Are you considering the adaptation of a classic novel but are too nervous to write the screenplay? Are you worried about dedicated fans who may rip you to shreds online? Here are a list of 10 reasons that you should stop worrying and start writing…
1) THERE WILL ALWAYS BE HATERS
Ponder the idea for a moment that you succumb to the fear of adapting a classic novel and return to writing an original screenplay. Lets even presume that you are successful in getting that screenplay filmed. (Well done, you!) There will be haters, guaranteed.
Even Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, got slammed by some critics upon release. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, the “Greatest Film of the 21st Century“, has its confused and mystified naysayers. So will your film, guaranteed. So, you may as well write that movie adaptation and just go with it.
2) PUBLIC DOMAIN
Public Domain: two words that are music to a Writer and/or Producer’s ears. In most countries, creative works enter the public domain after 50-70 years after the death of the creator*. That means no legal hassle, no copyright issues, no optioning costs. You can go straight to Project Gutenberg today and download to your heart’s content. Shakespeare? Check. Conan-Doyle? Check. Dostoevsky? Check. In fact, here is a list of Project Gutenberg’s Top 100 downloaded books of which Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tops the list. Now you know how the legal issues behind the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were dealt with… there were none!
*NB: Some countries allow copyright extensions and adjustments but for relatively shorter periods of time.
3) THE STORIES ARE GREAT!
It’s a no-brainer really.
4) PRE-EXISTING AUDIENCES
Reaching an audience is one of the reasons that screenwriters and filmmakers do what they do. Attracting an audience keeps you both creatively satisfied and financially secure. Unfortunately, attracting an audience to your work is becoming more problematic. More films, TV shows, web-series and games are being produced than ever before. The adaptation of a well-loved book like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz gives you a head start with attracting an audience. It’s material they know. It’s a story they know. Why not freshen it up with a contemporary spin? (Although in the particular case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Sidney Lumet tried and failed.) For better or worse, there is strength in numbers and that goes for your audience more than ever before.
5) ADAPTATIONS ARE KING OF THE BOX OFFICE
It is an indisputable fact that novel-to-film adaptations deliver box-office. Take a look at this list of the Top 200 Box Office Films of All-Time (adjusted for inflation): sitting at the top is 1939’s Gone With the Wind based on the 1936 novel of the same name.
In third place, The Sound of Music adapted from Rogers and Hammersteins’ stage musical. In fact, of the top 10 films, only two are based on original screenplays (Star Wars and ET: The Extra Terrestrial) and the rest are adapted from other sources. Adaptations put bums on seats.
6) NO BLANK PAGE
The fear of the blank page need not necessarily be a problem with the adaptation of a novel to the screen. The original work allows you a text to work with–in fact one of the problems with adapting a book is bring the length down to a manageable screen time. That means cutting, reshaping, redrafting, combining characters, losing subplots, using metaphor and taking liberties. The blank page won’t be a problem; making it into something unique and universal is always the difficult task.
7) THE SOURCE MATERIAL GUIDES YOU
Before you begin your adaptation reread your source material. What is it about the story that you love? Is it the Plot? Characters? Theme? All of the above? Summarise on paper what appeals to you and refer to the book as a guide throughout your plotting and first draft. That’s not to say you must stick to the novel–why would you? The novel is not a screenplay. But the novel is a story and it can help you get out of a hole.
8) BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE STORY
Love. That’s why you chose to do this, isn’t it? Something about your chosen novel spoke to you in a meaningful way? Perhaps The Turn of the Screw scared the pants off you; or Peter Pan captured your inner-child; or maybe Crime and Punishment encapsulates your own life experience. Whatever the reason, there is nothing stopping you expressing the love you have for a particular story or creative work and sharing that love with the world via your own expression of its ideas.
9) TO KEEP THE STORY RELEVANT
Classic novels stay relevant when they are discovered by future generations. 10 Things I Hate About You, a cornerstone film for the disaffected Nirvana generation, shamelessly repurposed Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with great success. Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet made Shakespeare cool and Leonardo Di Caprio a household name. With both of these films, a generation of new viewers were introduced to classic works–some of them even might have been inspired enough to seek out the original and read it for themselves.
10) YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
Do you have a story bursting to come out but you don’t have the vehicle for it? You wouldn’t be alone. Many great films began with a novel but have expressed their own, very distinct themes in a different medium. Francis Ford Coppola wanted to make an anti-Vietnam war film and used Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness to do so. The final film, Apocalypse Now, resembles the source material in its man-explores-a-river form but instead makes a timely political statement about the failed Americanisation of an Asian landscape. The original novel was a mere launching point for one of the most loved movies of all time.
There is a wealth of material out there just waiting for the crafty writer to read with fresh eyes and bring it to life for a new generation. You have the (copy)right to do anything you want with public domain works. Your imagination is the limit. If you want to turn a Jane Austen novel into a Zombie movie, then there’s nothing stopping you. Just don’t make it Pride and Prejudice because that’s already been done and is now under copyright!