Monday, January 11, 2010

On The New Daughter

Last month, as James Cameron's AVATAR seemingly swept into every cinema in the world, determined to show us what the smurfs might have looked like if they were taller and the smurfettes had proper breasts, the movie of THE NEW DAUGHTER crept out on limited release. Starring Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero, it's based on a short story (a very short story) that first appeared in the NOCTURNES collection some years ago. I still haven't seen it, which is a pretty good metaphor for the position of the writer of the source material for a movie. Generally speaking, the novelist or short story writer upon whose work the film is based is required to do little more than take the check and keep quiet, unless, of course, he has been drawn into adapting his own work, in which case he will actually have to earn that check instead of merely banking it and leaving the hard work to someone else.

It's odd seeing something with which one is at once both intimately, and peripherally, involved make its way into the world. I wanted the film to do well, mainly for the sake of all those who were responsible for its creation. The success, or otherwise, of the film was never going to make a great difference to my sales, I don't think, given that it was a short story, not a novel, that provided the initial idea, but my brief glimpse of the moviemaking process showed me just how many people have to work phenomenally hard for a film to make it as far as the screen. Some of those involved with THE NEW DAUGHTER had worked on Polanski's CHINATOWN and Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, among others, and they applied themselves just as willingly to our little film as they did to those fine works. I wonder if, while making those movies, the crew and the producers knew how good they were going to be. I suspect that they might have had some inkling, but it could not have been more than that. History determines what is and is not of value. It requires the passage of time to allow a perspective to emerge on a book, or a film, or a painting.

Even if I had seen THE NEW DAUGHTER, I'm not sure that I would comment upon it. In a way, I feel that it's not for me to do so, and I get annoyed when I see writers either criticizing films of their work, or basking in the acclaim when those works are applauded. Bad books have made good movies, and vice versa. I'm currently reading the director Bruce Beresford's book JOSH HARTNETT DEFINITELY WANTS TO DO THIS, a diary of his attempts to get various movies made during the last decade, and some of the most interesting moments concern the tension between source material and scripts, as Beresford picks up on flaws in novels that might present difficulties on the screen but are less problematical for the individual reader. Sometimes, when it comes to movies, I think books and short stories are merely concepts, ideas scribbled at varying lengths on pieces of paper. The two art forms, literature and cinema, are so distinct that the relationship between source and film is tenuous at best. THE NEW DAUGHTER, for example, is only 16 pages long in its short story form. To turn that into a feature length film requires the addition of so much new material that only a hint of the original can possibly be discerned in the finished movie. If the film is great, it's great because a whole lot of other creative individuals made it that way. If it isn't great, then generally it's not for want of those individuals trying to make it as good as it can be. Nobody - except, perhaps, the producers of MEGA SHARK V GIANT OCTOPUS, which I happened to catch on TV recently and caused pieces of my brain to leak from my ears - sets out to make a terrible film, just as no writer sets out to write a bad book. I suspect that all creative work secretly aspires to the condition of art.

So, I guess I'll be waiting for a while to see THE NEW DAUGHTER, unless the production company sends me a DVD. As Hollywood experiences go, it has all been rather positive so far. The film was made. Everybody involved with it was a pleasure to deal with. I've made at least one good friend as a consequence of it. The film was released. Everybody got paid. By Hollywood standards, that's almost as good as it gets. The rest, to quote Raymond Carver, is gravy . . .

This week John read

BLOOD OATH by Chris Farnsworth (uncorrected proof)
THE MANAGER by Barney Ronay
THE GUARDIANS by Andrew Pyper (manuscript)

and listened to

hours and hours of the wonderful Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo talking about movies on their Radio 5 podcast. Brilliant, just brilliant . . .


Emily Cross said...

Well even if you havent (and I haven't) seen the NEW DAUGHTER, it was an excellent short story and I hope the movie does it justice :)

Took me two weeks after reading it to feel safe opening my window lol. ;)

ksuicide said...

Interesting. I'll be on the look out for the film. I loved the story.

I still need to get my grubby mitts on "the gates". Hopefully I'll find a copy when I re-deploy into New Zealand. :)


TomH said...

Forget the commercial aspect. If only a single Beresford movie was up for grabs it would have to be Breaker Morant.

William Goldman seems to break the rule: successful novelist/screenwriter/playwright.

With Marathon Man he wrote both the novel and the screenplay and enjoyed huge success... as did his memoir that followed some years later.

TomH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
laurs said...

I'm excited to see this when I can. I'm in the middle of Nocturnes right now and I have to agree with the comment above mine about not feeling it safe to open a window!

Also, Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus. If I had watched the entire thing, perhaps I would have lost some brain cells as well. (Un)fortunately, the copy I found was damaged and I couldn't get through it. I did, however, watch the scene with the shark and the airplane (with all of my coworkers) multiple times. That shall never fail to brighten my day!

Josh Schrank said...

John, I managed to see it opening night and am still baffled why Dayton was one of the few places in the US it was released. I have to admit the screen writer's interpretation, and the director's choices, were rather um... interesting. I loved the story in Nocturines, so I'm glad the venture was profitable for you. Best of luck with the next one!

Josh Schrank said...

...and yes, I do know how to spell Nocturnes, I just choose to be, well... brain-dead. Sorry about that.