Nav­i­gat­ing the per­ils of stray­ing from sources

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

From Game of Thrones to Book of Ne­groes, screen­writ­ers walk a fine line mak­ing adap­ta­tions

TORONTO — The ex­plo­sive sixth sea­son of “Games of Thrones” was ground­break­ing for fans of the beloved se­ries. And the show’s writ­ers.

While pre­vi­ous sea­sons were based on the first five of seven planned ti­tles in Ge­orge R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book se­ries, this one was its own en­tity. That’s be­cause Martin has yet to pub­lish the sixth book, which forced the se­ries’ writ­ers to pen orig­i­nal sto­ry­lines while work­ing off out­lines of his forth­com­ing ma­te­rial.

Screen­writ­ers of­ten stray from source ma­te­rial for adap­ta­tions; other re­cent ex­am­ples in­clude AMC’s “The Night Man­ager” minis­eries, which is much dif­fer­ent than the orig­i­nal John le Carre novel.

But do­ing so is a tricky bal­ance, says Glen Maz­zara, who adapted the TV se­ries “Damien” from “The Omen” hor­ror films. He’s also a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “The Walk­ing Dead,” which is based on the comic book se­ries.

“You want to hon­our the source ma­te­rial but you need to make it your own,” he says. “If you just go back and re­visit it and not add any­thing new, peo­ple will say, ‘Why are we do­ing this? You’re just try­ing to sell me the same stuff over and over.’

“The tricky part is that when you freshen it up or you do some­thing new, peo­ple say: ‘Well, wait a sec­ond, that’s not it, why are you chang­ing it?’

“So you’re never go­ing to make ev­ery­one happy.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment many screen­writ­ers share.

“You don’t go into this busi­ness if you want to please ev­ery­one,” says Emmy-nom­i­nated Cana­dian writer-di­rec­tor Pa­tri­cia Rozema. She adapted her re­cent film “Into the For­est” from the Jean Heg­land novel, but only from the last half. She also ex­panded some scenes.

“We both were re­ally con­cerned that the au­thor didn’t feel some­how vi­o­lated by this,” Rozema says, re­fer­ring to Cana­dian ac­tress Ellen Page, who starred in and pro­duced the film.

“There was a big scene that wasn’t go­ing to be in there and we called (Heg­land) up and talked to her about it and ex­plained our rea­son­ing, and she’s been re­ally sup­port­ive of the movie.”

For Seth Ro­gen and Evan Gold­berg, who adapted the AMC se­ries “Preacher” from the ’90s comic book fran­chise, it was orig­i­nal au­thor Garth Ennis who en­cour­aged them to make it their own.

“Ini­tially we were like, ‘We’ll do it like “Sin City,” we’ll re­ally stay su­per true to the comics,’” says Gold­berg.

“Then we talked to Garth and he was like, ‘Well, ob­vi­ously it would be in­sane to just do the comic. There are tons of things that can be en­hanced and made bet­ter, as long as you just stick to the main three char­ac­ters, and their emo­tions are true, and their sto­ries are re­al­is­tic and their prob­lems are com­pa­ra­ble or sim­i­lar to the prob­lems they had in the comic.’”

In the end, “I think we’re much bet­ter off for it and so does Garth,” adds Gold­berg, “which is nice, be­cause if Garth didn’t think that, I’d kill my­self.”

Cana­dian au­thor and Hamil­to­nian Lawrence Hill cowrote the minis­eries adap­ta­tion of his own novel “The Book of Ne­groes” and was stunned at how at­tached readers were to the source ma­te­rial.

“Peo­ple started ap­proach­ing me, readers, who didn’t know me and say­ing: ‘Don’t you dare change this,’ or, ‘I hope they don’t mess with that,’ or, ‘What are you go­ing to do about this?’” he says.

“They felt pos­ses­sive of the story ... pro­tec­tive, al­most an­gry be­fore they had seen it, be­cause they didn’t want to imag­ine how it would be ru­ined on tele­vi­sion.

“Some­times I had to say ... ‘Even if you don’t like the minis­eries or even if I don’t like it, even if peo­ple think it’s lousy, the book is there — so no­body is do­ing any­thing to the book.

“It’s just an­other form of art and so we can re­lax a lit­tle bit about how it all works out. It won’t be the end of the world.’”


"The Book Of Ne­groes" au­thor Lawrence Hill says he was stunned at how at­tached readers were to the source ma­te­rial.

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