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Books, Movies, and Meatballs

Pretty much every published novelist I’ve met gets asked, “Do you have a movie deal yet?” I like to daydream about a goblin movie (animated) or a princess film, but as many of you know, authors usually have exactly zero control over whether or not a movie deal happens.

But would you really want one? Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to movie adaptations. Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s piece How the SciFi Channel Wrecked My Books. The Onion’s AV Club has a piece on 20 Good Books Made Into Bad Movies, and there are plenty more films that could be added to their list.

Even knowing there’s a decent chance of disaster, I’d have very little hesitation about signing a movie deal (assuming a good offer were put before me).

1. Movies Sell Books. No matter how brilliant or how awful the movie, the fact is, it would increase sales of my books. Maybe not a lot, if the movie truly sucked, but even a horrendous film would increase awareness of the books and lead to a bump in sales.

2. Movies Are Not Books. I’ve already told my stories. The movie is not, cannot be the same story. Similar, yes (at least most of the time … I’m looking at you, I, Robot!) But my books are my books. The movies won’t change that. The movies aren’t mine. They belong to the director, the scriptwriters, the producers, the actors … and yes, some part of that movie is mine, but the thing as a whole is not my story. Nor would I expect it to be.

3. I Like Money. Crass commercialism? Sure. I have two kids to put through college, a mortgage, etc. A really good movie deal might even put me in a position where I could consider going full time as a writer. So yes, I would be willing to take Hollywood’s money.

It’s point #2 that sticks with me. I don’t necessarily expect the movie to be completely true to the book, and sometimes straying from the book makes it a better movie. Ever compared Shrek to the book it came from?

Or take Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is one of the most fun and underappreciated films I’ve seen in ages. Whoever did the original advertising campaign should be fired. Into orbit. The commercials were awful, but I love this film. Mister T plays a cop whose chest hairs tingle to warn him of danger. Neil Patrick Harris plays a monkey named Steve whose battle against the Gummi Bears is one of the best fight scenes of all time. This film revels in its ridiculousness, and I love it.

It is quite different than the book. The cast and crew made this story their own, and it worked.

Sure, when they do this, there’s a chance they’ll fail. The risk of failure exists with every movie, every TV show. Would I be disappointed if they turned Goblin Quest into the next Smurfs? Definitely. Would I be pissed if The Stepsister Scheme movie whitewashed or straightened Talia’s character? I’d be furious.1

But that wouldn’t change my story. It wouldn’t affect the books I had written. And while there’s always risk, there’s also the chance my book could become the next Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, with Neil Patrick Harris playing the voice of Smudge.

  1. If I knew for a fact that they were going to do this to Talia’s character, I wouldn’t take that deal.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
It's interesting watching people's reaction to superhero movies too ... the people who aren't as familiar with the comics seem to enjoy the movies more, whereas those who really know and are invested in the comics have a harder time with all the liberties taken in the film.
Sep. 8th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
I like some movies specifically because they are different from the books. In a lot of ways I think they should stand alone. That is part of the reason I disagree with one of the list of 20. Stardust, the movie, is very charming and sweet, and dark as well. It is different from the book, and that is a lot of what makes it work for me (and I love the book).

That said ... my brother was at the premiere for Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Tom Robbins spent the evening wandering around with a fixed grin on his face repeating over and over "we're very proud".

And I so agree with Cloudy ... it was marvelous. I need to add that to the collection. Everyone in the family liked it, kids and all.
Sep. 8th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
::runs off to read the article::

Wow, they are completely the opposite of my opinion on Stardust. The movie has its weaknesses, but was quite enjoyable in general and at times brilliant. The book was, imo, weak tea.
(no subject) - jimhines - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
Point of art: the one piece of good advice I've had from an author who had one of their books turned into a movie was, "make sure you get the right to use publicity stills and quotes from the movie on the cover of your book". It doesn't cost the film studio anything so they'll say "yes", and your publisher will thank you from the depths of their soul (as will the wallets of 50-100,000 new readers). But you've got to ask in advance and get it written into the contract. Asking when the movie is about to go on general release is too late (and it's easier for them to say "no" than to think about what you're asking for).

