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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
Movie Technical Discussion 1 - Book to Script
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OhioHobbit
Gondor

Jan 11 2008, 10:42am

Post #1 of 83 (949 views)
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Movie Technical Discussion 1 - Book to Script Can't Post

My qualifications for leading this discussion are -

1. I have seen some movies, (not very many).
2. I have watched the extras on the LOTR extended DVDs.
3. I watched the King Kong Production Diaries.

So, I am doing this as a complete layman. I don’t think that I will be making any movies any time soon, but I would like to know a little about how all of this works and hope that you would too. And I hope that we can have some fun finding out. So, here we go.

First you need a script!
A whole lot has been said about how the books were turned into movies, about how things that work in a book do not work in a movie, about pacing, building tension, character arc and so on. But don’t let that stop anyone, everything is open for discussion.

However, if you didn’t like how something was done in The Lord of the Rings here is your chance. How would you turn The Hobbit into a movie or do a particular scene from The Hobbit? Any particular favorite moments that you have visions of how you would do it?

Someone who had a great deal in influence on Peter Jackson’s writing early on was Robert McKee. According to Peter Jackson’s biography, Robert McKee is "Hollywood’s guru of gurus" for learning how to write a movie script. In 1983, he started presenting seminars on "Story." In 1988, he gave a talk in Wellington. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh went to the seminar and both were enthusiastic about what McKee had to say. McKee’s thesis on story structure rests on two hypotheses:

"Story is Supreme – Characters are what they do. Story events impact the characters and characters impact events. Actions and reactions create revelation and insight, opening the door to a meaningful emotional experience for the audience.

"Structure is Character – Story is what elevates a movie, transforming a good film into a great one. Movie-making is a collaborative endeavour . . . but the screenwriter is the only original artist on a film. Everyone else – the actors, directors, cameramen, production designers, editors, special effects wizards, and so on – are interpretive artists, trying to bring alive the world, the events and the characters that the screenwriter has invented and created." (1.)
According to Peter Jackson, "McKee taught us that a film story is made up of different ‘acts’, like the acts in a stage play, each of which has certain things to achieve. He talked about establishing the turning-points in a screenplay; how the set-up should be handled and what he calls ‘the inciting incident’, which is the moment, about ten or fifteen minutes into the film, when you suddenly realise what the film is about and the viewer says, ‘Right! So this is the story . . . ’
"In The Fellowship of the Ring it is the moment where the Ring passes to Frodo. At that moment our story defines itself – it’s the tale of Frodo Baggins and the powerful ring he possesses.

"The Lord of the Rings was not just written, but also edited, with McKee’s principles of story structure in mind. When as we did, you begin editing the film during the course of shooting and then spend time shooting pick-ups, the structure can easily get a bit loose. So, what we did on Rings was to take a look at our first cut, where you actually have everything you’ve shot in the movie; you then reappraise it again, using McKee’s theories." (2.)

In the Fan Club magazine, Philippa Boyens said, "I don’t think a lot of people realize that the dialogue is pretty much the least of our worries. Your biggest job as a writer is the structure, the storytelling, and the way in which you are going to use this medium of film to tell that story." (3.)

According to the Appendices of the three The Lord of the Rings movies, Fran and Peter took the three books of LOTR and wrote a 90-page treatment. Philippa Boyens read this treatment in 1997. The script was being written and rewritten for the whole filming. Philippa said that The Two Towers was the hardest to write. And because they couldn’t have the two great climaxes of Helm’s Deep and Shelob in The Two Towers, Faramir had to become an obstruction since Frodo wouldn’t have any obstructions in a rewritten story line without Shelob. They had to give Faramir a character arc since he didn’t have one in the book. (4.)

Peter said, in the extras DVD, "You don’t stop making the movie and we really were just always rewriting scenes and writing new scenes and shooting stuff and tweaking the films and stuff, and constantly, constantly challenging ourselves, really, to try to think of last minute improvements . . . At the very beginning of this process, we’d identified the spine of our movies being Frodo taking the ring to Mordor; which means that the climax of our movies is Frodo destroying the ring . . . You never just say this is perfect. You know, you’re always fighting and grappling with yourself to try to push it further and further and take every opportunity you can." (5.)



Here is a list of websites about writing screen plays:

http://mckeestory.com/
http://www.fathom.com/course/21701762/session3.html
http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/pruter/film/threeact.htm
http://www.writersstore.com/article.php?articles_id=555
http://www.writerswrite.com/screenwriting/lecture4.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screenwriting
http://story.exis.net/masterlink/fictmedi.htm

Can you think of any book to movie adaptations, other than LOTR, that you thought were really good?

