Last month I wrote about growing up in the film industry and mentioned that I have written screenplays on occasion. Yesterday, a good friend of mine mentioned that he saw the Vampire Academy film. Young Timmy loved the novels and was looking forward to seeing the film. Alas, he was disappointed, and asked: Why aren’t movies ever as good as the books?
The short answer: Movies spoon-feed you visual candy, whereas books cause you use your imagination. Can it be that simple? Yes and no. Part of it has to do with how the brain processes information and part of it has to do with understanding that a film adaptation is a translation of a novel.
Let’s first consider how the brain processes information. It processes feelings first, thoughts second, and emotion third. When we watch films, we’re observers of prepackaged information and the first step, feeling, is skipped. We are not required to process feelings. Our visual cortexes are fed a series of images that generate thoughts that are then followed by emotion. When we read a book, we’re required to use our imagination. It takes over to create images in the mind’s eye and we feel what we read, have thoughts about it, and then we emote. Using your imagination is the primary reason reading is a far richer experience than watching a film. And your imagination is the best BFF you’ll ever have. When you read a book, you explore it, cultivate it, and own it.
Now let’s consider how a novel is adapted to film. A novel tells a story. Contrary to popular belief, at its core, a screenplay does not tell a story. It is a set of instructions to a director, cast, and crew on how to create images of a story. It’s a translation of sorts and we’re left without the benefit of the detail included in storytelling. In order to demonstrate the difference, I took a scene from Omorphi and adapted it to screenplay format. You be the judge.
First, the adaptation to screenplay format:
INT. CHRISTY’S CABIN – DAY
BANGING on the front door.
CHRISTY walks out of the BATHROOM.
The banging gets LOUDER.
Christy removes TOWEL from his HEAD and wraps it around his WAIST as he walks across the living room.
MICHAEL GESTURES Christy back and speaks into the PHONE.
“I don’t know, Mom. Hang on.”
Michael GUIDES Christy to stand aside the DOOR.
(To the door)
“Who is it?”
LOUD BANGING continues.
“You need a peephole.”
Michael walks to the WINDOW.
“I don’t know, Mom. Just hang on.”
Michael cracks the PINE SHUTTERS.
We see part of a DELIVERYMAN’S UNIFORM through the window.
INT. CHRISTY’S CABIN – DAY
“Are you expecting a delivery?”
Christy SHAKES his HEAD (rapidly).
“Hang on, Mom. I’m going to answer the door.”
Michael places the his FOOT against the BOTTOM of the DOOR and OPENS it.
The WINDOW behind Christy EXPLODES.
Someone pushes the DOOR into Michael (hard). Michael trips backward. The phone flies from his hand.
JASON enters. Jason aims a GUN at Michael’s chest and FIRES.
Michael turns. BULLET to the arm.
FLAMES race across the FLOOR and up Christy’s LEG. Christy’s TOWEL ignites.
TAD enters and tackles Jason from behind, taking ALL THREE OF THEM to the FLOOR.
Michael struggles, his WOUNDED ARM useless.
“Get the gun!”
TWO SECURITY GUARDS join the fight. The GUN FIRES again.
“Keep him down! Keep him down!”
Christy SWATS at the FLAMES on his hip with a HAND.
Michael fights his way out from beneath Jason and the guards.
Michael goes to Christy and rips the BURNING TOWEL from Christy’s waist.
FLAMES arc from Christy’s THIGH.
Michael removes TOWEL (#2) from his own WAIST and SMOTHERS FLAMES on Christy’s thigh.
FLAMES on the floor and wall grow large.
Michael lifts Christy and CARRIES him to KITCHEN AREA. Michael sets Christy on COUNTER. Michael turns SINK TAP on and SOAKS TOWEL (#2) in WATER. Michael wraps it around Christy’s BURNED HIP.
SHRIEKS (in the background)
(Shouts) “Do you have a fire extinguisher? Christy?”
Christy does not respond. Michael cups Christy’s FACE with both HANDS.
Michael KISSES Christy’s lips gently.
“Christy, are you in there? I need to know if you
have a fire extinguisher. Come on, come on, come
back to me.”
As we see from the above, there is no emotion infused into the instructions. We don’t know how any of the characters feels. All we know from the above is that each action line represents a different shot. Each shot must be set up and the above scene would take a day at the very least to complete, more likely, two days. A very expensive scene for three minutes of film. It’s no surprise that we call these “money shots” and sometimes scenes such as these are altered to save money or are entirely omitted from the film.
Now, the same scene from the book:
Christy walked out of the bathroom and looked at Michael, equally surprised by the loud noise. The banging became insistent and hard enough to rattle the hardware. Christy took the towel from his head and wrapped it around his waist as he headed across the room. Michael stayed him with a hand on his arm.
