From Page To Stage To Screen

March 21, 2018

Have you ever wondered what is involved in taking a book and making it into a play or film? Why did some people love both “Gone Girl” in book and movie form, but the reception for the screen adaptation of “The Girl on the Train” was lukewarm in comparison to the phenomenal success of the book?

One of the events for invited guests at the Brisbane French Film Festival was a screening of the film “Jealous” followed by a panel discussion on taking books from page to stage and/or screen.

French Director of “Jealous” – David Foenkinos was in conversation with Queensland Theatre’s Sam Strong and Screen Queensland’s Tracey Viera.

This lively talk provided an insight into the steps and pathways taken before a movie or play makes it to your local theatre. For a writer like myself it was an eye opener and explained why some book adaptations appeal and why some are not so well received.

The Movie

David and his brother Stephane Foenkinos have once again joined creative forces to create the acerbic and dark comedy “Jealous”.

It tells the story of 50 year old divorced literature teacher Nathalie (Karin Viard) who devolves from an accomplished professional and loving mother into an irritable, narcissistic and jealous monster who detests the happiness and success of others around her.

She turns on her beautiful ballerina daughter Mathilde (real life ballerina- Dara Tombroff) before unleashing her spitefulness on her friends, colleagues, ex- husband and neighbours.

Will she find answers to her turmoil? Will her friends and family forgive her? Will she end up alone? These are just some of the questions asked in this entertaining story which is both honest and touching.

The Panel

David is one of the most successful French writers in the world. He told us it had been easy to work with his brother on this film as they knew each other’s  ways and any disagreements could be solved easily, as is the way with brothers.

This former guitar teacher has written 15 novels and been busy directing films. He said the film was written with the popular Karin Viard in mind and they wanted to make the script so good that she couldn’t say no.

“In France many novels are made into films,” he laughed.

He said it was very difficult to bring novels to life on the screen.

“People who’ve already read the book have their own movie in their head so it’s not easy to please them.”

He then joked, that he preferred other people to make movies of his books now “because if it’s a success I take the credit and if not, it’s the filmmaker.”
Sam Strong  is very experienced in bringing books to life on stage. “The 39 Steps” is a classic book and film with the hilarious stage adaptation playing to sell-out crowds here in Brisbane at the moment. (Interestingly, the character Nathalie, is watching the classic 39 Steps film in the French movie.)

Later in the year we’ll be treated to the successful stage adaptation of “Jasper Jones” which is also a bestselling novel and film. Sam agrees that changes to the original story were made across all three mediums.

“Some are successful, others are not,” he said.

He tells the story of Graeme Simsion whose bestseller “The Rosie Project” was originally written as a screenplay. No- one was interested.

“He turned it into a book which will now be made into a film,” said Sam.

Another such story is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time” whose author Mark Haddon thought it could not possibly be turned into a play.

It is now an award winning play which we’ll be lucky enough to see touring Australia this year.

Tracey Viera has successfully brought “Pirates of the Caribbean:Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Thor : Ragnarok” to be filmed in Queensland.

Her next coup is the filming in Queensland of  “Danger Close” which tells the story of the battle of Long Tan in the Vietnam war. Tracey is very experienced in the film industry and knows what it takes to make a good film.

“Sometimes unknown authors and books are easier to option and produce,”she said.

“It is so expensive to make films from famous books. If your work is good I will find you. I have successfully optioned a work from a Townsville writer and contacted them via Twitter.”

All agreed that plays are sometimes easier to convert to screen as the actors have played the characters so often. The dialogue just flows and the actors have put their own spin and quirks into the characters.

Some authors find it hard to let go of their work to the detriment of the film- “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” come to mind. Jodi Picoult famously hated the screen adaptation of  “My Sister’s Keeper” although the film was very successful.

So as you watch and judge some of the adaptations from novel to play to screen you’ll understand more of the process behind it.

Now I just need to find someone who’d like a romance set in Australia and the South of France with beautiful scenery, food, lavender, wine and a handsome French leading man.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? For more adaptations from novel to stage or screen visit the French Film Festival or watch out for your local theatre guides.

I loved the adaptation of Madeline St John’s story – “The Women in Black” into the musical “Ladies in Black” and my all time favourite movie and story-  “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier which was wonderful in both book and movie format.

There are also “Rebecca”- the musical and “Rebecca”- the play which are on my list to see. So tell me do you have a favourite novel which has been adapted into a play or movie? Was it successful?

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