John Connolly and the Hollywood Film Adaptation

I discovered a new writer this week: John Connolly. I was watching The New Daughter, a supernatural film starring Kevin Costner as a newly divorced father who moves his daughter and son into a big, plantation style house deep in South Carolina. There’s a mysterious mound in the woods and for some reason this affects the daughter’s behavior and Costner’s character must deal with the sinister changes. The move is ok so far (I haven’t finished watching it, so I don’t know how it ends) but what got my attention was the opening credits where I noticed The New Daughter is based on a short story written by John Connolly. I’m always intrigued (and jealous) when a feature film is based on a novel, or even more impressive, a short story.

So, I decided to check out this guy named John Connolly and I came across his excellent website and blog. He certainly likes to read and he definitely loves to write. He’s a Dubliner, with an impressive number of published novels and short stories under his belt. He talks a lot about the writing life. He even mentions which books and how many he’s reading for the month (way more books than I am – jealous again!). So far, he’s inspired me and forced me to take another long, hard look at my reading and writing habits. I am very guilty of procrastinating and very often distracted by the nuances of everyday life – work, home, TV, movies, Internet – while pursing the writing life. It’s never easy to write, no matter how much I love writing and the idea of writing. But I am improving.

Connolly mentions The New Daughter with an article tucked away under the Curiosities section on his blog. The article (originally published in Something Wicked Magazine) offers his musings and opinions on the film adaptation of his short story and Hollywood adaptations in general. It does take him a while to finally get to the point because he has so much to say, but in the process of reading his article I discovered a pretty damn cool writer. He makes several good arguments about film adaptations and offers a dose of reality for new and emerging writers who may be blinded by dreams of making it big when Hollywood comes knocking (raising my hand here). While he admits that, yes, he is lucky to make a living from his writing and has or will have several film adaptations of his work, he still cautions that making a film is an entirely different ballgame and if you’re not prepared for disappointment then it’s probably wise (should you be so lucky to have a story adapted for the screen) to let Hollywood handle it from there and never look back. Yet, some writers are directly involved in the film adaptation and he mentions examples of that as well. He was also lucky enough to visit the set of The New Daughter and briefly meet Kevin Costner, an experience not many us will ever have.

He also poses an interesting question: Why do so many readers want to see their favorite stories headed for the big screen? I can understand this from the perspective of the reader. I love movies. I always have and always will (I have a degree in film). I also love reading books. This blog is devoted to both passions because I couldn’t decide on just one. Film is a kinetic experience and for a lot of people it’s really cool to see the characters and the story you imagined in your own head on the big screen as you share that experience in a crowded theater. It stirs up a lot of excitement too – for the novel or the film or both. I’m already looking forward to seeing Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s best seller, when it’s released in theaters this fall. I’ve been meaning to read the novel ever since it was published and the movie adaptation has renewed my interest. And of course, how many women out there do you know that have read and are very anxiously awaiting the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Sometimes Hollywood gets it right, sometimes it doesn’t. And Connolly is certainly right about one thing – film is a very different narrative than a novel. It’s treated and handled differently by a team of people versus just one person who usually has full control and a vision of how a story is shaped. He suspects that short stories might make for better adaptations because there is more room to expand on a short story. It can even be viewed as a “pitch” for the film version, whereas a novel is already established with a beginning, middle and end and requires the surgical trimmings of a screenwriter or director to fit the parameters of the big screen. I’ve read many popular novels and seen the film adaptations that followed. And I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of them. Lately, though, I’ve reversed this process by going to see the film version first and then reading the novel later (I plan to do this with Gone Girl) and usually the novel wins by a long shot. There’s just so much in a novel that cannot be translated to the screen and by reading the novel after I’ve seen the film, I understand and appreciate more deeply what’s happening in the story that gets missed in the translation. This is part of what Connolly is trying to say and I agree with him a hundred percent here. But I still love movies and I still enjoy seeing the movie adaptation. I suppose as the reader or viewer, you’re free to enjoy or hate whatever medium the story is presented. As the writer, and where I sympathize with Connolly, there’s a personal connection to the story and seeing the original vision changed or altered by Hollywood can be affecting on a personal level. So, I do heed his warnings and I take his advice very seriously. Perhaps I’ll even understand it better one day if I’m ever lucky to have the choice of allowing Hollywood to adapt one of my stories for the screen.

For now, though, I plan to finish watching The New Daughter, then I’ll read Connolly’s original short story and check out more works by this cool writer.