“I don’t know, Mom. Hang on.”
Michael guided Christy to stand behind the door.
“Who is it?” Michael called.
The banging continued, insistent and loud.
“You need a peephole.” Michael moved to the front window. “I don’t know, Mom. Just hang on.” Michael cracked the pine shutters and peered out. All that he could see was part of a uniform. It looked like a deliveryman from one of those overnight courier services. “Are you expecting a delivery?”
Christy shook his head.
“Hang on, Mom. I’m going to answer the door.” Michael placed the ball of his foot against the base of the door and opened it slightly, and the window behind Christy exploded. The door slammed into Michael, and he tripped backward, the phone flying from his hand as Jason aimed a gun at his chest and fired.
Michael’s quick reflexes had him turning, avoiding a bullet to the chest but not to the arm.
Flames raced across the floor and up Christy’s leg and the towel around his waist ignited.
Tad tackled Jason from behind, taking them to the floor. Michael caught Jason’s gun hand in his own, but his wounded arm was useless, and his fingers were numb. “Get the gun!”
Two more security guards joined the fight, and the gun fired again. “Keep him down! Keep him down!” a guard shouted.
Christy batted at the flames on his hip and made desperate mewling noises.
“Christy!” Michael fought his way out from beneath Jason and the guards and ripped the burning towel from Christy’s waist. Flames continued to flick from his thigh, and Michael tore the towel from his own waist and smothered them. The flames on the floor and wall grew large, licking the air as if in an effort to reach Christy. Michael lifted him out of harm’s way and carried him to the kitchen counter. He quickly soaked the towel in cold water and wrapped it around Christy’s burned hip and thigh.
Jason shrieked and fought the guards like a wild animal, and Michael couldn’t believe three guys were having a hard time holding him down.
“Do you have a fire extinguisher? Christy?”
Michael’s shouted questions went unheard. Christy had gone to that faraway place again.
Michael cupped his face. “Christy?” He kissed him gently. “Christy, are you in there? I need to know if you have a fire extinguisher. Come on, come on, come back to me.”
Christy began to scream.
If you comment with your favorite scene from Omorphi below, I’ll do a brief screenplay adaptation for you and it will become ever clearer on why watching films can rarely compare to reading a book. See you next month on Monday, March 17th! And just for fun: 10 Book-to-Movie Adaptations that Should Have Never Been Made
Available from: Harmony Ink Press
Όμορφη. Ómorphi. Greek. Meaning pretty
Pretty. adj. /pritē/ Pleasing by delicacy or grace
High school senior Michael Sattler leads a charmed life. He’s a star athlete, has great friends, and parents who love him just the way he is. What’s missing from his life is a boyfriend. That’s a problem because he’s out only to his parents and best friend. When Michael accidentally bumps into Christy Castle at school, his life changes in ways he never imagined. Christy is Michael’s dream guy: smart, pretty, and sexy. But nothing could have prepared Michael for what being Christy’s boyfriend would entail.
Christy needs to heal after years of abuse and knows he needs help to do it. After the death of his notorious father, he leaves his native Greece and settles in upstate New York. Alone, afraid, and left without a voice, Christy hides the myriad scars of his abuse. He desperately wants to be loved and when he meets Michael, he dares to hope that day has arrived. When one of Michael’s team-mates becomes an enemy and an abuser from Christy’s past seeks to return him to a life of slavery, only Michael and Christy’s combined strength and unwavering determination can save them from the violence that threatens to destroy their future together. Read an excerpt of Omorphi
Available from: Harmony Ink Press
Caleb had one mission in life.
To keep his boyfriend safe.
They met at ten, kissed at twelve, and were madly in love by eighteen. Caleb Deering is the captain of the swim team and the hottest senior in school. He comes from a loving home with a kind father and a caring, but strict, mother who is battling breast cancer. Nico Caro is small and beautiful, and has a father who rules with an iron fist—literally. One morning Caleb forgets himself, and he pecks Nico on the lips at school. A teacher sees them and tattles to the Headmaster. The accidental outing at school might be the least of their problems, because the ball set in motion by the school’s calls to their parents could get Nico killed. In the face of that very real danger, Caleb knows he has only one mission in life: to keep Nico safe. Read an excerpt of Safe.
Other posts by Cody or about Cody’s books on Sid Love’s Blog:
Cody Kennedy on Writing and Attention Deficit Disorder
Guest Blogger, Cody Kennedy on Growing Up in Hollywood
Omorphi’s Blog Tour
Safe’s Blog Tour
Elizabetta’s Review of Omorphi