Posted by: daveed | December 4, 2008

Adapt or die

No, this isn’t a rant about the nationalization, er, bailout, er “rescue” of our economy—I made a decision to keep this blog politics free, for the most part, and instead let my Facebook page bear that burden…

I try to keep tabs on script sales as much as any quasi-outsider can, and I’ve noticed that in recent years there’s been a flurry of money thrown at adaptations, from graphic novels to “serious” literature. The fact is, optioned material is a known entity, with a premeditated story structure, familiar characters and have in more successful sources a ready-made audience.

Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot over at The Artful Writer break it down further with several theories (hypotheses, really) behind Hollywood’s hunger for adaptable properties, and debunk them along the way:

Adaptations have marketing advantages
Adaptations are easier to create
Adaptations do better at the box office
Adaptations are cheaper to make
Adaptations feel less risky to make

Whether or not these, or their counterpoints, have any merit, it seems as if there’s a lot of work to be found in adaptations. Even if they’re harder to write than originals. Because I believe they can help fuel creativity or even improve craft.

For instance, the philosophical density and internal poetics of A.A. Attanasio’s Radix (one of my all-time favorite novels) seems to preclude any possibility of being adapted for the screen. But when I read about hero Sumner Kagan’s epic battle with the killer ort Nefandi (who makes Boba Fett look like Krusty the Clone), or soak up Attanasio’s descriptions of the Skylonda Aptos, I can’t help but make mental notes about slug lines, transitions, dialogue…

I keep a few books in mind should I ever decide to pursue an adaptation, usually ones that leap out at me cinematically when I read themc (Tony Gilroy beat me to The Bourne Identity, but that’s the breaks). I know that the Coen Brothers’ production company owns the rights to one of them, a novel I’m rereading at the moment, taking note of the structure and characterizations. It’s likely I’ll approach them in 2009 with a query letter about it—it’s such a sellable property, I can practically envision the entire script, and it’s an outstanding story. So who knows?


  1. […] my earlier post on adaptations, Mystery Man on Film says to hell with trying to option the rights and go for the stuff […]

  2. I think what you said about adaptations having a built-in audience is mostly what’s driving adaptation mania.

    I’m guessing that trying to get a film financed is a lot like applying for a mortgage. No one’s interested in your creative vision, they’re looking at your credit worthiness, which is affected by things like your track record of profitablity, having bankable stars, etc.

    A novel or comic book is like 25% of development costs you can take right off the top. And having a built-in audience is the closest thing in the world to a guaranteed return on investment.

  3. I like your analogy. But I think creative vision does come into play. It just takes a backseat to bankability, what you refer to as credit worthiness.

    Then there are those weird vanity projects (one of the most notorious has to be Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, that seem to lack both creative vision AND credit worthiness. Yet they still get made.

  4. Stanley Kubrick- the undisputed master of making great films out of great books.

    The Fight Club film adaptation was also excellent, Jim Uhls wrote the script from Palahniuk’s novel.

    The popularity of Scientology among Hollywood’s ridiculously overpaid A-listers is why crap like Battlefield Earth gets green-lit.

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