A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Film adaptations of novels carry huge potential to disappoint. Translating the written word to the screen can lose event and depth; even kill the part of a story that speaks to you. How many times have we seen a film adaptation and wondered why sub-plots or characters were removed? How many times have we seen changes that grate against our memory of a beloved novel?
The reality is that the written word and the moving picture are two very different ways to tell a story. And when Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) asked if I would adapt the screenplay for BIG GAME into a novel, I had a taste of just how different.
I loved BIG GAME as soon as I read the screenplay; a high-concept story about Oskari, the 13-year-old unexpected hero who rescues the US president from terrorists in the Finnish wilderness. It was exactly my kind of story and I knew how I wanted to tell it. The book would be for younger readers, so it made sense to me that the focus should be on Oskari, and I wanted it to be first-person, so the reader could experience the story with him. My problem was that the film isn’t told in that way. In the film, we never know what Oskari is thinking, so I had to create character for him. I had to give him hopes and fears and memories. The script contains a number of crucial moments which don’t even include Oskari, so I had to juggle the timeline, invent new scenes and characters while cutting existing ones.
One of the most important lessons I learned about the difference between film and the written word, though, was in the action sequences. Looking good on film and reading well on paper are two very different things. On film, action happens quickly, with barely time for the viewer to think about it. We experience movie action as a rush of excitement, but on the page things work more slowly and have to be more carefully considered. The reader has more time to absorb the detail, so the action must stand up to more intense scrutiny. So for the book, I toned down the action sequences, and removed others.
Oh, and I changed the finale completely (the director/screenwriter wasn’t too happy about that, but let me have my way in the end).
So, working on BIG GAME was not only a huge amount of fun, but it also helped me to see the differences between books and films. It highlighted to me that we should enjoy each of them independently and judge them on their own merits – not by comparing them to their source material.
And on that note I should say thanks to Jalmari Helander and Petri Jokiranta (writers of the original screenplay) for allowing me to make such heavy changes to their fantastic story . . .