Can you think of any book to movie adaptations, other than LOTR, that you thought were really bad?

I realize that you must follow the rules of good screen writing, but can you follow them too closely? Can you be too formula?

How do you decide how long a movie is going to be? That determines a lot about what stays in and what comes out and how the story will be structured. You only have so much time to tell the story. I know that one thing is just how much the average audience can take. When was the last time that a movie came out that had an intermission? 2001, A Space Odyssey had one. I also know that the studios don’t want a movie to be more than X minutes long so that they can get Y number of showings in a day.

So, questions, comments, suggestions, opinions?

Sources:
1. http://burakargin.blogspot.com/2007/05/robert-mckee-story-semineri.html
2. Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey, p. 158
3. The Lord of the Rings Fan Club Official Movie Magazine (#18, pp. 26-29)
4. The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD, The Appendices, disk 3, "From Book to Script"
5. The Return of the King Extended Edition DVD, The Appendices, disk 5, "From Book to Script: Forging the Final Chapter"














Amon Amarth
The Shire


Jan 11 2008, 4:25pm

Post #2 of 83 (316 views)
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It's all about telling a good story [In reply to] Can't Post

First, with regard to good adaptations, look at the Godfather as your classic example because that took what was a trashy, sleazy kind of book and elevated it to near Shakespearean levels. And the real kicker is that the writer of the book was one of the co-writers of the Godfather. Another good adaptation was Jaws.

Bad adaptations? There are too many to think of. Off the top of my head, every Tom Clancy novel that got made into a movie.

The number biggest problem with adapting a novel to a book is that the novel is invariably better paced and more realistic and when made into a movie it becomes Hollywoodized with more explosions, more action more of everything. Another real important consideration is how well known or loved the source book was. There are a lot of movies that are adapted from books that were not read by a lot of people and therefore there is more freedom to adapt that book because no one knew what the original was to begin with. But when you adapt a book that is very well known like the Hobbit you are more inclined to stick more literally to the book.

But this thread should focus on considering the adaptation of the Hobbit as opposed to talking about those other movies and books.

With regard to formula it's important because well, it works! It's an art form that has been refined for almost 100 years of filmmaking. But having said that, there is always worth in considering changing it up. If anything we've seen a lot more movies recently that have used unconventional structures and plots and narrative techniques, because the old way, frankly, gets boring. The most important point is that the writers are adapting not just writing so they are constrained in what they can come up with and use. It's a pro but also a con. I don't think with the Hobbit they are going to do anything fancy. The book is pretty linear so one would think the movie will be linear. Unless they decide to add in stuff concerning what Gandalf was doing during his absences from the storyline of the book. The Hobbit also has less main characters so there is less need to develop everyone with an arc and motivation. Also there is no love story so no need to build that up. I'm not saying it's going to be a lot easier but it should be a bit more easy. Of course, I'm just talking about adapting the Hobbit not the second movie, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

With regard to running length, that has more to do with the editing room as opposed to the script. There are many examples of films that ended up being 3 or 4 hours long on the first rough edit and then of course got chopped down to a more reasonable 2 hours. The length to me is less important than making sure the pacing is good and the movie doesn't feel slow or boring. You can have an hour and a half movie is duller than dirt and a 3 hour movie that is super exciting. We're all pretty certain that the movie is going to be longer than shorter given Jackson's history, I have no problem with that, the movie deserves to be long enough to tell the story.

There are some other things to consider with regard to the script writing process.

Hollywood film scripts are almost never written in actuality solely by the person(s) credited. More often than not they are written by committee and a badly organized committee at that! Sometimes people are brought in to "punch up" the dialogue or handle a scene or even to completely rewrite the script with no credit. The LotR flims appear to be unusual in that there was a very cohesive and unified team of writers. Nonetheless, some rough division of labor appears to have occurred during the writing process. FW and PB concentrated more on the actual writing whereas PJ was brought in more to consult and give final approval on changes and ideas once he started shooting. Now this may differ for the Hobbit as we don't know who is actually going to be writing and who is directing and if the director is going to have a hand in writing or not. Nonetheless I think there needs to be at least 2 people writing the thing and they need to be the only two people because too many cooks will spoil the soup. Suggestions should certainly be solicited from the creative people and the actors but it all needs to be filtered through one authority.

