Books, Movies, and Meatballs

Pretty much every published novelist I’ve met gets asked, “Do you have a movie deal yet?” I like to daydream about a goblin movie (animated) or a princess film, but as many of you know, authors usually have exactly zero control over whether or not a movie deal happens.

But would you really want one? Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to movie adaptations. Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s piece How the SciFi Channel Wrecked My Books. The Onion’s AV Club has a piece on 20 Good Books Made Into Bad Movies, and there are plenty more films that could be added to their list.

Even knowing there’s a decent chance of disaster, I’d have very little hesitation about signing a movie deal (assuming a good offer were put before me).

1. Movies Sell Books. No matter how brilliant or how awful the movie, the fact is, it would increase sales of my books. Maybe not a lot, if the movie truly sucked, but even a horrendous film would increase awareness of the books and lead to a bump in sales.

2. Movies Are Not Books. I’ve already told my stories. The movie is not, cannot be the same story. Similar, yes (at least most of the time … I’m looking at you, I, Robot!) But my books are my books. The movies won’t change that. The movies aren’t mine. They belong to the director, the scriptwriters, the producers, the actors … and yes, some part of that movie is mine, but the thing as a whole is not my story. Nor would I expect it to be.

3. I Like Money. Crass commercialism? Sure. I have two kids to put through college, a mortgage, etc. A really good movie deal might even put me in a position where I could consider going full time as a writer. So yes, I would be willing to take Hollywood’s money.

It’s point #2 that sticks with me. I don’t necessarily expect the movie to be completely true to the book, and sometimes straying from the book makes it a better movie. Ever compared Shrek to the book it came from?

Or take Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is one of the most fun and underappreciated films I’ve seen in ages. Whoever did the original advertising campaign should be fired. Into orbit. The commercials were awful, but I love this film. Mister T plays a cop whose chest hairs tingle to warn him of danger. Neil Patrick Harris plays a monkey named Steve whose battle against the Gummi Bears is one of the best fight scenes of all time. This film revels in its ridiculousness, and I love it.

It is quite different than the book. The cast and crew made this story their own, and it worked.

Sure, when they do this, there’s a chance they’ll fail. The risk of failure exists with every movie, every TV show. Would I be disappointed if they turned Goblin Quest into the next Smurfs? Definitely. Would I be pissed if The Stepsister Scheme movie whitewashed or straightened Talia’s character? I’d be furious.[1. If I knew for a fact that they were going to do this to Talia’s character, I wouldn’t take that deal.]

But that wouldn’t change my story. It wouldn’t affect the books I had written. And while there’s always risk, there’s also the chance my book could become the next Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, with Neil Patrick Harris playing the voice of Smudge.