Film Adaptations of Books: How Close Do Filmmakers Need to Stick to the Story?

gatsby movie posterLast Friday, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s fresh take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book The Great Gatsby was released in the theatres. Some have criticized the film because it does not share the story as Fitzgerald imagined it. Does the film need to be true to the book in order to be an accurate adaptation of the story? We asked a few of this summer’s guest speakers their thoughts on having their books being turned into films.

GBSP: Your book Animal Husbandry was made into a film starring Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman. Were you pleased with the transition from book to film? If you could change one thing and praise one thing, what would those things be?

Laura Zigman: My ten years in publishing taught me a lot about the business of publishing and the (bad) behavior of authors. I remember working at Alfred A. Knopf when a certain hugely famous writer took out full-page ads in Variety because she hated the male lead picked to star in the movie version of one of her novels. Ever since ANIMAL HUSBANDRY was adapted – and got its title changed six weeks before its release – I’ve repeated this mantra: “People have far worse problems than not loving the film version of their novel!” I mean, really?! You’re really going to complain when a film studio pays you for your book and makes a movie out of it and you don’t love every single stupid thing about it?! Of course I was disappointed by the title change and by a few things they added and changed – but not because they added things or changed things. It was because the things they added weren’t, in my opinion, funny! That said, I thought they got a lot right. Especially when I – I mean, Ashley Judd – moves into the apartment with Hugh Jackman. The moment of sitting in that sad squalid little room with the giant hole in the wall, feeling completely alone and sick with heartbreak: they got that 100% right.

GBSP: You have said that you didn’t like the film adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper. What do you wish was done differently?

Jodi Picoult: The director flat out lied to me, and said he would keep the ending, which I thought was critically important. He didn’t, and it compromised the film.

GBSP: On your website, you cast the movie of A Dual Inheritance. Is that novel the one you’d most like to see as a film? What do you feel the pluses and minuses would be of having a film made of this book?

Joanna Hershon: I actually think A Dual Inheritance would make a great television series. The pluses of having it be a film are that there are terrific parts for actors and great dramatic scenes and very cinematic backdrops. The minuses are what I actually think make the novel interesting as a novel– the action is digressive; we follow one character intensely and then we lose him for a while,sometimes years, and then we pick back up in the center of his life. Also, the action spans almost 50 years so either there would have to be either age makeup or casting a younger and older version of the characters. I think that out of all my books, SWIMMING and especially THE GERMAN BRIDE lend themselves best to a film.

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