So the question is how that is going to occur with the new films. Ideally I'd like to see at least 2 of the 3 people who wrote LotR to write the Hobbit. They seem to want to stick together. LotR set a precedent for being about the least Hollywood of any 3 movies made in recent years of similar size, scope and budget. The crew remarked often in the DVD's that the films felt like the world's largest home movie. However I am afraid that is unlikely that the new films can possibly recreate the same exact ethos because of the lawsuit and the possibility of including more studio oversight. I hope that PJ has engendered enough respect and earned enough trust from the studio bosses that they will let him do it his way but we'll have to wait and see.


acheron
Gondor


Jan 11 2008, 4:31pm

Post #3 of 83 (301 views)
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adaptations [In reply to] Can't Post


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Bad adaptations? There are too many to think of. Off the top of my head, every Tom Clancy novel that got made into a movie.


Sorta off topic, but I thought Hunt for Red October was good...

The other ones were pretty terrible though, yeah.

Another good one: Fight Club.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


Patty
Immortal


Jan 11 2008, 7:01pm

Post #4 of 83 (280 views)
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Ah.... [In reply to] Can't Post

 
"the inciting incident’, which is the moment, about ten or fifteen minutes into the film, when you suddenly realise what the film is about and the viewer says, ‘Right! So this is the story . . . ’ "


So this
explains something I've always wondered about. It explains why more of the extended Hobbiton scene wasn't in the theatrical release. I know the filmmakers thought it would be wrong to show Bilbo all freaked out when he thought he'd lost the ring at Bag End because they felt it was too soon. But I've always felt the rest of that scene should have been shown, in order to bond us with the (simple, loveable) hobbits. Many people still thought they were children, or simply weren't invested enough in their lives if they hadn't read the books. I always thought more time was needed to make us "care" about them. But it seems as if that would have made the story take more than the 10-15 minutes to get started. Um. I still think they should have included some of that, perhaps the bit where the hobbitlass thinks she's getting a kiss whereas the male hobbit just wants food? Some more of it, anyway.


For Gondor!


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 11 2008, 7:41pm

Post #5 of 83 (285 views)
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"The Hunt for Red October"... [In reply to] Can't Post

and Clear and Present Danger work better as films than as books. Patriot Games and especially The Sum of All Fears didn't adapt as well.

Regarding The Hobbit:


Quote
The book is pretty linear so one would think the movie will be linear.

The book leaves the Battle of Five Armies and relates its climax in a few sentences after the fact. Should the film do the same?

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wolfranger
Bree


Jan 11 2008, 8:25pm

Post #6 of 83 (303 views)
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Readers and non-readers. [In reply to] Can't Post

As to the first two questions, I think a lot of it depends on whether you've read the book or not. The examples that came to mind are the recent adaption of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" (good) and the Harry Potter films (bad). Then I realised that people who haven't read No Country for Old Men thought the film was confusing and strange, and people who haven't read Harry Potter think the Harry Potter films are good. PJ did well enough with LOTR that it was acclaimed by both book and non-book fans, but there are book fans who think it isn't good enough, and non-readers who think it's too confusing. So, it seems that the most important thing when adapting book to film is to achieve a balance between these two extremes. (Although I personally would tend towards making the film for the book fans and forgetting the rest of the population.)

Cheers,
wolfranger

"People at first though it obscurely religious, but when Rodia was rediscovered in Northern California after having disappeard for some years he turned out to be violently anti-religious, though he did not offer any other explanation of the towers' inscriptions and symbols." Howard Becker, Art Worlds. (Referring to the Watts Towers in Los Angeles.)


Amon Amarth
The Shire


Jan 11 2008, 8:40pm

Post #7 of 83 (292 views)
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Sometimes linear isn't always linear [In reply to] Can't Post

Well more linear than compared to say Towers or King which has several separate storylines that split off and re-merge. Almost certainly the battle should be fleshed out and portrayed vividly.


weaver
Half-elven

Jan 11 2008, 9:01pm

Post #8 of 83 (267 views)
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Nice intro! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not a big movie goer, so I can only speak generally to your first two questions.

I can say that I've been more likely to pick up a book after I see a movie, than vice versa. In most cases, the book has been really different than the film, and so I've tended to see them as two separate entities -- that the book "inspired" the movie, not that the movie "is" the screen version of the book. I find it intriguing to see what the film makers chose to focus on out of all they could have picked from.

Maybe that's why I have less trouble with the LOTR film changes than many do -- I was never expecting it to "be" the book on screen, though I did hope that they did the story justice. Since I didn't have the expectations walking in that certain things "had" to be in the story, I was delightfully surprised when they were, and not as upset when they weren't....

