This is it folks, the countdown to my first book on creativity, The Power Of Creative Paths!
The book is going to drop on Saturday the 30th. I’m lining up some reviewers right now (and there’s a chance to get in on it) to help give people an idea of what’s in it from a reader’s viewpoint. Only six more days!
So what’s in this book?
Basically, after years of working with Seventh Sanctum, I’d realized that creativity fit certain paths – ways we get to our “Big Ideas.” Most people had one or two default paths, and not everyone knew how to get along with people different than them. So I put all my findings into one book, a handy guide to help you get off of Creative Paths you’re a bit too stuck on and onto others, as well as how to work with people different than yourself creativity-wise.
A lot of this comes from my curious observation that the generators at Seventh Sanctum fit specific patterns, or certain little tweaks, trends, or sets of data seemed to inspire people surprisingly. In time I began to see that these general observations fit specific trends, and formed a useful theory around it.
I’m pretty pumped as this will be the first book based around my work here – to be followed this summer by the Way With Worlds books . . . and maybe a few more things over time. I figure after some 16 years of doing this, it’s time to put my ideas and findings and advice into a new format!
So hang in there, it’s almost arrived . . .
The silver screen has been the pinnacle of Hollywood since the early days of Hollywood. Movies occupy the top rung of the creative hierarchy, towering over television. Actors work hard to get their big break, looking to move from TV to the big screen. For adaptations, movies are both a blessing and a curse. A film adaptation means that an author has reached enough of an audience that a studio has noticed. On the downside, few books survive the process of being adapted.
Over the past fifty to sixty years, the average length of a book has grown over the past 50 years, with doorstoppers common today. There are exceptions, naturally; each book of The Lord of the Rings was far longer than the other fantasy novels of the time. At the same time, The Lord of the Rings became the template for modern fantasy works, leading to series such as The Wheel of Time and A Game of Thrones. With the increased length comes more detail, more plot points, more action, all of which makes it difficult to put into a feature film.
Typically, a theatrically released movie is from ninety minutes to two hours long, with a few going under to eighty-five or over to three hours. Any shorter, and the audience starts wondering about the cost of seeing something so short. Longer, and audience fatigue sets in unless the film is kept tight so that the viewers don’t notice the passage of time. The time limit means that something from the original work has to give. Usually, the decision is to remove scenes that will confuse the audience or that don’t add to the plot. Such partial adaptations can work; Blade Runner, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and Jurassic Park all kept to the core story while still excising elements that detracted from the plot. However, if the wrong elements are removed, or the story is so intertwined that removing elements causes the story to fall flat, movies can fail. The Dragonlance animated film is a good example; with a ninety minute running time, the movie felt shallow, missing concepts that made the original work breathe.
The problem grows if the original work is part of a series that isn’t yet complete. While Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was successful both as a movie and as an adaptation, some parts of the story that became important in later book were removed for the sake of fitting the movie into a decent running time. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the studio decided to split the book into two movies to avoid rushing the story in just one. Likewise, The Hobbit became three movies in part to give the plot the time it needed to unfold.
With short stories and novellas, the problem doesn’t quite go away. A short story may not have enough plot to last even ninety minutes, requiring padding. A good example is the Ian Fleming story, “The Living Daylights”. The story has 007 protecting a Soviet defector from a sniper. In the movie, The Living Daylights, the original story takes up about twenty minutes of screen time, leaving over one hundred minutes to be filled.
The answer, though, isn’t to stop adapting books. Given the risk aversion in Hollywood, not adapting anything is off the table. One solution is to take into account book length. Going back to James Bond, the movie versions of both Dr. No and Casino Royale stayed close to the original works, with little to no scenes added or removed. Longer books could be broken into parts, though if the first movie fails at the box office, the rest of the story won’t be filmed.
Another solution is to take a hard look at adapting the work for television. Whether the work becomes a regular series or a mini-series, the adaptation isn’t as dependant on the vagueries of the international market. With mini-series, the full novel will be shown in a short span, long enough to get the immediate ratings, but not long enough for the network or cable channel to end the adaptation early. In a regular series, the adaptation will have the time it needs to build the world and establish characters, but poor ratings could kill the show before the work has been fully aired. However, cable channels aren’t as beholden to the Neilsens as the broadcast networks are. Dexter, True Blood, and A Game of Thrones all thrived as series, with each book becoming a season in the series.
Reducing the size of novels is a non-starter. As mentioned earlier, The Lord of the Rings became not only a classic but also a template for writers inspired by it. It is rare to find a stand-alone fantasy novel that isn’t a tie-in to a property such as Dungeons & Dragons. Science fiction does have them, but given the time and effort needed for worldbuilding, recycling the work becomes tempting when looking at building a new universe from scratch. There’s also the readers’ reaction; the price of books has crossed a point where buyers are expecting not just a good story, but a long one to match the cover price. A short book just doesn’t have the physical weight that readers want.
In short, the glamour of the movies needs to be balanced with the idea that two hours just isn’t enough time to do justice to today’s works.
Next week, Smokey and the Bandit.
Another year has come to an end. Adaptations show no sign of slowing down. What did we learn from 2013?
The cracks are starting to show in the big blockbuster adaptation. Several fizzled on release, including the high-profile The Lone Ranger, followed by R.I.P.D. At the same time, Pacific Rim underperformed and Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World drew in crowds both domestic and international. Hunger Games: Catching Fire broke records, but City of Bones and The Host both floundered. The Host wasn’t a big budget film, made for only* US$40 million, but it barely made a profit and only because of international audiences.
