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From Page to Screen: The Journey of Books Adapted into Films

~ Dishari Ghosh

Watching a scene unfold on screen and coming to the realisation that it's come from a book has become a common practice. Consumption rates of series and movies, in different languages, and genres, are only booming. You don't want to be left out when others are discussing the latest show, and hence, you binge watch and soon enough, you're craving more content. With this, there's also an enormous surge and demand in making more such series & movies. To keep up, a great deal of these, thus, are adapted from books - both popular and niche.

Recently, popular novels like Heartstopper (by Alice Oseman), Where the Crawdads Sing (by Delia Owens), A Man Called Ove (by Fredrick Backman), Daisy Jones & The Six (by Taylor Jenkin Reids), Shadow & Bone (by Leigh Bardugo) made appearances on screen. Others including Red, White & Royal Blue (by Casey McQuiston), American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin), All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr), among several others, are slated for release soon (2023).

Similarly, the Indian market too isn't left behind. Series & movies have been successfully made and devoured over the years. Midnight’s Children (by Salman Rushdie), A Suitable Boy (by Vikram Seth), The White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga), Pinjar (by Amrita Pritam), The Namesake (by Jhumpa Lahiri), The Zoya Factor (by Anuja Chauhan), Five Point Someone (by Chetan Bhagat), When Dimple Met Rishi (by Sandhya Menon) are just a few big names to have made their impact both while reading and watching, and numerous others continue to do so.

But what goes behind the scenes for such adaptations to take place? More importantly, what can the authors do to see their work take up a different form? Continue reading and see for yourself!

Many believe that 'the books are always better'. You can certainly name a few creations to support this as well as a few others to oppose this. Writing a book is a different art form than adapting it for the screen, big or small. The nuances are peculiarly unique to both, and finding the right way to do so is a must.

What the Authors Can Do to Prepare:

1. Keep Turning Pages & Watch Extensively

The primary goal for a book-to-screen adaptation is to find a book that has the potential to be turned into one. Find and read those books which have already been made into movies or series. Here, note what you think will be or should be there on-screen; how the characters are written on paper, the location that's been described or the setting they've constructed. Keep on annotating and highlighting what occurs to you, it’ll aid your writing process too.

While watching the adaptation, focus on two levels. Content, certainly, to see how, what and if there are changes as compared to the book. Is it running along the same way or has it taken a comparatively different turn or feel? Next, peel the layers and widen your focus to the other aspects. Are the characters portrayed as you imagined them to be - their physical characteristics, personality traits, minute details of their habits? Turn your attention also to the location & setting; did picking up a hairbrush and flinging it creates a smaller impact than a crystal vase, in the book, did? Did you imagine the scene where the parents are discussing their child's future to be at the dinner table, and yet sitting on the balcony in the movie enhances it?

There are several distinctions as well as similarities when it comes to adapting a book for the screen and making a note of such will help you while you aim to do the same. Repeat the process over and over till you can grasp the minute details.

2. Invest in Screenplay Books

Several authors market their screenplays as regular novels, maybe added with interesting inputs, pictures from the set, information about actors or just about anything that will pique the interest of the readers. For the author wanting to venture into this field themselves, these books can turn out to be quite the holy grail!

Reading up on such books, added on to the previous task of comparing and contrasting the books & adaptations, can deepen your understanding of the process. How dialogues are delivered, what is essential to add to the scene, where it cuts and transitions to the next one, how the supporting actors look - various details can be found and understood while going through such books

Another variety is certainly the more 'academic' and textual ones, which have the potential to guide you into becoming a screenwriter for your novels. They're the teachers with precious information, insider outlooks and such!

3. Meet & Greet

The best route to take while looking for producers or agents (or even screenwriters, if you’d prefer that) who would be interested in adapting your book for the screen is to network extensively. This can materialize both online and offline. There are various online platforms which will give you a chance to shoot an email or pitch your book to the concerned person. However, the chances of them landing on your work is marginally less.

This is where networking at events comes in handy. It's crucial to attend both literary fests as well as film festivals. There are high chances of running into agents, producers and others on the lookout here. When you pitch ideas and they get to meet the person behind that image, they are more likely to consider it or recommend those who would do so. Do have immense time and patience as you too would have to wait for the right opportunity to open up and give a forever on-screen home to your book. Meanwhile, it's best to keep working on your craft.

