I’ve always thought that a film based on a story shouldn’t attempt to be a facsimile. A film-maker shouldn’t attempt to copy the words written on the page. That’d be a waste of his or her gifts, it’d be a severe limitation on the medium, and it would fail to employ all the lovely technology that’s available.
One of the joys of writing, and reading too, is getting inside the characters’ heads, listening to their inner voice, and you can’t do that with a film unless unless you resort to voice-overs, which can be a little tiresome.
On the other hand, film-makers do things that writers can’t – pulling the focus from one character or event to another, for example, doesn’t have the literary equivalent. The speed of cutting can affect how we interpret events. Sound effects. Casting. It all comes together to create something that wouldn’t exist on a page. Even when something has an equivalent, like framing a shot, I’d be hard-pushed to explain how I frame a scene in words, though I do.
I was email-chatting with Arthur Zwidsinski, who made a version of Zippo (see the sidebar for a link) and it struck me how little I know about film-making. Sure, I know the nuts and bolts, I can tell a long shot from a track-and-zoom, and there are certain creative rules and signposts that all storytellers employ, but I don’t really know how film-makers make their films ‘speak’ to the audience.
I couldn’t do it. Working with other people kills me anyway, but I believe in a total hands-off approach to adaptations. My rule is, let them get on with it – my charge is always 1 muffin or 1% of gross, whichever is the greater amount.
And so far, I’ve made about four muffins.
Oh, yeah, there’s another version of Zippo available online, on the DailyMotion website. I don’t know much about the film-makers, but feel free to follow the link and have a look. Maybe tell them what you think of it. It’s all good. There are now at least three versions of this story on film, and it’s extremely interesting to compare the different interpretations of a single, very short narrative.