The difference suceeding and failing is the international market. Domestic returns might cover the cost of making the film, but international audiences will make or break the budget. The Chinese market is as critical to a movie’s success as the American. Producers now have to factor in the tastes of Chinese audiences, and, so far, this has led to lowest common denominator. Adding to the complexity is that the Chinese movie-going public isn’t interested in original characters; they want to see established properties. Marvel and DC have a huge advantage, and Marvel has been cashing in on it. Both comic companies have numerous iconic characters.
Over at DC, it appears that the company and its parent, Warner, are trying to cash in as well. Man of Steel, while it didn’t bring in Iron Man 3 numbers, was successful. The main problem with the movie was being a shades of grey movie featuring a four-colour character. Warner appears to not be able to do anything that isn’t Batman, a shades of grey character who has done well in numerous shades of grey movies. But the big problem at Warner seems to be a lack of communication both internal and external.
Meanwhile, The Lone Ranger is outside the pop culture memory. The last two appearances of the Lone Ranger were the 1981 The Legend of the Lone Ranger and the 2003 TV pilot, The Lone Ranger, on the WB network. Both movies were not well received, with Legend having issues beyond just the film itself**. R.I.P.D. was based on a comic book published by Dark Horse, something the general audience most likely didn’t realize.
The trend of turning Young Adult books into movie series may be waning. City of Bones, as mentioned above, barely turned a profit, resulting in the release date of the next part of The Mortal Instruments, City of Ashes, to be pushed back to 2015. The problem that both City of Bones and The Host have is that neither are household words like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or Twilight, all of which were bestsellers long before a studio thought about adapting them. The Host was relying on name recognition. Adapted from a book by Stephanie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight series, the studio was hoping that fans of Twilight would flock to The Host. Numbers show otherwise. Twilight hit a chord with its audience, who enjoyed the romance between a shell of a girl and a sparkly vampire. The Host didn’t reach the same level of intense fandom. Internationally, name recognition of an author depends on whether the body of work has been translated. The quality of writing can also change during translation.
Over on the small screen, several adaptations keep going. A Game of Thrones is still a draw for HBO, and AMC has The Walking Dead filling that role. The now-ended Breaking Bad will have Better Call Saul spun off and will be remade in Columbia as Metástasis. MTV will produce a Swords of Shannara series, further turning the “M” into an artifact. ABC’s Agents of SHIELD started strong, but ran into early problems. Joss Whedon returning to help plus the tie-in to Thor: The Dark World may be helping it. ABC, being owned by Disney, may have the patience to keep the show going for the full season, in part to help the Marvel movies. Television may be in a good position to pick up the pieces when the blockbuster bubble bursts.
The international market was key in the success or failure of movie adaptations. Adaptations featuring a character recognized globally succeeded. Those that didn’t either squeaked by or outright bombed.
Next week, looking forward to 2014.
* The numbers get weird in Hollywood. The benchmark for a blockbuster in 2013 seems to be at least US$150 million, with the bigger ones starting at US$200 million. Keep in mind that Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was made for $100 million.
** What may not have helped the box office is the public battle between the studio and Clayton Moore, who played the first Lone Ranger on TV, over his right to wear the Lone Ranger’s costume in personal appearances.
Cracked looks at movies being remade.
The article is a month old, but the list has Point Break, Day of the Dead, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and two separate Jungle Book adaptations. Point Break will remove the surfing element, replacing it with extreme sport, thus making the title an artifact. League is being developed as a TV series, which may fit the original comic better. Yes, that will make League a remake of an adaptation.
Another adaptation coming: The Exorcist.
The Exorcist, originally a book but adapted as a movie where it is better known, may be returning as a TV series. The idea is still being shopped around, but networks and cable stations are at least intrigued.
Five hundred new fairytales discovered.
Disney now has even more stories to animate. The tales were found in a German archive. Franz von Schönwerth collected the tales in Bavaria around the same time the Brothers Grimm were. One of the formerly lost tales, “The Turnip Princess” is now online at the Guardian’s site.
Steven Spielberg negotiating rights for The Grapes of Wrath.
The Steinbeck novel turns 75 next year and many producers and directors are trying to get the rights to film it. The book was adapted once before, by John Ford in 1939.
The Hollywood Meltdown continues. Spike Lee talks with John Berman on CNN on why originals aren’t being made and the future of movie making.
The big issue is that Hollywood studios now need the international market to turn a profit on big budget blockbusters. In China, audiences don’t go out to original movies but will flock to characters they already know. Thus, major comic book movies (except R.I.P.D.) and sequels do better there than unknown characters. Lee is also turning to Kickstarter to fund his next movie, seeing crowdsourcing as not that much different as raising money for his first joints, except he doesn’t have to lick as many stamps this time.
The question the studios have to consider is, “Is this movie worth the money being spent on it?” If The Hangover III cost US$103 million while The Phantom Menance cost US$115 million, there’s something wrong. (For comparison, the first Hangover only cost US$35 million to make and performed better in theatres compared to the third movie in the trilogy.)
Spielberg, who has noted the oncoming implosion, is predicting that it may cost more to see movies like Iron Man than to see Lincoln after the meltdown, with filmmakers Lee and George Lucas agreeing.
Next week, Blade Runner