A couple of times I've read books based on films -- the original Star Wars trilogy, or 2001, for example. In these cases, the books are pretty loyal to the films, with a few places where things are added that were probably part of the script and then cut. I wouldn't say the books were great literature, but I did find them satisfying as another way of enjoying the film story. So I guess you could say I appreciated it that the books were "film loyal" -- which is kind of interesting, since I don't feel that the other way around. Hmmm....

In terms of the screenplay, Jackson and company have been criticized for using too much of a Screenwriting 101 approach to the tale -- trying to make LOTR fit a film formula, rather than creating a script and approach that fit LOTR's style. What Jackson proved was that you could make LOTR work as a film, and within the standard conventions of screenwriting. What remains to be seen is if someone can make a version that more closely follows the text, including things like the flashbacks, poems, separating the storylines, etc.

My guess is that LOTR is so complex that it's possible to adapt it in many different ways, like Shakespeare. With luck, we'll see other versions in years to come that will each provide an interesting perspective and way to enjoy and explore the story.

As far as what's "too long" -- I kind of like the idea of a continuing series, where each film stands alone, but where they all still build on each other. You can then keep each one to a shorter length, but not sacrifice the things you can only get with more time. Some of the longer term story arcs they did in Star Trek, where one plot lasted over several episodes, worked very well for me. It was a richer story telling experience, when they didn't have to tie up everything at the end of an hour....

For me, after 2 hours it's hard to keep focused on a story -- it took me several theater trips to take in all of TTT, for example. Every time I saw it my brain was able to process more of it -- it was just too overwhelming on the first viewing to absorb it all.

I think that's why the discussions on this board have helped to increase the appreciation of the LOTR films for a lot of us -- looking at them in bits and pieces helps with understanding what makes them work, and with noticing things that just go by you in the theater. Then, when you put them back together and view them again, it's with a far greater recognition of what went into making them and how everything contributes to the total effect of them.

I enjoyed thinking about your questions -- you're off to a great start! Thanks!

Weaver



elostirion74
Rohan

Jan 11 2008, 9:09pm

Post #9 of 83 (284 views)
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Is a movie just another branch of communications theory? [In reply to] Can't Post

Reading Mc Kee's theories reminds me, frankly, of being present at any seminar of communications theory,
as if making a great film is about the same as working with branding or improving your skills in the area
of work psychology. It's a very reductionist way of thinking, which, even if it often delivers or is believed to deliver, seems way too simplistic to me. Stories can be and need to be about a variety of things in order to remain interesting on several viewings. I've probably seen a lot of films that may have followed Mc Kee's formula, or could be considered to follow this formula, without it being palpable when watching the movie. If you notice that the film adheres strictly to formula while you're seeing it, it's a big problem, I think.

Structure, obviously, is vital to anything we do and make, and especially when adapting books with complex structures.
The Hobbit, however, does not have a complex structure at all. It's a quite straightforward story with a string of
adventures, focused on Bilbo's growth. It should not be difficult to adapt, and it ought to be quite compatible with classic movie making, with quite a lot of whimsy into the bargain.

The Sherlock Holmes films & series are great adaptations, I find, but the original stories are not very difficult to adapt in the first place. Nailing the main characters was probably more difficult.

My main problem when commenting on good or bad adaptations is the fact that I haven't read the book(s) yet. I loved the Hours as well as The Talented? Mr Ripley and tend to assume that these are great adaptations, but actually I may still be quite baffled when I get to read the books.

I remember finding that the Zefirreli adaptation of one of the Gospels (I think this was back in the 80s) moving and impressive, but this is so long ago I might have changed my mind by now.

Some of the Harry Potter adaptations have been mediocre, like nr. 1 & nr. 4.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 11 2008, 9:11pm

Post #10 of 83 (247 views)
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Why? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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Amon Amarth
The Shire


Jan 11 2008, 9:15pm

Post #11 of 83 (261 views)
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Film novelizations [In reply to] Can't Post




In Reply To


A couple of times I've read books based on films -- the original Star Wars trilogy, or 2001, for example. In these cases, the books are pretty loyal to the films, with a few places where things are added that were probably part of the script and then cut. I wouldn't say the books were great literature, but I did find them satisfying as another way of enjoying the film story. So I guess you could say I appreciated it that the books were "film loyal" -- which is kind of interesting, since I don't feel that the other way around. Hmmm....

Interesting that you point out movie novelizations. I always found them to be an odd fiction category and don't quite know what to make of them with regard to how they fit in with the movie. I think most of the time they are nothing more than tie-in marketing. I did happen to like the "Return of Jedi" novelization. With regard to 2001, what's curious is that the movie and the book are almost contemporaneous, so you could say that they are companions to each other.




