Adapting an adaptation

So, after reading the full Suzanne Collins trilogy, I went to see The Hunger Games on the big screen.

I will admit that the adaptation is pretty solid. It cut out very little, and kept enough of the original story. The camera angles were good, the acting by the cast was superb, and the script had minimal alterations.

This is the thing, though: when you’re adapting a novel for the screen, how do you decide what stays and what goes?

I will be frank: the movie version ending of The Hunger Games was a major deviation. I won’t spoil; if you read the books, you will know what I mean. That’s what disappointed me in the production, but considering that I’m currently standing in the same dilemma, I’m hardly one to judge. As it is, the bits that were cut from the novel were minimal. Except, of course, the ending, because that was completely out of alignment with the book. Same with a very, very key conversation between Haymitch and Katniss.

How does this relate to what I’m doing? As I’m templating Book 1 to adapt to screen, I have to do two very major things:

1. Ad-lib. Most of Book 1 is action, a good bit of contemplation, but not much on dialogue. I’m finding myself re-doing the existing dialogue, and ad-libbing the rest. To say that it’s a challenge would be right about appropriate; I have never realized just how much I’ve under-written in the novel form that I’m now finding that I have to put together in screen form. Minor, minor dialogue – it becomes relevant.

2. Direct. This is iffy. I’ve been told so far, by more than one person, that I should cut the cues and score sounds from the script. And you know what, I will. But before that, I need to finish the script, because it actually holds a pretty solid purpose. The purpose? To guide the adaptation. In novel form, everyone pictures the flow and sequence of scenes differently, but the script and the consequent film put the story forward in only one visible way. That is where the screenwriter’s skill at interpreting one medium into the next comes in.

You’d think it’s easy, if I’m working on the adaptation of my own piece, but that’s actually the most difficult aspect. How would I translate a story that everyone interprets for themselves into something that’s to be represented only one particular way?

3. Trim. And the opposite: insert. Because as I’m seeing now, there has to be a higher emphasis on continuity. I could get away with a highly choppy Book 1 in novel form, because the other books would gel it together. With writing a movie script, you do not have that sort of a flex. You have to trim the excess and add whatever you have to add – however minor or major – to make it gel.

The challenge I’m facing now, towards the end, is how to write/engineer some of the needed special effects needed to make some of the interstitial scenes work. That is, indeed, a pickle, but nothing I can’t work through.

Onward and upwards…just a couple scenes left to Script 1!

K.G.

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