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Better than Ondaatje?

The Independent posted an excerpt of an article originally published in the UK-based Mslexia magazine, in which Danuta Kean discusses the process of bringing great books to the big screen.

The article references recent films such as Notes on a Scandal, based on Zoë Heller’s 2003 novel of the same name, and the fifth Harry Potter film, which is due out this July, and explains the box office expectations of adapted works.

According to Nick Marston, the managing director of Curtis Brown’s media division, there are two types of film: bullseye films, which rely on word-of-mouth and have to hit their upmarket audiences spot on if they are to be hits, and shotgun films: mass appeal movies which can hit far more targets.

“Blockbuster films thrive off mass appeal,” he says. “If you have a literary novel, translating it into an adult movie is harder because it appeals to a smaller audience.” Films like Notes on a Scandal break out of the art house circuit because they have hit the bullseye, getting everything right from fine acting to a great script, critical approval and audience-enticing awards.

Kean also discusses the author’s lowly position in the filming process. One writer, Celia Brayfield, who sold film rights to her novel Heartswap, was told she could attend the movie’s premiere but only at her own expense. And that’s only if the film actually gets made at all. “Less than two per cent of optioned films make it to the screen, and those that do usually have long gestation processes….” (Brayfield’s Heartswap got dropped after the buyers, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, divorced.)

Kean includes a list of the best and worst adaptations. The English Patient is number five on the best list with high praise for its screenwriter. “Anthony Minghella turned Michael Ondaatje’s Booker winner upside down to form a romantic epic that improved on the original.”