film production + social action

The Challenge of Adaptation

By @samuelg44

Water for Elephants book cover

For as far back as I can remember I have wanted to make movies. Many of my all-time favorites were best-selling novels subsequently adapted to film. Successful adaptations range from classics like Gone with the Wind and Forrest Gump to the more recent successes like No Country for Old Men and The Social Network. Its why I endeavor to find literary properties that are unknown “diamonds in the rough” and ripe for film adaptation.

I just came home from seeing Water for Elephants, which has me re-thinking my personal strategy as it pertains to adaptations. I read the best-selling novel in 2008 while studying abroad in London. To say I loved it would be an understatement; I laughed and cried and flew through the book in just a couple of hours. It’s the definition of a “page turner.” However, the film version (which wasn’t all that bad by the way) provides the perfect example of an adaptation that falls short of immortalizing the original material the way it should or could have. Seabiscuit is another film I enjoyed immensely, but didn’t hold a candle to the book and garnered the same frustration from me. These examples beg the question: must every piece of literature be exploited by Hollywood?

It didn’t take much resonating on the question for me to come up with the answer. Yes. Absolutely. Positively. I cannot tell you how many friends, after seeing the trailer for Water for Elephants, went out, bought the book and read it before the highly anticipated blockbuster flic was released. Yes, they were disappointed as I was by the film, but they had nothing but love for the book. I tend to forget that a symbiotic relationship exists between filmmakers and novelists.

So…adapt away Hollywood. Just do your best to make more Forrest Gumps than Lazy Shlumps.

Samuel Goldberg is a producer for Righteous Pictures and his blog posts cover film industry news and reactions to screenings of The Last Survivor. You can follow him on Twitter @samuelg44