10 Things That Can Harsh Your Book-to-Movie Buzz

The biggest hope of many authors these days is having a book adapted to film. Screw the Big 6/5/4 (whatever) Publishers. When there’s a starburst on your book cover that reads “Now a major motion picture,” you’ve really made it.

Still, few authors are going to have the kind of clout needed to call the shots about translating the book to the screen. That is very likely going to mean the movie will be different from the book, and WAY different than you imagined it.

An author’s artistic integrity is a precious thing. We also hope that a great movie will drive book sales even higher.

Sadly, Hollywood doesn’t always get it right. Here is my list of the top ten different ways Hollywood can snatch failure from the jaws of success in making an adaptation:

Changing the ending
They decide that the poignant, painstakingly crafted ending you wrote for the book just doesn’t translate to the big screen. This happens quite often. They might want a character you killed off in the book to live in the movie, or somebody who lives in the book might be killed off in the movie or they might replace the quiet and moving death scene at the end with an explosion. Hollywood likes explosions.

Combining/eliminating/adding characters
They do this every once in a while. Why? Who knows? Maybe they were over budget. So don’t be surprised if that sage advice given by Pepe the gardener in your book comes instead from the hybridized character of the gardener/basketball coach/bartender when they make the movie.

Changing your characters’ dialogue
Even if they agree to allow you write the screenplay, it doesn’t mean they won’t have their own writer just “punch up” the dialogue a bit. “A bit” is Hollywoodese for “beyond recognition.” Sometimes this happens because they have a big-name actor who has a tagline he likes to work into every movie. Still, I’ll be back might not work as well as Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Eliminating parts of the story line
Sometimes we write in a character as a foil for our main character. Let’s say our main character spent some time recovering from wounds he received during the Vietnam War and he developed a relationship with a nurse, whose care and compassion changed him forever. Yeah, that will all be replaced by a tattoo and two lines of dialogue.
“What’s that tattoo?”
“That’s to remind me of a nurse who once took care of me. Her care and compassion changed me forever.”

Adding story lines
They might do this to make the good guy gooder or the bad guy badder, but even worse is when they say they like your story about a woman farmer struggling to make ends meet during the great depression, but they have one little twist: zombies!

It can be a hard pill to swallow if you had always envisioned Colin Farrell  and Scarlett Johanssen  as your main characters and they instead cast Clint Howard and Rachel Dratch. If you don’t know who these people are, you’ll probably be just fine. Probably.

Changing the time period or setting
So your book was a contemporary tale about a British woman in a loveless marriage who finds herself stranded in Paris. It still works if it’s a Brooklyn girl stranded in Alabama during the civil rights movement, right? No? How about if we add zombies?

Including gratuitous scenes
You know that one scene in about 90% of movies where someone walks into the wrong room and a topless woman screams in surprise and doesn’t quite manage to cover herself? Yeah, that scene wasn’t in the book.

Changing the underlying theme, message, or moral
This may be done for reasons of political correctness, or to capitalize on a popular fad. Just don’t be surprised if your message about protecting the rainforest is tweaked to the importance of protecting the rainforest from zombies.

Using the wrong production vehicle
Most of us probably imagine a live-action version of our books with real actors, but that is not the only option available to Hollywood studios. You could end up with an animated feature, a Muppet version of your book, or even claymation. Dang. Claymation zombies are the worst.

Ultimately, you’ll have little control over what the visionaries do with your book. You’ll just have to cry yourself to sleep after rolling around on a big pile of cash like Scrooge McDuck, and count yourself lucky if they don’t turn it into a musical.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

36 thoughts on “10 Things That Can Harsh Your Book-to-Movie Buzz”

  1. Now, imagine that the book-turned-film is a memoir, and they contort and distort your storyline until the truth of what happens dissolves into a complete fiction. They add a disclaimer, “Based on a true story.”

    I just hope they pay me enough to get a bunker in Montana I can hide in, so I don’t have to keep telling people, ‘That is not what happened’ for the rest of my life, lol!

    I shudder to think what the Hollywood machine would do. Several who have read my book said it made them think differently when they heard the word ‘stripper.’ No doubt a typical Hollywood treatment would only serve to reinforce the stereotypes.

