You’ve done it! You’re a Hollywood darling off to make your next big picture, you found a story you love, and you did your Googling. Nobody has bought the rights to make a film yet! Hooray! The world is your oyster.
Hold your horses there, bub.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself about your own intentions. Why are you doing this? Consider before you cast:
Are you greenlighting only for the green?
When you got your idea, did you immediately think, “This would get me a lot of money?”
It’s all well and good to make the moola, my friend, but if that’s your sole goal, then one of two scenarios will likely bring your movie down:
1.) Payday gives you blinders. You’re only thinking about one, commercially golden aspect of the story. Maybe it’s an appealing character, like Unbroken’s Louis Zamperini. Or perhaps it’s the setting/world, as seen in Voyage of the Dawn Treader’s Narnia. Perhaps you see your film as an opportunity to let a particular composer’s music shine, such as Copying Beethoven. All of these are great ideas, but if your line of reasoning is, “This is a great character/setting/composer!” you’ll forget that a story is the sum of its parts.
2.) You don’t know how to effectively execute your idea because you’re only thinking about pumping out the monkey-maker before its sell-by date. Oh, and speaking of…
Would your idea adapt a young adult novel published one to three years ago?
I know what you’re thinking, but consider the greater good! I beg you. So what if it’s only going to be The Big Thing for teens in the next couple years and you’ve got to snag their allowance, STAT?
Only one in every ten of these movies sticks at all, and only 1% of those stick for reasons beyond the butt of a joke. Make sure you have some ideas to highlight whatever compelling material you can find from the book so they don’t turn out as mediocre as the genre in general.
Do you have a special love for computer-generated special effects and you think this is your moment to show off how technology has grown?
Three words for you: Star. Wars. Prequels.
Which aren’t adaptations, but they prove a.) how special effects do not make up for bad story and b.) how dated computer-generated effects can become in a short amount of time.
There are two kind of stories: plot-driven and character-driven. Not setting-driven or atmosphere-driven.
That being said, setting can contribute greatly to a story’s intent, demonstrated commendably by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those glorious films used a combination of practical and computer-generated effects in tandem with a solid story, well-acted characters, fantastic writing, and attention to detail.
Unless your effects enhance an already solid foundation, it’s probably best to let that adaptation remain a daydream.
Do you have anything new to bring?
Are you going to make line-by-line identical product or do you have an angle you’d like to explore? What opportunities does your new format offer?
The early Harry Potter films received some criticism for changing virtually nothing about the original story. The resulting films felt snail-paced and saccharine to many because the tone of a children’s book does not often match that of a Hollywood blockbuster. Only with some outside inspiration from Alfonso Cuaron did the films begin to garner critical attention (and six sequels).
Generally speaking, you can’t justify adapting a story without considering what a change in form would contribute. So…
What would connect your audience to this story? How would they benefit?
Some adaptations are indeed carbon copies of their source material, but their adaptations exposed said source material to a wider audience.
Take Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, originally an autobiographical graphic novel depicting Satrapi’s childhood and early adulthood throughout the Islamic Revolution.
The graphic novel had already garnered critical acclaim, but the film, which simply brought the comic panels to animated life, exposed an entirely different crowd to the same story seven years after its original publication—and won an Oscar.
Basically, you rising Hollywood director, choose your adaptations carefully. If you heed my advice and display passion for what you do, you and I will get along swimmingly. I may even tell you what video game I’d secretly love to adapt into a feature-length film! Maybe. I’m a little protective.
Of course, even perfect responses to these stipulations won’t guarantee you a great movie. Surprisingly, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender takes all my advice depite being a rotten excuse for a film: Shyamalan has said he felt a connection to the story, most people agree that the special effects are its only redeeming factor, and he did bring lots of new elements (pun absolutely intended) to the table in an attempt to benefit his audience.
Of course, my questions don’t include, “Did you read/watch your source material?”
I kind of assumed most of you did. But in case I can save one more beloved story from a slow high-definition death, I will ask you again: Read the source material. Love the Source Material. And your film will be okay.
Media: imdb.com, Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. Pictures.