Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why have only Five Novelists won Oscars for writing screenplays based on their books?


Why don't more novelists write the adaptations for their own novels? That's the question, and the answer, according to Lindsey Bahr in EW, is because, Gillian Flynn aside, they're not very good at it. While Flynn did it with Gone Girl and did it to great success, she's the rare exception. And that's just judging financial success as it's a little too early to predict her nomination, and certainly a win, a rarity indeed. According to Bahr only five authors have won Oscars for adapting their own work for the screen! *
Why? 

''The two big differences between books and movies are pace and perspective,'' says screenwriter and cohost of the popular Scriptnotes podcast John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). ''Novels can luxuriate in internal moments of indecision and longing. Movies keep chugging along at 24 frames per second.'' Flynn's adaptation—which August says he ''desperately wanted to write''—soars because she was willing to trim the fat, cutting subplots and even characters. 
''You start making the cuts that are really painful,'' Flynn says of her kill-your-darlings approach. ''There are certain scenes that I would just hang on to. I knew, ultimately, they were going to go. I just couldn't quite do it yet.'' Through a series of drafts and five-hour phone calls with director David Fincher—''He very much likes to see the beginning, middle, and end of a scene''—the final product came together. ''There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I'd spent two years painstakingly putting together, taking a hammer to it, bashing it apart, and reassembling it into a movie,'' she says.
The collaboration with director Fincher may have been the key. And Flynn's own experience at EW and knowledge of Hollywood may have made her a bit more savvy than the average novelist about the whole scripting process. A process that went awry somewhere along the line with Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You. I liked the movie but it didn't exactly bowl the critics over OR earn the bucks. 

Still, Bahr points out, there might be a shift coming. Rainbow Rowell is tackling the screenplay for her popular YA book, Eleanor & Park and Jess Walter is co-writing the script for the adaptation of his beautiful Beautiful Ruins novel with director Todd Field (Little Children) - which makes me a bit nervous as Field isn't exactly a screenplay A-lister either. 

''The smart novelist writes the best book she can and lets the movie be the best movie it can be,'' says August. ''There's no victory in a faithful adaptation if the result is mediocre.''

* Who are the handful of authors who won an Oscar for writing the adaptations of their own novels?
I was curious and thought you might be as well so I've been scouring around for you:

Pierre Boule, (with Carl Foreman,Michael Wilson), The Bridge Over the River Kwai, 1958 
Mario Puzo, The Godfather, 1972 
William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, 1973
Mario Puzo, The Godfather (Part 2), 1974
Michael Blake, Dances with Wolves, 1990
John Irving, The Cider House Rules, 1999





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