Doomed adaptations

Stephen Galloway puzzles over doomed screen adaptations, starting with John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces — “now on indefinite hold” — and surveying a few other big-budget options that didn’t pan out. Among other things, he notes that “Warners owned rights to Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel The Secret History for years before Miramax took it over, only to drop the project when Gwyneth Paltrow wanted her brother Jake to direct.”

One screenwriter, Stephen Schiff (Lolita), argues that projects fail because:

In some ways, producers and studios are more exacting than book editors often are…. In the book world, you can get by with a lot of fairly slack stuff, especially if you have written best sellers. If you are a brand name, you can write some fairly shoddy stuff, and no editors will raise a voice — whereas by the time (the book) gets to the screen, you have had these squadrons of people checking every aspect of the plot and characters.

But Kevin McCormick, an executive Vice President at Warners, “says studio executives should recognize that the source of a book’s appeal might also be what makes it difficult to adapt”:

From our perspective, when we buy a book, we are buying not just a story but a voice…. It is not just an idea. So often, you are challenged by: How do you adapt that voice?


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