I am a writer. I am a reader. I am a movie watcher. Sometimes none of those things align. Occasionally two of those things are connected. If I’m lucky, one day all three will come together.
In 1928 the very first Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscar) award was given for Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It went to a film titled, Seventh Heaven which was based on the play of the same name written by Austin Strong. Each year since, the award has gone to a movie based on a novel, play, short story, TV show, or even another film (sequels are automatically considered adapted screenplays). Some of the most acclaimed books of all time became Academy Award winners in this category. Library classics including To Kill A Mockingbird, Doctor Zhivago, M*A*S*H, The Godfather, All The President’s Men, Schindler’s List, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and No Country for Old Men all were turned into memorable movies that in turn were recognized by the academy. The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Schindler’s List, and No Country for Old Men also took home Best Picture honors the year they won for Writing (Adapted Screenplay). In case you’re curious Mockingbird lost to Lawrence of Arabia; Zhviago was beaten by The Sound of Music; M*A*S*H saw a different kind of war movie, Patton, take the Oscar and Men was knocked out by Rocky.
In addition to those listed above, more than a dozen other tomes, that will forever reside on my all-time favorite books list, were nominated for that most prestigious honor. Serpico, Heaven Can Wait, Field of Dreams (the Roy Kinsella Book was Shoeless Joe), About A Boy, Out of Sight, Moneyball, and Mystic River were all recognized but failed to earn the statuette. Hundreds more, that at one time or another took up space on my bookshelves, have been made into movies. Some of my favorite reads did double duty making the list of my favorite films. William Goldman’s, The Princess Bride was both a magnificent read AND a marvelous movie. I believe the same thing is true for H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s, Friday Night Lights. I liked The Bourne Identity (both the book and the movie) and felt the same about The Drop (a Dennis Lehane short story that was turned into a fantastic movie starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini).
Like many people who read, I have walked out of a movie theatre having seen a film adapted from a book I liked saying, “the book was so much better”. So there is a longer list that reveals books I enjoyed immensely that were turned into movies that I felt fell short of the mark. Neil Gaiman’s Stardust; Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife; and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha stand out. I enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer movie but would prefer to open up any of the highly entertaining works by the man who wrote the book, Michael Connelly.
Then there is my unenviable group of great books that were turned into movies that were mostly unwatchable. Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale is at the very top of this list. I’d throw The Golden Compass and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil into this group as well. One final collection for this piece’s purposes is the handful of books that I was excited about reading, then ended up struggling through and after being disappointed by the story, was adamant that I had no interest in seeing the movie. This list includes, and may even be headed by, Paula Hawkins and her, in my opinion, extremely overrated Girl on the Train.
Having gotten this far, you may be wondering… As sparingly entertaining and mildly informative as this post has been, what exactly does it have to do with anything? Allow me to proffer. As one who reads, writes books and this blog, and watches movies, I appreciate the process. A writer pens what somebody, or a whole lot of somebody’s, feel is a great story. That story can exist on the page as well as the screen. In many cases the transformation works, occasionally it works to perfection but, for me, the whole “book becoming a movie” thing usually comes up in varying degrees of “short” because there’s too much subjectivity in the mix.
The writer has the initial idea, the burst of creativity. He or she owns the story and then hands it over to the reader. That person, through imagination, puts his/her subjective spin to the words on the page during the process of reading. The “movie” the writer sees between the front and back cover isn’t the same “movie” that the reader sees. It just can’t be. In some of the novels from the aforementioned Michael Connelly he envisions the main character, Harry Bosch, one way. His way isn’t my way and I can’t imagine Titus Welliver (the talented actor who plays Bosch in the TV series) is either of our ways. But sometimes it works. For instance, the casting in No Country for Old Men was exceptional and I had no problem becoming completely absorbed by the film even after I was completely involved in the book. My guess is Cormac McCarthy was okay with it too. I had a similar reaction to the movie version of Chuck Hogan’s book, Prince of Thieves. I read it after I saw Ben Affleck’s movie The Town which was based on Hogan’s work and even though I approached the two mediums in a different order than I usually do (in this case I saw the movie first), both worked equally well for me. It is for this reason that I will look forward to watching Live by Night at a movie theatre near me. I am a Dennis Lehane fan, look forward to reading everything he writes because so far, I have not been disappointed. I know the reviews for this particular adaptation have been mixed (okay mostly bad) but I have a vision of what I think the movie should be and I’m curious if it’s close to the same vision its director Ben Affleck had.
Which brings me around to…me. I have now written two books. The first, a memoir, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) hasn’t been, and never should be made into a movie. But I feel my second effort, a mystery titled Big Flies, could be. It’s got all the elements; true crime, a son discovering things about his father and himself, and a love story too! When I was writing it, I was also watching it in my head. Seeing the words on the page as scenes in my mind. I don’t know if all, or any other, authors do this too, but I did and what I saw I thought was pretty entertaining. I didn’t visualize Ben Affleck or Matt Damon, Tom Hardy or Tommy Lee Jones, Marissa Tomei or Kate Beckinsale while I was writing my characters but now I could see movie audiences watching them, or other talented actors like them, on the big screen, in the roles I created. I’m not saying Big Flies could be No Country for Old Men but, in the right hands, I submit it certainly would be worth watching.
The Academy Awards is almost upon us again and a new crop of books, plays, short stories, TV shows or sequels could be plucked out of the hundreds of movies released in 2016 and achieve the honor of being nominated for Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Since writing Big Flies one of my aspirations is that it, the book I wrote, would make it to the big screen and thus be eligible for consideration someday too. Big dream, I know but if you don’t dream big why dream at all. Buy the book. See if it’s a movie in your mind. Maybe one day we’ll be watching it in a theater together.
Learn more about me and my books at http://www.keithhirshland.com