    But again, this is a problem I welcome wholeheartedly! 😉

  2. A lot of that happened in the movie based on my book, Obituary Column, right down to changing the title twice, neither made sense. Even having Robert Loggia and Sam Hennings in it didn’t help from what I have seen in the trailer. I can see why they add some things to make it better suited for a theatrical release, but most things they add are pure bull (to use a cleaner word than I’d like to use).

  3. Yes, these are the problems I look forward to having one day. 🙂

    Once you give someone else license to use the characters, things change. At least movies are finite. I always wonder what happens when your book becomes a TV series, like True Blood or Game of Thrones. They’re adding new storyline, changing things, and adding actors, and it seems like you’d have to view almost as something inspired by your work, rather than your work.

    Here’s an interesting interview with World War Z author, who says the movie is nothing like his book.

    (p.s. If I could get dinner with Brad Pitt, I’d happily accept any changes someone wanted to make to my book for the movie version).

  4. I happened to meet Robert Bausch. Almighty Me, his third novel, was published in 1991. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers praised it highly. He sold the rights to Hollywood Films and it became Bruce Almighty the movie…which he abhorred! He was given no credit and told me the movie was an embarrassment to him and that he received almost nothing monetarily.I never have read the book, so I can’t speak to how it differs from the movie. I only remember him being so appalled by the finished product. My book, Confessions of a Corporate Slut drew interest from Warner Brothers for a TV series and I worked with the screenwriters in LA. I had to add a whole other character…because you need a gay character to be involved these days, I’m told. No problem! The production company asked if I wanted to be actively involved…hells yes! If not as a writer as a consultant! But it got kicked back, sadly. I never forgot Mr. Bausch and his nightmare of putting something on the screen that didn’t remotely resemble his work.

      1. Yeah, but I had a blast working with these screen writers…totally different skill set and I learned a lot. I was thrilled that it got as far as it did…very humbled and like you said…who knows? Maybe the next book 🙂

  5. This article is hilarious. I just hope there are no zombies living in the ocean to haunt the film of my story. But then perhaps they’d just turn all my dolphin characters into humans for the film version. Good dolphin actors are SO hard to find after all.
    BTW I just received the signed contract for my book to be translated and published in Czechoslovakia.Ripple is no longer just a self-published book. She’s entering the world of trad-pub like my children’s books.

  6. “Major motion picture”? I’d settle for a minor motion picture. Heck, I’d settle for the local dinner theater turning it into a musical….

    Seriously, I’m impressed with the stories some of you are telling. It would be awesome to get that close to Hollywood, even if the movie never happened. 🙂

  7. I’m with Lynne on this, and as James Elroy is reported to have said when asked what he thought of the changes that were made to his books in the movies made of them, “The money they’re paying me, they can do whatever they like,” or words to that effect.

    Excellent post, Stephen.

  8. Great post, lots of fun! Sad but true. Anyone here read A Prayer for Owen Meany and seen the movie Simon Birch? They changed it so much, they weren’t even allowed to keep the names the same. However, seeing as how APFOM is my favorite book on the planet, I can see why it would be difficult to make into a movie–it needs a mini-series at least!
    I have heard that Stephen King said something to the effect that once you sell a book to the movies, it’s completely out of your control and it becomes a totally different thing. I believe it. I think you’d have to just take the money and turn away, never looking back. It would be painful to see your “baby” turned into a Steven-Segal-with-zomibies popcorn movie.

  9. Great article! As I am slowly navigating down that path. Just got a Black List review of my script, and now it will be back to work fixing the stuff they found wrong. Good criticism though, and it did pay to have someone-not me-look at it and see the flaws. I only hope I can get it Hollywood approved sometime before I’m old and gray.

  10. So many of my readers have said to me, “This would make a great movie,” but it’s really just a throwaway compliment to me that they haven’t really thought about too much. It could only be done via animation and that is prohibitively expensive and even then there are difficulties. For example, the story itself bars all music from the first third of the film and requires it to be distorted for the middle third.Sound is allowed but just not anything recognisable as music so they’d have to use sounds from nature in place of music.Who would be prepared to risk such weird restrictions in a story that is essentially about music ?

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