N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 11 2008, 9:16pm

Post #12 of 83 (267 views)
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That's funny about Potter. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Some of the Harry Potter adaptations have been mediocre, like nr. 1 & nr. 4.

Those are the only two I've seen (and I haven't read the books). The first was generally dull, and the second dull and confusing.

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Join us Jan. 7-13 for "Strider".


Tim
Tol Eressea


Jan 11 2008, 9:17pm

Post #13 of 83 (296 views)
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Formula and boring-ness [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes there is a reason for formula and yes it can become boring or predictable. I personally think the writers fell into this trap in all three of the LOTR movies. It got so ridiculous I could see it coming a mile away.

Gandalf - is reversed with regards to Moria, he becomes the one (instead of Aragorn I believe) who is reluctant to go through Moria.
Aragorn - is reversed, instead of taking on the challenge of High King and Sauron, he becomes reluctant participant who somehow (though it's never explained) finds a motivation to become the king. I think some dialogue was added about Arwen dying and that maybe helped spur him to take the reforged sword, but that plot was weak and silly at best.
Treebeard - his motivations change and he decides to not help with Saruman instead of helping. This arguably is the silliest reversal of them all.
Frodo - he's reversed with regards to trusting Sam - at some point Gollum is allowed to come between them and break this sacred trust (with the corruptive influence of the Ring at play)
Faramir - he's reversed with regards to his resistance to the temptation of the Ring.

I'm saying it was done so often it became boring and predictable. An artificial tension instead of the "natural" tension built into the story. I started groaning especially when I saw it start to happen with Frodo arguing with Sam and empathizing with Gollum. So, they sacrificed some of the power of the Ring in the story (Frodo actually threatens Gollum with this Power to make him behave) for a melodramatic "I want him to be saved so I know I can be saved" artifice. Just think how cool it would have been to actually see the Ring's power become manifest in Frodo as he used it to cow Gollum. There was an actual threat of Frodo being tempted by the Ring to become another Dark Lord himself. Now all that is gone and the Ring becomes less a temptation of Power and more an object of insane temptation between Gollum and Frodo. Looking at this with a little depth, it becomes ridiculous. Frodo is going to destroy the Ring. Why would he be worried about it turning him into Gollum? He knows that if he destroys the Ring, its hold over him and Gollum will be gone forever. He knows that if he doesn't destroy the Ring, Sauron will take over and becoming another Gollum will be the least of Frodo's worries.

Aragorn becomes a puzzlement. If he doesn't want the power of becoming the King, then just what the heck is he doing being involved in the whole mess at all? The quest to destroy the Ring is going to take this man's destiny in direct confrontation with Sauron. If he doesn't want this destiny, you'd think he be anywhere other than helping Frodo. Putting this reluctance to be King in the plot pretty much destroys this man's motivation to be involved at all, because then you're asking yourself "why Doesn't he want to be King?" The movie doesn't contradict that he was raised knowing his birthright and raised by Elrond. Since Aragorn is already established as a particular type of threat to Sauron in the books, that all has to be de-constructed to make him a reluctant participant, thus complicating the story needlessly. A MUCH better way to handle the story would have been through flashback, showing him as a young adult being taught by Elrond and finding love with Arwen, and these things cementing his becoming the man who works for years to position himself as key to Sauron's defeat and inheritor of the Throne of Gondor.

Treebeard becomes silly. He doesn't KNOW his trees are being killed off by Saruman? Then he needs to turn in his Ent badge and become a Troll. In the book, he obviously knows what's going on with this forest, because this makes sense. He's an Ent. He actually calls himself Fangorn - that's how much he is part of the forest. He has to have the hobbits take him in a direction that is dangerous so that he runs into a patch of woods destroyed by Saruman? Dumb. Peter Jackson just took minutes out of the movie that he could have been using to good effect somewhere else. Why the pointless and not-well-thought-out reversal? To tweak the nose of fans of the books? Sheesh. It's like reversal for the sake of reversal.

Faramir - I would rather they had just skipped over him altogether (like Bombadil) rather than make him a copy of his brother Boramir. That was one of the cool things about Faramir. He chooses a different path than his brother - in other words, mankind is not hopeless and it can resist evil to a certain extent. So no, I have to look at Faramir and say "yep he's gone the way of Gandalf, Treebeard, Frodo, and Aragorn before him.". Predictable. Boring.

Gandalf becomes scared of the Balrog in Moria. Not only that, but they give away the surprise of the Balrog with dialogue from Saruman. What the...? Instead of just relying on the book - hey in the book Gandalf is taken by surprise and is greatly weakened at his and the Balrog's encounter at a door. Talk about Drama! That would have been so cool. There's enough tension and drama right there - why create some and deviate from the book when you really don't need to? And yes, the Balrog would have been a cool surprise to anyone not familiar with the books.

