Issue 2: Reflections on Adaptation

OnWritingONLINE gathered Israel Horovitz (Sunshine), Doug McGrath (Emma), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (A Room with a View), Richard Wesley (Native Son), and moderator Richard Vetere (The Third Miracle) at the WGAE offices to explore the challenges of transforming material created for another medium into a successful and enduring motion picture.

Reflections on Adaptation – Part 1

In this first of two webisodes, the writers explore the rewards and the pitfalls of adapting someone else’s original concept for the screen. They share some of their most effective breakthroughs, as well as a few of the red flags they’ve discovered along the way.

Reflections on Adaptation – Part 2

In Part 2, the screenwriters address the issue of responsibility – not only to the original writer, but to an audience who may come to a film with their own expectations. They reflect on navigating the fine line between remaining “true to the spirit of the story” and what some may view as a “betrayal” of the original material.

Reflections on Adaptation: Monographs

Reflections on Adaptation – Monograph: Israel Horovitz

“My agent called me and said ‘I think you’d be really great for this project (Sunshine). It’s an Istvan Szabo film’… I said ‘Yeah… I think it would be a great honor.’ What came to me was about an eight hundred page miniseries that he had written for television that was too expensive. Didn’t get made… All eight hundred pages had enormous meaning to Istvan Szabo… And the film company wanted to do a feature film based on it. The agent had said to me ‘This will take six months.’ It took three years!”

Reflections on Adaptation – Monograph: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

“I wrote the novel (The Householder) in 1960. In 1962 two very young men showed up, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. And they said they wanted to make a film and they wanted me to write a screenplay of ‘The Householder’. And I said, ‘I’ve never written a film’. They said, ‘That’s OK, we’ve never made one.’ That’s how we started.”

Reflections on Adaptation – Monograph: Douglas McGrath

“It takes me a long time to take a novel apart and really understand what I’m changing… My policy is, if it’s already typed and it works – I’m not trying to get myself in ahead of the author. But then, because you’re reducing it and changing it, everything can’t fit the same way. You have to invent and think of new things. At a certain point you have to forget what you had to know so well at the beginning. You kind of push the other things out, to make sure that what you have works as its own piece.”

Reflections on Adaptation – Monograph: Richard Wesley

“Motion pictures are different than the published word. The form is different. The mechanism of storytelling – of course it’s different. But I think as long as you’re trying to hold fast to the spirit of the story itself… as long as you have a clear understanding of the intent of the storytellers responsible for this motion picture… and you can reconcile those, you’re fine. But what you don’t want to do is to take on an assignment and then deliberately go out… and just totally trash the source material.”

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