On Ruined Film Adaptations (NeMLA 2016)

Ally Carter offers a look at the ekphrastic challenges moving from text to screen. 

My conference preparations for both the Modern Language Association and the Northeast Modern Language Association have been keeping me busy, including one call for papers I have for the session “Ruined! On Failed Adaptations from Page to Screen” that I’m co-organizing with Emily Lauer at Suffolk County Community College. 

(Shameless plug: submit your abstracts about failed film, TV, and online adaptations of books, short stories, and more here before September 30!)

As we’re developing the panel, Emily forwarded me this post by the author of Heist Society, Ally Carter, regarding the challenges of adapting content from text to screen. 

Carter points out that “no film adaptation has ever changed one word of a novel–that the novel is and will always be the same”—primarily because of the larger number of participants in the process of making a film (director, producers, studios) than the number of participants in the process of writing a book (author, editor). 

To clarify her point, Carter uses the analogy that adapting a book to a film is like the chemistry cooking. For example, if you are adapting Harry Potter for film, you can change the recipe in some spots, such as replacing pecans with walnuts (changing a character’s age, an actor who varies just slightly in appearance, a minor change of location) and still have a quality product that satisfies most of the reasonable expectations. But you can’t replace baking soda with baking powder (replacing one character of a certain age and gender with another one due to studio dictates) and expect the result to be successful: 

I guess the key question is this: “Will this change impact other aspects of the story?”

Will this change the chemistry?

“We found a great young actress for Hermione but she doesn’t need braces.”

—Walnut Change

“We decided to set Hogwarts in Ireland instead of Scotland.”

–Walnut Change (an unnecessary change, but a Walnut Change nonetheless)

“We decided to give Harry a spunky kid brother because there was a kid brother in Jurassic World and everyone loves a kid brother.”

–Baking Soda Change

Read the rest of Carter’s argument here, and consider it as you work on your abstracts by the September 30th deadline!


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