I could go an and on about things I didn't like, but I'll contain myself to the formulaic reversals added for dramatic tension or "journey of the character". Yes, I've listened to the commentaries of all three EE films, and still the reversals bug me.

Please no one attack me for being a Jackson hater or something. I love the movies. I really do. There is so much good in them. I think Jackson did a superb job. Do I think he could have put everything in the books on film? No. I just think he should have trusted the original story points more - dug a bit deeper for the drama inherent in the text - rather than creating artificial plot and tension.

And no, I don't think he would ever take my opinion seriously. His movies did insanely well at the box office. In every objective measure his creations are an astounding success. But this is my two cents with regards to formula and how it can be misused in adapting a book into a movie - these movies in particular.

Great, where are we going?


weaver
Half-elven

Jan 11 2008, 9:34pm

Post #14 of 83 (254 views)
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good argument... [In reply to] Can't Post

..as to how the films might have been done without following the formulas that Jackson and company used. Thanks for these thoughts...

I admire that you don't let the things you don't like about the films keep you from appreciating them. The items you listed are major turn-offs for some which made it hard for them to enjoy the films at all.

I agree that Jackson's films were only one way you can film LOTR -- they sort of assumed some parts of the plot and structure were "not" filmable as written, and so made the changes they did. That which fits with Tolkien's assessment that it's essentially an unfilmable work. It will be interesting to see if someone comes along who sees things as you do, and proves both Tolkien and Jackson wrong by making a satisfactory film in a book loyal style.

Weaver



Amon Amarth
The Shire


Jan 11 2008, 9:48pm

Post #15 of 83 (250 views)
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Good points about formula [In reply to] Can't Post

Your post points out something that is true not only about film scriptwriting but fiction writing as well. It's been pointed out many times that Tolkien's works don't adhere to the "formula" of fiction writing. Tolkien probably didn't even know what the formula was if you told him! Of course Tolkien would argue that he wasn't really writing fiction in the conventional sense he was writing a very detailed account of a short period of events in a much larger and longer mythological landscape. It's a tough task to adapt this kind of literary work to film and no matter how you do it, someone is going to not be happy about it and someone is going to like it. That's just the nature of the game. It seems like there are two theories to book-to-film adaptation. One is a more conservative and literal process where the writer believes that the book author got it all correct and he simply needs to translate the text to action. The other is a more liberal approach where the book simply lays out a plot, a set of characters and some basic themes and ideas and then the script writer is free to take those elements and turn them into a movie taking into account the particular requirements for creating a movie which can be quite different for a book. I'll give you an example of a very liberal adaptation of a great book that became a great movie: LA Confidential. The movie hacked out a couple subplots, condensed the timeline, removed a lot of characters, changed them around, but still got it very right. Which is best? Who knows? I don't think anyone of us here has ever written a movie script so it's easy to say, "Oh you gotta do it this way" or "Why did you did do it that way?" which I guess is part of the fun of movie watching.


Lily Fairbairn
Half-elven


Jan 11 2008, 9:51pm

Post #16 of 83 (247 views)
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I tend to agree with you [In reply to] Can't Post

that PJ et al went too far sticking with script-writing theory and adding too many reversals.

However, back when RotK first came out, a friend of mine who'd taken the same writing course and who had not read LotR thought the films were so amazingly successful because they *did* stick with the formula -- and he felt that where the films faltered, it was because they stuck too closely to the book! (And no, I'm afraid after all this time I don't remember exactly what he saw as faults stemming from sticking too close to the text.)

Where I disagree is that I like the character arc PJ gave Aragorn. I think he has plenty of motivation for getting involved in the Quest. For the good of Middle Earth, the Ring must be destroyed, so he acts to that end, not to claim power for himself. Even though he's very wisely aware of the corruption inherent in power, he puts his life on the line anyway, to help those people who need his help, and, in the end, only claims his destiny because that's the way he can help his friends and followers. (I wish PJ had included the Houses of Healing scenes as they were in the book.)

In other words, to me, movie-Aragorn is a stronger character because he acts out of responsibility not entitlement. I like that in a man Smile

I don't think flashbacks to Aragorn's earlier life would have worked at all, sorry.

* * * * * * *
Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?

A man may do both. For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!"


