Monday, May 22, 2017

The Film Adaptation

Terry Shames and the Film Adaptation

No, my Samuel Craddock series has not been snapped up for a film or TV series. That title was just a come-on. Since my first book came out four years go, I must have been asked forty times who I would imagine starring as my protagonist, Samuel Craddock in a TV series or movie. It has been the object of long discussions at dinner parties. At first I felt like this meant I was on my way to a film adaptation, soon. I kept waiting for the call from Hollywood. Little did I know that this is a party game most authors get to play with their friends. It doesn’t mean a damn thing.

But when I think of the film and TV adaptations that have been done of some of my favorite books, my desire to see Craddock on the screen diminishes. It’s the rare film that does justice to a book or a series character. And rarer still does a film illuminate the book. I’m not sure I want to see Samuel twisted to fit a filmmaker’s version. Okay, I’ll take the money and run, but since it isn’t on offer, I don’t have to worry about that—yet.

I do enjoy some adaptations. In particular, I usually enjoy the movie and TV versions of Jane Austen books. It’s probably the costumes that grab me. But one in particular, Persuasion, is not only my favorite Austen adaptation; it’s one of my favorite movies. That’s because instead of lush female actors and drop-dead gorgeous male actors, all the actors in that particular movie look like every day people. Instead of pristine courtyards for the characters to elegantly move through, the houses are surrounded by muddy yards where chickens run freely.

One of my biggest disappointments in TV adaptations of current fiction was the Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. In the books Barbara Havers is a homely, dumpy, frumpy woman who is always unhappy. In the TV version, she’s a babe with a quick wit. For me it steals the pleasure of watching the two main characters struggle to reconcile their numerous differences. To a lesser degree, I grew impatient with the Longmire series. Craig Johnson’s books are thoughtful, philosophical, and beautifully written. The TV show depends too much on pretty scenery, sexy women, and uneven story lines, no matter how hunky Robert Taylor is.

On the other hand, the fabulous Justified series took a short story by Elmore Leonard and ran with it. Every season was grounded in Leonard’s gritty action, outrageous characters, and clever dialogue. It worked beautifully for those of us who like their violence leavened with snappy dialogue and rough-hewn characters.

I’ve been watching the Bosch series based on Michael Connolly’s series and I like it fine (except for the terrible dialogue in this year’s season—why are they trotting out ever cliché ever spoken?), but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Connolly’s Bosch. (Oddly, the only character in the TV series that reminds me of the books is the character of Jerry, Bosch’s partner.) That works in its favor. I don’t have to compare it to the books because they are so different.

Why are so many of the adaptations so different from the original? Someone I know who was in the film industry for many years said that movies and TV shows are all about the story line. The characters have to fit in. The best novels are the opposite: Characters get themselves into situations and have to work their way out. The way they do it depends on who they are as characters rather than who wrote the script.

All that said, I’m waiting for Hollywood to call! And wondering who would be the best actor to play Samuel Craddock.

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