A different medium

You know that movie? It was based on that best selling book that was soooo good. When you read that book, that one scene just blew your mind. And that one character– if they were a real person, you would TOTALLY hook up with that hotness!

And then! They announce they’re going to make a movie from that book! Remember how excited you were? You were finally going to see your favorite scene!

But then… They didn’t pick the right actor to play your character. That sucks. What were they thinking? Still, you went to see it because you just loved the story that much.

And it sucked. The actors didn’t look anything like how you pictured them, and if they even left in your Most Important Scene, they cut it all to shreds and left out the best part! And what was that whole subplot with the romance? That wasn’t even in the story! What the hell were they thinking?

You remember that movie, right? We all do. It happens in Hollywood all the time. You know why? Because of you. Well, maybe not you as an individual, but you as part of the movie-going public.

Let’s break it down. A novel can be any length. It goes as long as it needs to tell the story it needs to tell. A movie has 90-120 minutes to tell everything. (Let’s not get into the auteurs who insist on 6-9 hour movies conveniently split into 2 or 3 theatre releases to bring in more money.) Two hours might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. How long did it take you to read that book?

What really takes up all the space in a movie is dialog and interaction. Have you ever seen a screenplay? Take a look at how narrow dialog columns are. They’re tiny! Look at that spacing! How can you possibly fit a whole story into 120 pages of THAT? This formatting is because filmmakers know that actors–hell, human beings need time to deliver what they are saying. They need time to react to what other people are saying. To tell a good story, the readers and viewers need to interact with the main character by somehow crawling into their heads. In a novel, you can literally read their thoughts. Time and again, we have seen that having a character narrate his thoughts over a scene comes off as lazy story-telling. You’re watching a movie, for goodness’ sake– you don’t want to be told, you want to see it! And that takes time.

So? In order to tell any story at all, the filmmaker is limited, right? Very little time, made even more compact by the needs of you, the audience. Stuff is going to get cut, because there simply is no way to fit it all in.

But what about how they cast the wrong actor for my favorite role? I hear you ask. Stop and think about this for a minute. We will put aside the fact that sometimes a favorite actor is dead or just too old. You logical people realize that. (The rest of you can keep dreaming, but I promise you Cary Grant is not available to play the next Batman.)

Movies are made by very busy people. A lot of them. Actors, directors, producers, lights, sound, props, continuity, costumes, makeup, hair, animal trainers, grips, best boys and girls, drivers, caterers– these are just some of the main jobs on set, not even counting all the minions, let alone the myriad of people who only show up in pre- and post-production. Omg! So many people, all of them looking for their next gig and making time in their busy schedules for this one film that you wanted to see so much. Is it any wonder that sometimes there are scheduling conflicts? Seriously, have you ever tried to find a time to meet up with 10 of your friends? Hell, I’ll bet even if you ARE together, you can’t decide what ride to take next at your favorite theme park. Not everyone will be able to come.

Or, heaven forfend!, one of the people invited hated the book? Or thought that it would impede his career. Maybe he was worried about getting typecast? Or worried that playing the bad guy would get him death threats. Our dearly beloved actors are still human beings at the end of the day, and they have sometimes reasonable, sometime ridiculous fears, just like the rest of us.

Well, what about why they add a romance where there shouldn’t be one? Because the general public wants it, plain and simple. Romance sells. Film is half art, sure, but it’s also half business because it has to be. Have you bothered paying attention to how many millions of dollars go into producing one movie?

I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve had the conversation with random people who complain about how Hollywood hasn’t had a new idea in decades–they’re just making movies from other people’s ideas. Well, sure Hollywood is, but there are tons of independent films released all the time, and I can assure you, most indie filmmakers cannot afford to license someone else’s idea. You want something new? Something you’ve never seen before? Check out the indie films. The small films. The foreign films. Go to a film festival. Different you want, different you got. And with today’s technology, these movies are getting more and more polished every year.

Vote with your dollars, and filmmakers will listen. Then thing is, up until now, what you’re getting is what has made them money in the past.

So please stop telling me the book was better. The book had all the  room and resources necessary to tell the story. The movie had to put up with schedules, budgets, and you. And you know what? At the end of the day, most of those movies are still worth the ticket price paid, because they are fun and often well done as movies.

Personally, I try to read the book after I’ve seen the movie, so that I can enjoy each individual art form for what it is.