Tim
Tol Eressea


Jan 11 2008, 10:13pm

Post #17 of 83 (250 views)
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Insert Required Subject Line Here [In reply to] Can't Post

Good points. Indeed this is all subjective. I'm glad you brought up LA Confidential, it's one of my favorite movies. I've never read the book. I think it brings up something that doesn't occur too often in writing screenplays - source material that is as well-known and loved as Tolkien. It's an almost unique factor , because only a very few writers are as well known as Tolkien. To further complicate things, Tolkien didn't just write a good story, he CREATED a unique depth/mythology for that story.

I guess what I'm driving at is, the pressure was considerably higher (than usual) on the screenwriters to get the movie adaptations as close to the source as possible. This affects the liberal/conservative approach you mention. The whole reason these movies were created was because of the huge popularity of the books. Thus I can understand those who wanted a more conservative adaptation vs. a liberal one.

To be fair to the screenwriters, they were open enough to "discover" this need for conservatism as they got further into making the films - by their own admission. Not only was there huge feedback from the fans on message-boards (to remain true to the books), but the screenwriters would also run into problems while filming and almost have to return to the books for answers to those problems. Wink


In Reply To
Your post points out something that is true not only about film scriptwriting but fiction writing as well. It's been pointed out many times that Tolkien's works don't adhere to the "formula" of fiction writing. Tolkien probably didn't even know what the formula was if you told him! Of course Tolkien would argue that he wasn't really writing fiction in the conventional sense he was writing a very detailed account of a short period of events in a much larger and longer mythological landscape. It's a tough task to adapt this kind of literary work to film and no matter how you do it, someone is going to not be happy about it and someone is going to like it. That's just the nature of the game. It seems like there are two theories to book-to-film adaptation. One is a more conservative and literal process where the writer believes that the book author got it all correct and he simply needs to translate the text to action. The other is a more liberal approach where the book simply lays out a plot, a set of characters and some basic themes and ideas and then the script writer is free to take those elements and turn them into a movie taking into account the particular requirements for creating a movie which can be quite different for a book. I'll give you an example of a very liberal adaptation of a great book that became a great movie: LA Confidential. The movie hacked out a couple subplots, condensed the timeline, removed a lot of characters, changed them around, but still got it very right. Which is best? Who knows? I don't think anyone of us here has ever written a movie script so it's easy to say, "Oh you gotta do it this way" or "Why did you did do it that way?" which I guess is part of the fun of movie watching.


Great, where are we going?

(This post was edited by 5 by 5 on Jan 11 2008, 10:22pm)


elostirion74
Rohan

Jan 11 2008, 10:43pm

Post #18 of 83 (230 views)
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I guess I should have added.. [In reply to] Can't Post

Mathilda as an example of a good adaptation of a novel. Once again this is a pretty straightforward story to adapt,
the main challenge is nailing the characters.

Whatever the feel of the original, Tarkovskij's adaptation of a Polish novel to make the film Solaris must have been
one of the greatest and most imaginative adaptations ever made.


Tim
Tol Eressea


Jan 11 2008, 10:51pm

Post #19 of 83 (236 views)
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Subject Line is Required [In reply to] Can't Post

I respect your opinion. Yeah, this is all subjective. Though with regards to flashbacks, I thought it may be good to point out that they were used to good effect regarding Aragorn and Arwen's conversations at Rivendell (later seen in the Two Towers). And also with regards to Gollum at the beginning of the Return of the King.


In Reply To
that PJ et al went too far sticking with script-writing theory and adding too many reversals.

However, back when RotK first came out, a friend of mine who'd taken the same writing course and who had not read LotR thought the films were so amazingly successful because they *did* stick with the formula -- and he felt that where the films faltered, it was because they stuck too closely to the book! (And no, I'm afraid after all this time I don't remember exactly what he saw as faults stemming from sticking too close to the text.)

Where I disagree is that I like the character arc PJ gave Aragorn. I think he has plenty of motivation for getting involved in the Quest. For the good of Middle Earth, the Ring must be destroyed, so he acts to that end, not to claim power for himself. Even though he's very wisely aware of the corruption inherent in power, he puts his life on the line anyway, to help those people who need his help, and, in the end, only claims his destiny because that's the way he can help his friends and followers. (I wish PJ had included the Houses of Healing scenes as they were in the book.)

In other words, to me, movie-Aragorn is a stronger character because he acts out of responsibility not entitlement. I like that in a man Smile

I don't think flashbacks to Aragorn's earlier life would have worked at all, sorry.


