot in the book, not even remotely, the setting is different, the secondary characters are different, even the damn dog's name is different. I wanted to scream, "Who wrote the screenplay?"

Now I understand that a director/producer/screenplay writer will take a certain "creative license" with the material, but to completely change the whole story, well, wow, that kind of blows my mind. I think the only thing that stayed the same was the title. Don't get me wrong, like I said, I LOVE the movie. I also loved the book.

It got me thinking though, what would have happened to Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, if the "creative license" was given free reign.

My question to you gentle readers is this -- If you are so fortunate as to have someone ask you if they could make a movie from your book, would you allow them to do whatever they wanted with it, or would you insist on having creative control?

18 comments:

Tara said...

First of all, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a movie more than the book it came from. Ever. I know there has to be differences to amp things up, but, meh.

As for your question...

I'm not sure about having creative control, but I'd want something stated that it had to be similar. And not just that it had a girl and a boy. If all the basics weren't there, I wouldn't want it associated with my name - especially if it was a really crappy flick.

Talli Roland said...

Wow. Difficult - but great - question. I think since books and films are so different, I would let the script writer make changes -- but only if it didn't change the thesis of my novel. If it included new plot points to make my characters clearer, then fine.

She Writes said...

They can have complete license. I am a success if any of it happens and that is good enough for me ;)!

E. Elle said...

I've actually thought about this question a lot over time because I hope to one day write a screenplay. I think if someone wanted to make a movie out of my novel, I would have to have some level of creative control but I wouldn't need 100%. I think I would I want to make it more of a collaboration; maybe the screenwriter's ideas could improve upon what's already there.

Whenever I'm writing, I see the scenes like I'm watching a movie. Because of that, I've been told my writings would transfer well to screenplay and to screen. But I can't imagine just giving my hard work over to someone else to improve or destroy as they see fit. My writings are like my babies! :o)

lotusgirl said...

I've been thinking about this lately with a few movies I've seen and books I've read. It is crazy. It's hard for an author to keep his rights though. I would want to have some sort of approval, but I don't know how hard that would end up being for a nobody author. If the books were hugely popular like HP, then you might have a chance, but, other than that, I'm not sure an author would have much of a chance. All you can do is stick to your guns. I know that for Ender's Game, Hollywood wants to make Ender older with a love interest, and Orson Scott Card refuses to have that happen. It's not the story of Ender. Can't Hollywood see that the story is amazing as written? We don't need another version of The Last Starfighter. Part of what gives the story its impact is that Ender is so young.

Donna Hosie said...

I think Harry Potter has changed beyond all recognition as the films progressed, with Steve Kloves using the art of creative licence to absolutely butcher the wonder of the novels. Half-Blood Prince is one of the worst book to movie adaptations I have ever seen.

A Year in Provence is one of my favourite novels, and so I love Peter Mayle, but I refuse to watch movies of my favourite novels in case they are ruined. It is the sole reason I never watched The Time Travelers Wife.

As for a movie adaptation of my own work. LOL. If Paul Bettany was starring, the producers could do what the hell they wanted!

Piedmont Writer said...

Thanks everyone for all your thoughts on this. I suppose it's all just speculation at this point, but I had to say something, I was just so astounded by my findings. Maybe I need to read more and stop watching movies.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

Ooh, good question! First of all, let me say how much I LOVED the book, A Good Year. I read it while I was living in France, so it was doubly hilarious to me. Mayle captured the French paysan perfectly!

Next, let me say I LOVE LOVE the movie "A Good Year." The DVD is in hubby's and my personal library. Each time we watch it, we ache for "home."

Now, I didn't know the movie was based on the book, LOL. The two share nothing, except their settings. I would argue that the premise of an English man moving to Provential France is too stripped down to constitute a "based on the novel" distinction. (Plus, in the book it was an English married couple, where the movie was an English bachelor.)

That's creative licence to the tenth power.

Now, back to your question. Would I allow a movie producer to dramatically alter my novel when putting together the screenplay? Hard to say. I did like how the "Precious" original author insisted that the movie be referred to as: "Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire." That's the way I'd go, I think.