Edited at 2011-09-08 01:54 pm (UTC)
Sep. 8th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
Yes. I've heard that too, and it makes total sense. Thanks! I hope to be able to put that advice to use someday :-)
Sep. 8th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
Hollywood money sure would be hard to turn down. It's the kind of thing that would make a comfortable existence. But mostly, yeah, when people get bent out of shape about movies not being exactly the same as the books they are based off, I shake my head. Books aren't scripts. They aren't designed inherently to become movies. I'm happy when the people making a movie get the spirit of the book right. I don't need a perfect scene by scene translation. But I do need, at the end of the movie, to have the same kind of experience as I would have had reading the book. If the book left me in awe, I want the movie to do the same. If the book left me in tears, I hope the movie will too. That's how I measure if they did a good job turning any novel into a movie.
Sep. 8th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
That makes sense, and seems like a reasonable standard.

I wonder if Hollywood needs to come up with a clearer distinction between "based on" and "inspired by" for these things...
Sep. 8th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
They might pull a Snape on Talia. Could you live with that?

I think at least the first goblin movie would be good. I wasn't really much for the sequel Potter films, all things considered, but I loved the first one. When I was a child, come first Thanksgiving and then Christmas, they would air "holiday" movies on WWOR-9, like Yellow Submarine(!) and Miracle of 34th Street. The first Harry Potter film would have fit rather nicely in with them.

I see the Princess series as fitting in with a more mature audience than the goblin ones, because of some of the themes/ If they really did unrecognizably alter Talia, I would be well and truly pissed, because then she would not actually be Talia, would she? And I'm just a reader.

I mean, I expect some things will change, but if you're going to change an important subplot, well... That was one of M Knight's things with Avatar. THe racebending was one thing, but making it sound like no Avatar ever got married, well, that changes the story completely, ignores plot points like Zuko being Avatar Roku's great-grandson and Aang's budding relationship with Katara, and...

At least, I could live with Rickman softening up Snape a bit, because that really did not detract from the story. Maybe they could soften up Talia a bit, but if they made her something she isn't....that would completely bite, because that ends up being an integral part of the overall plot, too.
Sep. 8th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
but making it sound like no Avatar ever got married, well, that changes the story completely,

I missed that when I caught it on Netflix (I already paid for the download), but it was so damn hard to watch that I probably missed a lot more than just that.

(no subject) - snapes_angel - Sep. 8th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, pretty much.

I grew up on Disney, and...I dunno. Ninety percent of the time, I can think of any adaptations or expansions as existing in an alternate universe from the original. Disney takes on fairy tales? Sure. Secret of NIMH suddenly has a magic plot amulet? Fine by me! Brian Lumley's series where Cthulhu has a good twin brother? Entertaining, particularly as I've always been more a Lovecraft Lite girl myself. I adapt pretty easily. Even I, Robot didn't bug.

The other ten percent of the time, it's the Dark Is Rising, or it's Two Towers, and both of those pissed me off. I have my theories as to why--taking an awesome character and injecting him full of emo and fail like some kind of horrific Bane-style steroid is big on the list for both--but couldn't definitively explain it.
Sep. 8th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
...as I forget the second part of my post. Damn morning.

If someone offered me a movie deal for Hickey of the Beast or No Proper Lady , I'd totally take it. There are a couple things I'd want to insist on as far as possible--no whitewashing Connie, no chickifying either Connie or Joan--but by and large...money is good, the books are still there, and if the movie came out crap-tastic, I'd get some friends and some drinks and have a good time.
(no subject) - roseaponi - Sep. 8th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - finnyb - Sep. 9th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
You know, the odd thing is that I've seen a couple of anime series that were adaptations of novels that didn't work for me because they were too close to the novels. Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars in anime from has the most horrid pacing problems as the writers try to stretch too little material to cover the whole series. I can also see leaving things out if you need to make something that can stand alone; or adding things for the same reason.

(Though I agree with you on the whitewashing and straightwashing. That's just not called for.)
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
I've run into that too, where the movie tries too hard to match the book too closely, and it falls apart. What works on the page doesn't always translate to the screen.
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Sep. 8th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
True ... but paying off my mortgage would have the power to make me happy again :-)

Smart-ass response aside, I think I get what you're saying, and I respect where you're coming from.
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Following movie deal news is probably just as exciting/stressful for the fans as for the author. I've been following TA Barron's quest for a movie deal for a few years now and the suspense is killer - and that's just my view. Despite how the actual movie turns out, it's kind of a badge of honor to have the fandom picked up and expanded as a (decent) movie (the only exception I will make is the Dragonlance animated movie, aha).