Great, where are we going?


elostirion74
Rohan

Jan 11 2008, 10:58pm

Post #20 of 83 (235 views)
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I agree.. [In reply to] Can't Post

very much about the artificiality of the reversals and the plot tension, eventually it became very annoying.
This very noticeable adherence to formula was the weakest point of the films as I saw it, it was as if they couldn't think of any other way to structure them. Fortunately there were a lot of other things that were wonderfully done, enough to make the movies well worth seeing several times. It's not neccessary to slavishly adore everything in the movies in order to appreciate their beauty and the care and detail that went into them either.


elostirion74
Rohan

Jan 11 2008, 11:06pm

Post #21 of 83 (230 views)
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a comment [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you will find that nr. 3 & nr. 5 have a different feel to them, as well as a delightfully malicious character introduced in film nr. 5. Then again you might not find much of interest in the Harry Potter stories at all, and then it won't matter much anyway.

Film nr. 1 reflects how the books at this stage are intended for a very young audience. Film nr. 4 typically has opted for less characterization and more standard action fare.


hobbitlove
Gondor


Jan 11 2008, 11:25pm

Post #22 of 83 (221 views)
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Brilliant! Not surprising though... [In reply to] Can't Post

We expected it to be.Smile
Your preparation and organization are terrific. I knew I'd be learning a lot with this discussion.

I have two questions.

Is a screenplay and a script the same thing?

The wikipedia entries do not distinguish between those two words, so I assume they are the same. A script is general, screenplay movie specific.
I think the definitions stated that screenplays can have action, direction, scenery, and emotion (cues) written into them. So they can be quite detailed.

My second question: Why don't more authors write their own screenplays?

My answer to that would be that the two forms of storytelling are so different as to be nearly impossible to have successful crossover. Now, the why of that bold statement is a biggie. We'll probably get to some of that in this discussion, won't we? Could it be that screenwriting is more difficult than, or at least as difficult as, novel writing?
Yikes those are two more questions. Thinking....Oh, bad; all I can do is come up with more questions.
This last one (for now) might be good. Are there any screenwriters on this forum?

Heeeelp!



I'll post this and come back as I have more to say.

Great start OH (and Alcarcalime Wink)

hob



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hob
(former nick: "HobbitLoveR*M-e" among several others, briefly)



Amon Amarth
The Shire


Jan 12 2008, 12:36am

Post #23 of 83 (210 views)
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Answers and additional thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

Script and screenplay are more or less synonymous. They can be used interchangeably.

There have been examples of authors adapting their own work. Peter Benchley adapted his own book for "Jaws" and arguably produced a better work. Mario Puzo collaborated to adapt "The Godfather" and also produced a better work. I think an author adapting his own book needs to be someone who can sit back and analyze his book and see what parts work and what don't and to be very objective about it. Some authors just can't do that or don't write that way.

Other examples of screen writing similar to book adaptation would be: writing a sequel or remake to a well known movie, or writing a movie based on a popular comic book or other popular culture work that is not a specific entity but a collection? I would think trying to write a movie like that would be even harder!


OhioHobbit
Gondor

Jan 12 2008, 12:47am

Post #24 of 83 (207 views)
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Thanks, Weaver, [In reply to] Can't Post

What I really don't like is when a movie is "loosely based on the title." Asimov's short story, "Nightfall", comes to mind. I think that they just use the title to lure the audience in to the theater. That is why I was really, really nervous about seeing LOTR.

McKee does say that you have to follow the rules if you want a movie to be good. That probably means good to a large audience. If I wrote the screenplay, it would be good to an audience of one! But I do think that you could bend things here and there. I remember Peter saying that something was cut because it had already been said, and I thought that it was something that really needed to be said again. If Peter had only asked me. But he did have only so much time to present a lot of material.

That is why I was wondering about this time thing. If you make the movie just a couple of minutes longer, you could add this and a few more seconds would let you put that in. But something dictates or someone says that you have X amount of time and no more. Now, you probably can't tell everything in that amount of time and you have to start thinking about what you are going to cut out. So, when people complain about things being cut out of LOTR, they need to say what they would remove in order to put that in. My question to them is, if they had to write the screenplay for The Hobbit, what would they cut out? Maybe it's is not so easy.

You know, screen writing is a difficult subject to start out with, but you do have to start at the beginning.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 12 2008, 12:52am

Post #25 of 83 (214 views)
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Not sure about Tolkien. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Of course Tolkien would argue that he wasn't really writing fiction in the conventional sense he was writing a very detailed account of a short period of events in a much larger and longer mythological landscape.

I don't know if he would say that, or how true it is. Most of what he had previously written took place thousands of years before the events of LotR and had little direct connection to that story. He built the background as he wrote the tale, making it consistent as he neared the end, and after.

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