When all the bravado and puff of Hollywood is cleared away, and one sees how reliant the industry is on adaptations, it is not surprising that remakes of foreign films feature strongly in the annual line-ups—and I don’t just mean those of Stieg Larsson.
Almost all art is plagiarism, if not of another artist, then of nature. Does that make it less admirable or valuable? Perhaps not, when the plagiariser manages to have better distribution and gets the art to a wider audience than the original.
The film—and literary—industry is obsessed with originality, as if it bestows some magic elixir, when it really should be obsessed with accessibility, that is, getting the film to the widest possible audience. The time-honoured debate about quality and quantity comes to the fore when a filmmaker expects to be paid millions, but has never shown that they have the ability to tell a story that will be accessible to a wide audience.
So, here are 10 reasons why adaptations and remakes are so popular in Hollywood:
1. The thought that, ‘I can’t be fired for buying rights to a successful book; even if the adaptation is a huge flop, it won’t be my fault’.
2. If based on a best-seller, there is already proven audience for the product—which is comforting.
3. Telling stories is very hard. If someone has worked out how to tell a particular story well, why not copy it?
4. If an author has told their story badly, you may be able to see a way to improve it—although writing a good script is much harder than writing a good novel.
5. Financiers who know little about the film industry are easier to convince if there is a successful predecessor.
6. Financiers who know a lot about the film industry are usually more impressed by a novel—or, these days, a comic or computer game—than by a script.
7. If the author of the original material is dead then you don’t have to worry about upsetting them—and you can prove that you are even better than they were.
8. True stories must be convincing because they actually happened. (And if you believe this you have not read Aristotle’s ‘credibility is more important than truth’ mantra.)
9. Many adaptations can be co-produced, meaning two or more producers sharing the costs.
10. Film is essentially collaborative; with an adaptation you get two writers for the price of one.
Adaptations have become so ubiquitous that there are subcategories for the source material: novels, biographies, history books, television shows, comics, graphic novels, computer games, webisodes, to name some of the most popular. We now even have a Remakes Market, launched in 2010 and next taking place in LA in November 2011. (www.theremakesmarket.com).
It will be interesting to see how many films in the future acknowledge their source material, and how many claim originality. Check the credits. I bet that ‘inspired by’ will increase in popularity, at the cost of ‘based on’. julianfriedmann.squarespace.com