Because, make no mistake, you’re gonna have to.
Even the most faithful adaptations must take some liberties to behave and function as legitimate screenplays. The Fault In Our Stars, for example, was this perfect piece of writing we didn’t want to mess with whatsoever. But it has a book ending and not a movie ending. It has some lovely supporting characters who would only ever wind up competing for screen time with its even lovelier leads. Things get re-shaped, re-purposed, condensed, elaborated, sometimes even obliterated completely. (And that’s for the book where you didn’t want to change anything!)
We’ve found the most clear-sighted way to go about this is to determine early on the spine of your movie. This is your true north. What do you want to say with this thing? What do you want to people to take away in the end? What’s it about?
Keep in mind your spine may be different than the spine of the source material. It’s possible the book is making one point and you want to make another. That’s OK. But the exercise remains invaluable: Decide on the spine and only the things that fit your chosen narrative will deserve inclusion.
Quick examples of this from The Disaster Artist: First, Greg and Tom’s book has a unique structure with alternating chapters—the even chapters examining the Greg and Tommy friendship and unfolding linearly while the odd chapters describing various production hi-jinx during the making of The Room. We loved this structure for obvious reasons – it’s incredibly engaging and consistently hilarious—but we couldn’t use it. Because the spine of our story was the friendship. To break away from it periodically so as to revel in filmmaking craziness would violate the rules we set up for ourselves in the adaptation.
More in Screenwriting
What Ted Lasso Taught Its Stars About Leadership (Video)
June 20, 2021
Lorelei Director Sabrina Doyle on Finding First-Time Child Actors for Her Blue-Collar Fable
June 18, 2021
Articles - Directing
Let Fury Have the Hour: A Lesson in Making Fire and Creative Response
May 22, 2021
Adapting Indie Fiction: A Resource for Finding Your Next Story
May 22, 2021