Sunday, May 15, 2011

If I could bottle that energy...

Last Saturday, Wendelin Van Draanen (center) was the featured speaker at the Children's Literature Council of Southern California's Spring Workshop.  The theme was "books to movies," and as Rob Reiner made a fine film from Van Draanen's wonderful Flipped, she had plenty of insider insight and cool anecdotes.  Remember the famous sycamore tree that Juli sits in?  Well, Rob Reiner finally found just the perfect tree - but it was in a park with a basketball court underneath it.  So he had the basketball court torn out and put in an asphalt road and sidewalk (so the school bus could pull up).  Afterwards, he put the basketball court back in.  Man, if libraries had that kind of money, what couldn't we accomplish?

Although she stayed in one spot on the stage, Van Draanen bounced on her toes as she spoke, stretched her arms, shifted her weight, and altogether gave off huge waves of irrepressible, good-humored energy.  She spends hours writing, runs marathons, and talks a mile a minute (with plenty of squeaks and other fun sound effects); it's not surprising that, when her first manuscript (for adults) was rejected, she wrote 3 more in quick succession before finally getting How I Survived Being a Girl published in 1997.

Carl Gottlieb, screenwriter for Jaws and many other movies, pointed out to us that for big projects, there are usually multiple screenwriters, both at the same time and one after another, and often most of them have never actually read the source material.  No wonder, then, that not only the original magic but the original plot is often lost in movies based on books.  However, movies based on books keep getting made, and Gottlieb speculated that it's because if you scratch most big, brash movie producers, you'll find someone who once read comic books under the covers with a flashlight.

Hmm.  I saw Thor last weekend, and though I knew the movie was based on a comic book based on Norse mythology rather than directly on Norse mythology, it was still a disappointment (except for Chris Hemsworth's physique).  It may or may not have been true to the comic book, but the movie's depiction of Asgard and its inhabitants was stultifyingly static.  Sometimes one needs to disregard intermediate source material and go back to the original. 

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