Why Film & TV Need the Novel

Movie camera and book

Books & Film

Before Amazon’s Kindle revolution and the resurgence of reading it inspired, there were some that predicted the death of the novel as a viable form of entertainment. How could reading compete with the visceral pleasures of big-budget, special-effects-driven films, or the massive growth of computer games that have so captivated our youth? (Exploring the obvious connection between film and the comic book will be the subject of a future post).

Yet, the truth is that far from swimming in competing pools, novels, films and games function in a state of symbiosis, feeding off each other.

I think this state of affairs is set to continue in the foreseeable future.

Consider the various skills of the novelist: Philosopher, visionary, psychologist, researcher, casting agent, actor, director, cinematographer, set builder, costume designer, scriptwriter, editor, sound recordist. Indeed, the novelist is the prime creator of the story world—albeit in the virtual sense.

At a time when big films require even bigger budgets, testing the potential success of a film by measuring the success of the novel upon which it is based is a relatively inexpensive way of taking out some insurance against failure—although, clearly, no guarantee against it, as the movie John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars, clearly demonstrates.

The point remains, however, that if a novel has done well in the market place, the chances are that a well-made film might do the same. The film maker might then allow the world of the novel to inform the world of the film, although, clearly, adapting a screenplay from a novel is an art form in its own right—often, to the extent that little of that world, other than the bones of the story, remains the same. Even so, the novel, does at least, act as a starting point for the film project.

In terms of benefit to the novel, people who have seen the film and enjoyed it might now read the novel on which the film is based. Sales of the Game of Thrones series sky-rocketed after the television series hit the screens.

Book-to-film/TV adaptations often go hand in hand with conversations about the relative worth of one rendition over the other. “The book was so much better than the film,” or vice versa—good publicity for all concerned, which helps to boost sales of the appropriate medium.

As an aside, I might mention that in my classes on screenwriting, I often encourage my students to write their screenplays as novellas, or short stories, first. This encourages them to explore their characters’ actions through the inner voice—something the novel, novella and short story do well. This shifts focus to character motives and goals and results in character action that is more authentic and believable, making for better screenplays.

Summary

Film, TV and the novel/novella often function in a state of symbiosis, testing and popularising the story through different media.

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