4. Your Allegiance is to Your Book

As an author aspiring to see their work get adapted for the screens, reaching a whole new different audience, it is best to keep reminding yourself that 'your allegiance is to your book and your craft'. If you begin writing aiming for the screens, your work might suffer and it'll not have the same essence as it would have if it was solely meant to be for a novel. If your novel doesn't allow for you to be visual, let it flow that way; the story would speak for itself. Write what comes to you naturally, hone what your best skills are and if that turns out to be the next big series or movie, it's surely a bonus!

Moving on from the preparation that one can do to reach here, let’s see the actual process of how a book turns into a movie. Do bear in mind that the procedure might vary, depending on multiple factors, including regions, companies, agents etc.

1. Rights Acquisition

The expansion of power and how one claims to adapt a written piece of work into a visual, on-screen one begins by acquiring the rights of the former. This process usually occurs between agents and publishers, and they negotiate on behalf of the writer themselves to get the best idea possible for the world to view. There ensues legality, and hence, it's advisable to have a strong legal advisor to guide you, through this process, to know what you're getting into.

2. Developing for Screen

Once the rights are acquired, the process of onboarding various creators follows. The key people hired include a screenwriter, director, producer (if they've not directly signed the rights), designers - costume, make-up, set, cinematographers, and musicians amongst others. The finalisation process can take some time. Post which, writers adapt the book into a screenplay or refine an already written one. This is a continuous process, with drafts, rewrites, and edits being made not just before shooting commences, but even during. Writers do take in suggestions from the authors, and this is a chance for you to perceive how the world is going to view your books – so make sure to assert what you’d like to have, or not have. Since this is a dream for many, authors try to be as involved as possible, giving in their views. Even if the authors have themselves pitched a screenplay, the writers and other creators would certainly tweak it as per their visualisations and requirements.

One essential difference that comes here is the storyline and how it proceeds. Usually, novels which are very visually appealing and visually charged tend to have a more direct page-to-screen transition. When one reads, you can imagine and visualise the entire scene going on in your mind; the world, setting, characters, and flow are all already there. This, thus, makes it easier for a screen adaptation to play out. However, in other cases, where the original book isn't as visual, but has the potential to narrate an engrossing story, the writers & directors take up the charge to adapt it in a way best suited for the screen.

With either of these varieties, the creative freedom lies with the movie or series creators. Sometimes the book might get adapted as is, but in other cases, there are changes done, in terms of settings, characters or even the plot to tailor make it for the screen, while retaining the essence and the core of the novel. Authors, it's important to grasp that both the formats and mediums are ultimately separate and hence, there might be instances where aspects of your hard work are remodelled to fit a separate mould. You might have to walk a tightrope between these, but let the creativity flow.

3. Lights, Camera and Action!

Once the creative process is over, actors are signed, locations are settled, the crew is hired and the shooting begins. This is of course done after the finances are figured out. Minute details are ironed out and adjustments keep on happening during the entire shooting process. There can be instances when the shooting is stalled, in certain cases because of unforeseen circumstances. Recently, during the shoot of a popular book, readers came across pictures from the set and they were disappointed with how the actors looked. It became an issue significant enough for the creators to take a step back, rethink and perhaps come up with a new strategy. Such issues can creep up and here, the authors need to weigh in, if possible. However, these are rare cases and more often than not, the shooting will proceed as per plans.

4. Connecting the Final Dots

After successfully concluding the shoot, either seamlessly or with hiccups, the adaptation goes in through the post-production process. Here, the movie is stitched together, sound, music and other visual effects are added and the final product is born, after months of nurturing it.

These days, be it a cine-goer, reader or just a 'screen consumer', many are already aware of new movies and series being made. There is hype created even before the movie is ready. For adding to this hype, the right promotions are executed. Interviews, posters, social media campaigns, talk shows, meet & greet events etc are carried out. Amongst this excitement and buzz, a series or a film is launched. Readers, who are familiar with the work, take out time and comment on where the adaptation stands concerning the book. Movie buffs review the movie as a whole. The process continues, giving others a reason to watch it and your hard work pays off!

At Ukiyoto Publishing, you can strive for your book to be converted into several on-screen adaptations. Here, your book is developed into a screenplay and pitched to the right productions. With the correct customisations, short films, feature films and such are produced and marketed.

It takes a village to adapt a book for the screen, for it to reach the correct audience, after having met all the visual and auditory requirements. But, the first step, of this humongous task, starts with you and your words. Create those worlds, narrate those intriguing stories, let your readers fall in love with those characters, and have happy endings (or not!), the screen, then, is just a step away!


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