I was in my favorite cafe today having a celebratory basket of sweet potato fries. (I do that sometimes when I things go my way…) I scored a new job recently and a voice-over client purchased a slew of spots for an upcoming advertising campaign! $$$$ ~ Whilst enjoying my feast, I overheard a group of young ladies discussing a certain film they saw recently, and to what degree this film differed from the book it was based on. (something about “games” and being hungry – I didn’t catch all of it… I’m just happy it wasn’t another teenage/vampire/werewolf/book-to-movie vehicle…) Another girl joined the conversation asking about the difference between the book and the film. This particular girl had read the book but had not seen the movie yet. She was debating on paying for a full price ticket now, or waiting until it is released on DVD. (DVD is usually my method of choice… pause buttons work much better for bathroom and or snack breaks…) A server at the cafe overheard and joined in at that point. Conversely, she had seen the movie, but has not yet read the book. She doesn’t read much and “totally hates it when the book is so different from the movie.”
At that moment, my sweet potatoes tasted different. I felt like Charlie Brown feels when someone in the class gives the wrong answer and it affects his stomach. It took all the strength I had not to say something to these ladies about Intellectual Property laws, Copyright laws, the difference between owning the rights to a published work and adapting a screenplay based on a published work. The list goes on and on. I could bore you out of your minds with all the legal jargon… (don’t worry I will link some of it here for all you legal geeks – for all you Juris-philes out there… is that a word? It is now…) however, in most cases, there is a huge difference between the story we see in print, for those of us who like to read, and the story we see on the screen.
There is an old Rudyard Kipling quote I love using whenever possible – “Never the twain shall meet”.
Ok maybe not “never meet” but you have to admit, it is a rare occurrence that the screenplay is exactly like the book it is based on. It all depends on who owns the rights to the original story, how old the published work is, if the screenplay is in fact an “adaptation” of the book or, if the author worked closely with the filmmakers to make sure his or her work is preserved to the author’s original work. A good way to tell if the movie is going to be a carbon copy of the book is this ~ if the author of the original work is credited as an executive producer or if he or she wrote the screenplay themselves or co-wrote it. (A good example: Stephen King works along side many directors to make sure the films that are based on his books are just as confusing, long-winded and as cliche’ as the original… just kidding – but not really…) But why would you want to see a movie that is exactly like a book that already exists? Just like with annoying couples ~ if two people are exactly the same, one isn’t necessary…
Attention Movie-goers! ~ Here are some things to look for when watching a film that is also a published work (book or play).
If in the opening credits you see the phrase “based on the book…”, “based on the novel…”, “based on the play…” then what you are about to see has been adapted for the screen, written in screenplay form for the movie. The characters in the movie are based on the same characters in the book. (if you read said book) You may notice that similar things happen in the movie that happened in the book. (again… if you read it…) But then, at the end of the movie, something happens. That very thing that the young ladies in the cafe were talking about. That thing that we don’t want to hear until we see the film ourselves – the dreaded SPOILER ALERT! Or, in this case, the Spoil itself ~ THE ENDING IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE BOOK! How could they DO that?? Ruin it like that for me??? (Not me personally, I meant proverbial “me” ~ as in all of You.) If the ending is the same, then major plot points are missing or characters from the book are killed off or are missing completely – you get the picture. Either way you have disgruntled book readers who regret seeing the film.
The thing about an adapted screenplay is ~ it becomes an original work in the eyes of the law if enough changes have been made from the material is was derived from. However, you would have to see the deal on paper as to how much of the original material they choose to use. (hey ~ that rhymes…) Which brings us to the difference between Exclusive Rights and Fair Use (here comes the legal jargon…) Exclusive Rights: In the U.S., the author of the original material has exclusive ownership rights to the material for his or her lifetime plus 50 to 70 years after death. Click Here for some awesome copyright law jargon. That being said, if a movie studio offered a huge sum of money to an author for the rights to his or her material (this happens alot in hollywood kids…) based on the agreement, the studio either owns the rights to the material or will use certain characters from the material and make a movie based on characters and events from the material but ultimately having a different story altogether. ~ Fair Use.
Which is why they changed the ending to your precious book - also this is the cheaper way to go. Another cheap way to go is to simply wait (a really long ass time in many cases… it all depends on where the author of the original work comes from ~ check this out - copyright terms differ from country of origin – I learned something new today) After a published work has reached the time limit for copyright term it becomes public domain. Once the copyrighted work enters the public domain it can be used freely or exploited by anyone. (~Scary thought isn’t it?) That being said, if a movie studio has enough money, and enough time has elapsed from the original copyright date, they can make any movie they want to make and give it a real cheesy hollywood happy ending.
I am a book reader, I am also a film lover. I actually enjoy dissecting what material the movie makers left out and having discussions about such things in a cafe, or with a friend or in a blog post of all things. (can you imagine??) Some books I keep sacred because I, like the author, want to preserve what I imagined the main characters looking like in my head. The sound of their voice, their mannerisms, etc… Which is why we read books in the first place. We learn how to use our imagination from childhood reading. We fill in the gaps with our own cast of characters. I dare say that it is by this same method that young movie directors get inspired to tell stories. Not all films were based on books you know – that is why they have awards for Best Original Screenplay each year at the Oscars. (but that is a whole different blog post for another time…)
~ I am happy to report that I refrained from embarrassing the young ladies at the cafe. On any other day, they would have felt the wrath of one of my award winning rants about the origins of things, the importance of original intent, and a bunch of other stuff that would have spun off into anger about pop culture in general and the dumbing-down of our society – blah blah blah - real angry George Carlin type stuff. (but I digress… and I thank them for giving me some new material to blog about – I find inspiration in the strangest of places)
Now go read a book (kindle, nook or some other digital format you crazy kids are using these days) - or watch the adapted version on Netflix - but don’t spoil the ending for me - odds are I haven’t seen it.