From Paper to Screen - the Story of the Adapted Screenplay

16/08/2012 20:16 BST | Updated 18/02/2013 11:54 GMT

What if the Lord of the Rings was never made into a trilogy? What if the Harry Potter series never saw a screen audience? If you are one of the many who consider these movies milestones in filmmaking, then you might also agree that these were great books too. Movies made from books, novels and short stories are nothing new. The Academy Awards have been around since 1929 and since then 'Best Movie Adaption' has been one of the most coveted categories to be in. Some of the classics in the movie world have been adapted from books and novels, the best examples being Casablanca, The Godfather trilogy, Brokeback Mountain, No Country for Old Men, Gone with the Wind, Mutiny on the Bounty, etc.

So is it easier to turn a book into a movie because the story is already there on paper? That is always the case because a lot of factors decide whether a good book will be a good film or not. A book has the luxury to go into great depths about the characters in it, the plot it paints through words but a movie can be a bit restrictive due to the time constraints and the production budget. This is when a good screenplay writer, a skilled director and a clever producer form a deadly combo that helps the movie sail through an ocean where a lot of others have sunk (some critics are still embarrassed about discussing adaptations that have bombed, like the first and only film from the Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini or the really mediocre rendition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams).

The story in a book or novel can be shown from any angle and the reader can use his own imagination to complete the picture inside his head. A movie adaptation is just one person's view of how he or she perceives the story he has read. This is perhaps why a lot of bibliophiles often shun the idea of movies being made into films. For most of them, a movie spoils the imaginary world they had created inside their heads. Is it self-preservation? Who knows? But filmmakers are storytellers just like the writers that come up with these brilliant books. The difference is that they are telling someone else's story. Honestly, it's not such a bad idea because sometimes the way a story is told can make it go either way in the readers' or audience's judgement scale.

What many people, who criticize adapted screenplays, often forget is that the filmmakers are also fans of the book, just like the other readers. Francis Ford Coppola would have never made The Godfather if he did not like Mario Puzo's work. The movie actually adds to the flavour of the book by painting a whole new picture for the audience who has already loved the book. Would anyone have imagined Vito Corleone as a heavy voiced Marlon Brando when reading the book? I seriously doubt that. Brando used cotton buds in his mouth to perfect the idea of Corleone he had and now the world knows that idea as the only one. This is the power of good movies.

Sometimes, a well made movie adaptation often ramps up the sale of the original novel which might not have been that widely circulated. A very recent example is Jason Reitman adapting the novel 'Up in the Air' which was written by Walter Kirn back in 2001. Not many people knew about the book before they saw George Clooney epitomize the role of Ryan Bingham as he flew around United States firing people from their jobs while collect a million frequent flyer miles. When Alexander Payne turned 'Sideways' into a critics and audiences applauded. The lead actor Paul Giamatti almost won the Oscar for his hilarious portrayal of the unsuccessful writer travelling along California's wine country with his friend. The examples of Brando, Clooney and Giamatti tell us one thing for sure - movie adaptations need actors who can bring new life into the characters they portray. Before Andy Serkis lent his voice and body mapping imagery to the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, nobody in the LOTR universe realised Gollum's eyes and body language were as important as his speech.

Often directors and adapted screenplay writers have to make certain changes in the story they choose to make the plot more camera friendly. Such creative liberties have often been met with harsh criticism from the fans of the books.

People often ask why Steven Spielberg left out the love affair between Cooper and Chief Brody's wife in 'Jaws' or why the character of Tom Bombadil was entirely removed from the LOTR movie trilogy. They believe that taking such creative liberties is not fair to the writers and fans of the books. What they often forget is that it is the writers who sold the rights for movie adaptations and the fans always have the books to fall back on in case the movies do not impress them.

Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 for his novel, Life of Pi. The story revolves around a boy who survives 227 days on a boat which he shares with a Bengal Tiger. The plot deals with human nature, how man perceives animals and also how one controls the animalistic urges within. There are a lot of sequences in the book which are straight out of pure fantasy. Now, in 2012, noted director, Ang Lee is about to release the movie adaptation for the Martel's book. The trailer has been up for a couple of months now and the verdict on that is mostly positive. The visuals and the special effects have not gone unnoticed. The fans of the book have matured up to accept that the film adaptation deserves a shot at being watched before being judged. The movie releases this December and until then we wait. For now, all that can be said is, it's a good thing the movie is being made now, now that the studios can combine a good story with the digital effects to make a show out of what started out as a few pieces of paper.