Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From Book to Screen

I'm really proud of myself. Not only did I get tons of work done yesterday, but I did it all while at my desk with the computer connected to the Internet. I still ended up in the hole, as I cut more than I wrote (and I wrote a lot), but it's still progress if it's closer to the finished book, right?

I mentioned a while back that I'd made myself watch all of the movie PS I Love You because the screenwriter who's adapting Enchanted, Inc. did that movie. Last week, I read the book so I could get a sense of how he does an adaptation. I must say that my disliking of the movie probably does come down to the source material because it falls squarely in the "not really my thing" category. "She thought she had the perfect life until her husband died of cancer, and now she has to start all over again" is even lower on my list of things I want to read about than "She thought she had the perfect life until she caught her husband with the pool boy." I may be into corny, cheesy and sappy, but I'm not a huge fan of maudlin sentimentality unless it's written by Dickens.

(And while I normally have a policy of not bashing books, I can't really talk about the transition from book to movie without getting into my issues with the book, so I will make an exception here. I figure that author is big enough that she probably doesn't spend a lot of time Googling herself, and it's not like me being critical of her work is going to set her back very far.)

On the scary side of things (speaking as an author whose book is being adapted by this screenwriter), there's very little resemblance between the book and the movie. The basic plot remains the same, more or less -- a young widow learning to move on with her life with the help of a series of letters left behind by her husband. The setting is entirely different, which changes the nationality of most of the characters, but that could have been a studio decision (fear that a movie full of Irish accents would turn off American audiences, I guess). Aside from the main characters, it took me a while to map the characters from the book onto the characters in the movie, and there are a few fairly major characters in the movie that weren't in the book at all (and vice versa). Some of the major set piece and turning point scenes remained more or less the same, but just about everything in between was different.

However, I must say that the screenplay probably improved on the book. The book itself, as is, wasn't very filmable. It's a lot of telling with little showing, much of it told in flashback and memory -- even including some of the present-day scenes. There would be a big, hooky chapter ending where it looks like a situation is going to be very awkward and dramatic, and then the next chapter starts much later with the character remembering how awkward or dramatic the scene was. The characters are all fairly thin and bland, and the screenplay fleshed them out more, giving them flaws and quirks and making them more "real." A big change that I really liked was in the way the notes were delivered. In the book, she just gets a big envelope full of little envelopes that she's supposed to open one at a time, on the first of each month. That would be kind of boring on film. The film turned each note into an event, and enlisted all the family and friends in delivering them, which not only was more visual and dramatic, but also worked thematically in that it incorporated the family and friends into her life so she would have a strong support network. One change I was a little iffy about was turning her family from a strong nuclear family with parents who were still married and lots of siblings into just a flaky sister and a bitter, single mother whose husband had left her, but I think for the movie that even works better. The mother was kind of a blank in the book, and it made for interesting character conflict that the heroine was so afraid of losing her husband like she'd lost her father -- only to lose him in a different way -- and it created conflict between mother and daughter because the mother's coping skills for losing a husband didn't apply, even though she thought the situations were similar.

Casting was probably the biggest problem with the movie. I think that kind of heroine would have worked best with someone who appeared more vulnerable -- the kind of person other people want to take care of and who can be lovable even while being a little selfish and immature. Think an Amy Adams type. Hillary Swank just can't be convincingly vulnerable, and she has zero comic timing, so the physical humor seemed forced.

Now I don't know if I'm more or less nervous about how the screenplay will come out. I really like the other films Steven Rogers has written, and I think from those that he gets a lot of the elements that are important in my book. I like to think that my book is a little more cinematic to start with than this book was, with more distinctive characters and more action. I know things will have to change just to fit the movie format. And I guess I won't worry too much because I doubt I'll ever actually see the script unless the movie gets made and I see the movie. If that happens, I can be soothed by the money and the boost that should give my book sales.

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