Lady Glamis said...

Good questions! I think I wouldn't care too much what they did with the story. I'd get more sales on the book either way if the movie was at least done well. That's mostly what I'd hope for, I think - to have it done well, even if it's different from the book.

Now I need to go see The Good Year.

sarahjayne smythe said...

I'd like to think I'd want to keep creative control. At a bare minimum I'd want final approval on the actors playing my characters. But then I think that most days I would just take the money and run, since I'm not sure writers get that kind of control.

KarenG said...

Give me enough money and you can do whatever you want with my book. Just be sure to have someone cute and little play Marcie, like Amy Adams. She'd be perfect. And I've always seen Cindy as Scarlett Johansen. But me write the screenplay? No, thanks! Not that this would ever happen anyway, but it's sure nice to dream isn't it?

Wow, I didn't care at all for A Good Year. But I love the Provence books-- I had no idea this film was based on Peter Mayle's books.

Shelley Sly said...

Interesting topic, Anne. I think I'd just be flattered that someone would make a movie out of one of my books to begin with, but I'd probably like some control, mostly about character personalities and appearances. I wouldn't be so strict on the actual events throughout the movie as long as it came to the same climactic scene and same conclusion.

Piedmont Writer said...

Wow you guys, this was really interesting to see the different views each of you had on this topic. Some were, "take the money and run" some were more decisive, some didn't really care.

Now, I didn't say this in the post, however, Peter Mayle, the author of A Good Year, did acknowledge Ridley Scott, the director, in the beginning of the book, so whether it was written for him, or taken by him, I guess I'll never know unless I do some real digging. Maybe Saturday. I'll let you know what I find out.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome said...

I would want to have creative license. I'm controlling like that.

And as far as movies being better than the books, I know of a few. The Lord of the Rings. I hated that books, they were so extremely dull, brilliant but very very dull.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Very hard question. I spoke with an author once whose short story was turned into a film, but it was so different from her story, and after several years, she was still very bitter about it. I don't want to feel like that. But the idea that your story could be the basis for a film...wow, right? What happens if a production company wants to buy the rights to your premise, but that's pretty much it? I suppose it depends on how many other offers were on the table. Likely, I wouldn't turn it down. For practical reasosn, it's publicity for your book. I know, so bourgeois, but a writer needs to eat too. Still, I think it would burn me, maybe. But as a consumer, it doesn't bother me too much. Especially if both versions are good. It's just like engaging in a new story, I guess.

Susan Fields said...

I've heard writers say that when it comes time for the screenplay, they just have to kiss their baby goodbye.

I know what you mean about unneccesary changes, like changing the dog's name. My kids liked the movie Lightning Thief, but we had long discussions on why they changed all the things they did. And thanks for the movie and book recommendations - I'll check them out.

Lola Sharp said...

A very interesting post, Anne.

I don't care enough about money to sell my books unless I had a written guarantee to approve of the director, screenplay, and cast.

I have seen a couple of movies that were better than the book (The Notebook...a luminous movie in every way. The book, well, let's just say I thought it was very average. As many of you say, Meh.)
But, in general, IMHO, books turned movies are butchered by the Hollywood machine.

Great post.

Teebore said...

Yay, Palindrome! I too cite the LOTR as one of the few cases where I like the movies more than the books.

As for my own work, when I younger, I felt very much like I'd want creative control: if not writing the script, then at least being involved in the process along the way and having final say on the script and whatnot.

As I've gotten older, I've embraced Hemingway's approach, which was something along the lines of walk up to the border of California, toss over your book while Hollywood tosses over the bag of money, then go home.

In the end, I'm probably somewhere in the middle: I'd LIKE some say over the movie (kinda like how JK Rowling can nix stuff she doesn't like or offer hints about what not to cut out) but at the same time, if someone wants to turn one of my books into a movie and give me money for it, I'm not going argue too hard to be deeply involved.

If nothing else, it'd be kinda fun to see how someone entirely new approaches my work.