Novel to Film: Looking at Change
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Last week, I explained the major differences between my first novel Running Away and the Lifetime movie made from it. The movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters changed, which changed the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story. It works as a TV movie, but part of me would still like to see the theater version with my themes and characters as I’d intended.
The contract was for one production, so a remake is a possibility, or utilizing parts of the script in a film version of the mother’s story – the novel Peg’s Story: In Search of Self is coming out later this year. With those possibilities in mind, I did two things:
I asked the screenwriters at Capital Film Arts Alliance in Sacramento to review my original script. As always, they gave thoughtful feedback.
Before the movie went to the director, I did revisions to make it more affordable to shoot. I watched the movie again with that script to analyze the later changes.
Pertinent observations and conclusions I took away from CFAA and my own analysis:
Some of the changes were great. I knew going in that there would be changes over which I would have no control. I really liked some of them. For example:
The director’s version of the climax is more visual and dramatically satisfying than the version I’d written.
The film has a better, more logical basis for the friendship between Maggie and Chip (the boy who helps her get away).
It’s important to grab the audience quickly.
Director changes immediately show Richard as an aggressive jerk and expand on his villainy. People who’ve seen the film talk primarily about his character, so yeah, that worked, but that emphasis lost one of my main themes, that sexual predators are not always obviously bad guys, that they are often masterful actors.
However, CFAA feedback on my original script included that it started slowly, so I’d need to find another way to begin.
It doesn’t take much to dramatically alter a character and how the audience perceives them. Most of the scenes are still from my revision, but there were a few brief additions that made major changes in Peg and her girls. For example:
The first time Peg appears, she’s on the phone pleading for more time to pay a bill. Shortly after that, she tells Maggie that going out with the contractor working on the house didn’t count as dating because she only did that so he wouldn’t overcharge… In just a minute or two, I saw her as weak and someone who used men, so when Richard turned out to be rich, the entire relationship was suspect. I didn’t like her until the climactic scene.
In contrast, my Peg was strong and financially secure – she had a good job and owned the house she’d grown up in without a mortgage. She went camping with her girls alone. Her vulnerability came up when she was hospitalized on a camping trip and Richard flew to her side to take care of her. That scene was deleted and Richard went camping with them, adding another creepy bit.
The collaborative effort made a better film. Even with the added scenes and an added thread expanding on the villain, most of the lines spoken were in my script. However, those scenes were trimmed. This wasn’t just to make room for the additions – it also kept the action moving better. Honestly, a film made rigidly by my original script probably would not have held a TV audience as well as this one does.
The bottom line:
“The movie is different from the book” does not mean one is better than the other; it just means they’re different. What matters for each is: Does it work?
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