Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Would you let them make a movie out of your book?

I know it's probably not something I'm ever likely to have to worry about, but I do occasionally wonder about what I'd do if someone came up and offered me lots of money for the film rights for one of my books.

You'd think that working out the answer would be pretty easy. Why wouldn't I just say yes on the spot? After all, it would likely offer a far more lucrative stream of income than the books on there own. And besides, heaps of people who've read my book have commented on how they thought it would work really well as an animation.

But I'm still not convinced that it's exactly what I want, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I'd be concerned about doing justice to my story. I know that sounds like a terribly arrogant thing to say. But so often, I've gone to see movies based on books I love and been terribly disappointed. Even highly regarded adaptations, such as the Lord of the Rings movies, failed to me to capture the spirit and complexity that make the books so wonderful.

The second reason is more personal. Partly it's a reflection on how much of myself I put into my writing. I have a strong sense of ownership of my storylines and my characters. But I love the way that as I start to pick up readers, I can share that ownership with them. It's been an amazing thing to hear from readers about how they've embraced my characters, even finding new dimensions to them I hadn't thought of. It's real bond, directly between myself and the readers.

But a movie would change that. I'm fully aware of how many different people it takes to make a movie. Directors and producers and actors, plus probably a bunch of other writers to adapt the prose into a screenplay. Maybe it's just the control freak in me but I hate the idea of losing control of my characters to all these people, and having them come between me and my readers. And I can speak a little bit from experience here. I've done quite a bit of writing for theatre (comedy sketches) and have also studied scriptwriting for both film and television, so I have some idea of what can happen to an idea from its original form to the final work.

The final reason is to do with the idea of imagination. To me, books are the most imaginative medium there is. Readers are free to conjure up visions of the worlds of the novel and its characters. Each might have a different idea of how a character looks or sounds, or exactly how a location appears. But once it's made into a film, imagination goes out the window. You have someone else's vision imposed on you, and it may be hard to replace that in the future.

So these are the reasons I made a pact with myself quite a while ago. My stories are mine and mine alone to share with my readers. If ever a film producer came to me offering big money for the rights, I'd thank them kindly, say how flattered I am and then show them the door.

At least that's what I tell myself. Sometimes, when I think of what I could do with the money and how it could enable me to live the writing life I've dreamed of, I have a feeling that I might be prepared to be a little bit flexible.


  1. Absolutely, with one caveat. I'd have to have a hand in the screenplay. Especially the last one I wrote. G'Day L.A. is set in Hollywood and perfect property for a movie. Weinstein, are you listening?

  2. None of my writing is particularly cinematic but I could – and have – imagined my work on the small screen. I would have no problems handing over the task of adaptation to someone competent. Even if I was interested I work too slow to get that gig besides I’ve moved on from all those characters and I’m not sure I would be the best person to do the job; I’m not the man I was when I wrote the books. Better I get on with something new.

    As for them changing the story the simple fact is that in order to squeeze a novel into a 90-minute-sized hole compromise is necessary; it becomes a thing in its own right. My main reason for being willing to have that happen is that is would encourage readers to check out the original text. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a very different thing to Ken Kesey’s novel but both work in fact often films get criticised for following the source material too closely because what works on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen and as much as I enjoyed Watchmen it did have the feel of an animated book rather than a film in its own right.