A long-lasting debate between movie fanatics and bibliophiles has been books vs. movies. “Books are better than movies,” or, “Movies are better than books.” Both sides have different arguments to support their opinion, and none of them are wrong. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Writing a book and making a movie are two different forms of art, with the common purpose of entertainment.
Today, we will examine why the feud between books vs. movies doesn’t matter.
First, you should know how a writer and a director works.
A writer’s process is simple. The writer has a schedule, at which s/he writes every day, for whatever length he requires to tell his stories; he creates the first draft. He then edits the draft and if he’s confident, sends it to his editor. The editor then suggests changes and sends it back to the writer. The author edits it again and sends it to the editor, and if the editor is happy with the changes made, the book is published.
Of course, a little extra stuff goes on behind the scenes, but it is an exemplification of a writer’s process in a nutshell.
Early feedback is also an integral part of writing a novel. Beta readers come into play here. They are ordinary readers who give their honest opinion of a writer’s early work.
This seems like a simple process, and it is, but there is a certain level of writing dexterity required to produce a good novel. The skill of a writer is essential, and two writers can never write the same story in the same manner. Their approach to it wouldn’t be different.
A director’s work is divergent to that of a writer. S/he has more physical work to engage in, and external factors play an essential role in the outcome of the movie. There are constraints on a director: everything is dependent on each other; it forms a chain. Something like:
Good Director + Good Actors + Good Crew = A good movie.
Note: Crew includes everything from screenplay crew to special effects team.
Take anything out of this equation and the movie’s outcome changes. Other factors include weather conditions, budget limits, deadlines, etc.
In contrast, a writer does have deadlines, but his work is devoid of anything else a director has to worry about. He can write in the comforts of his home. There is no budget limit, no sick actors or injuries to worry about (except the cramp in his fingers). This is the reason that everything from a page cannot be presented on a screen. A writer’s limit is his imagination, while a director’s limit is defined and presented to him on a plate of budget and limits. A director’s work is more arduous than a writer’s when you think about it. It is astonishing what some directors (like David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Timothy Van Patten, etc.) can achieve through the medium of movies or TV shows.
A good example would be The Battle of Blackwater (S02E09) from Game of Thrones. In the books, it is a humongous battle, but for the show, it has been shortened due to budget limits. They still managed to present the epic scope of the scene, but the original vision was altered to fit within the constraints of a TV show.
The writer of the book is George R.R. Martin, and the director for the episode was Neil Marshall (The Descent). If you compare the battle from the book to the episode, it looks rather small in scale. But they had a budget limit of $8 million (reported budget for the episode), and considering what the director achieved, it looks spectacular.
Skills for the craft
Skill also plays an important role. Every novel is not great, same goes for the movies. For an adaptation to work, both have to work in harmony. A good movie can become a good adaptation only if it has a good crew behind it.
Let’s use the example of Harry Potter (because why not). The movies changed significantly with the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It is a beautifully shot film, and Alfonso Cuarón did a fantastic job with setting a darker tone for the rest of the series. Let’s say WB gave him command over directing the whole franchise (the way they did with David Yates after Order of The Phoenix) and we would have gotten completely different films. Their approach to the films are different, and the end result would have been different.
Or, just imagine if Quentin Tarantino directed the Harry Potter movies. We would have had long monologs and cold-blooded murders. Harry and Voldemort might have ended shooting each other with guns or grenades, and Hogwarts would have been drenched in the blood of its students and teachers. (I’ll buy the tickets in a heartbeat.)
Two people can never think alike; it is especially true in adaptations. An adaptation of a book can be faithful to its source material, but unless it creates its own unique place, without copying dialogs page by page, it doesn’t work. We might never see a universally loved adaptation, that’s how it’s supposed to work. What we can do is enjoy the beautiful medium of fiction that is movies and books.