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is definitely a great stand out film. I loved the book as a kid, but it's mostly visual nostalgia for me. Since they referenced the original drawings in the movie that just made it three times better.

On the topic of LotR, I think the soundtrack is the best thing to come out of the movie deals. It makes great reading music. :)
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
I somehow missed the Dragonlance movie. Was it really that bad?

::Blinks:: I hadn't even considered the soundtrack aspect. Dang it, now I want to hear a soundtrack for Goblin Quest! (Assuming they didn't completely screw it up, of course.)
(no subject) - huit - Sep. 8th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roseaponi - Sep. 8th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
I've discovered that my sensitivity to major changes is usually inversely proportionate to how much I liked the book. "The Two Towers" and "Prince Caspian" were both very much NOT my favorite books of their respective series, so while the changes were occasionally jarring, they didn't hamper my enjoyment. In "Escape to Witch Mountain," the movie!Tia is more powerful than movie!Tony, whereas book!Tia can't even communicate without book!Toni. Since the latter is incredibly skeevy, in that case I actually like the movie *better*.

"The Seeker" on the other hand, I refused to watch because I love The Dark is Rising and the movie makers clearly just wanted to bank off it without really *getting* what the book was about. (Of course, the fact that it was WALDEN making the movie and the series is deeply rooted in Pagan Celtic mythology probably made that inevitable. *sigh* Walden was the right choice for the Narnia films, even did pretty darn well with Bridge to Terabithia, but whoever let them get their hands on TDIR deserves to be paintballed. With really disgusting colors.)

One thing I've always found interesting is the case of Agatha Christie. Maybe it was being a mystery writer and liking to surprise her audience that made her so philosophical about it, but she always made changes to her OWN work when she adapted it for another medium. Sometimes major ones, like adding and deleting characters or even changing whodunnit.

Edited at 2011-09-08 04:32 pm (UTC)
Sep. 8th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that about Agatha Christie, but I like that idea, and it makes sense -- especially for mysteries.

I've been disappointed by the Narnia movies, and I'm still not 100% sure why they haven't worked. I wonder if they're trying too hard to match certain parts of the books, though...
(no subject) - finnyb - Sep. 9th, 2011 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
I've sometimes contemplated what would happen if one of my authors got a movie deal. I'd hope I'd be able to talk them through these three points, because they're exactly where my brain goes when I think of book-to-movie.
Sep. 8th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
For a good deal, yeah. I've seen some really crappy offers, and that's a whole other mess, but a legitimate, fair offer to option my work? I'm there.
(no subject) - firynze - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
So I take it this is not, in fact, a thing that's happening? ;)
Sep. 8th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
Nope. That rumor first popped up back in 2006 or so. It amuses me that it's still showing up on my Google alerts from time to time :-)
(no subject) - evewithanapple - Sep. 8th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - phantom_wolfboy - Sep. 8th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evewithanapple - Sep. 8th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC)
Posting here to share the love for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Until that film, I wasn't sure a decent movie COULD be made of a picture book, unless you want to count a case like Shrek where a lot of people didn't know about the book.

On the other hand, I look at THE SEEKER I mean The Dark Is Rising, The Golden Compass, and to a lesser extent the Narnia movies (which never felt as convincing to me as the books or even the old animated film,) and sigh.
Sep. 8th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
Also loved Cloudy :)

I watched Golden Compass, very pretty, but beneath the CGI shellac, rather empty of good stuff. Then I bought the whole Pullman series, prepared for it to be a good read to have the fan base to make the glossy movie possible, and... bleh. That's a whole other rant. :-/
(no subject) - jimhines - Sep. 8th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Sep. 8th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roseaponi - Sep. 9th, 2011 12:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 8th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
FYI -- I'm not sure what the two footnotes-with-links are supposed to do, but whatever it is, they don't seem to be doing it either here or on your source blog.
Sep. 8th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
The "1" on the footnote simply pulls your screen down to that footnote, and the return symbol at the end of the note takes you back. It doesn't work on LJ, but does work on the main blog at jimchines.com. At least, it's working properly for me.
(Deleted comment)
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