Did you enjoy our segment on Jeffrey Hatcher? Read on to learn more about how he adapted A Slight Trick of the Mind into the major motion picture Mr. Holmes, directed by Bill Condon, starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney (View the trailer here).
Well, rules of an adaptation, it’s still a pretty loose set of rules.
I mean one rule is you’ve gotta break the back of it and betray something. I mean, most of the times people when they get to see an adaptation, and they know the book well they’re disappointed if the book isn’t somehow represented on film.
But it’s most obvious in things like, you know, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, James Bond, when Daniel Craig showed up on that boat on the Thames all these people said ‘James Bond’s not blonde!” When readers and audiences have a huge investment in a book emotionally, psychologically, these things can be difficult
Slight Trick of the Mind is, of course, not as well-known as things like that, so you can change tons of things. You won’t anger an audience in quite the same way, but even so you have to betray something.
A book is a ruminative fiction. You can pick it up. Put it down. You can read passages over and over again. You can read a book like Slight Trick of the Mind, about 200 some pages; you can read this probably in a day, tops, if you want to go straight through it. You could also take 10 months to read it if you’d like to, or you could never finish it.
But a film can’t be appreciated that way. It goes past you. It keeps revolving, and so things that could be suppler in a book, and could be done with a little bit more of a gossamer touch because you get to absorb and reabsorb, you have to hit it in a film hard.
You almost always end up throwing out a lot. I mean a simple rule might be see how long it takes good actors to read a book out loud. Even what I would consider a short book, like 250 pages, hours will go by but on film will probably be 100-105 minutes. Everything is about compression, what’s necessary, what isn’t.
And then later, even if you compress everything to what’s necessary just to tell the story, you know, not the thematics, not the character stuff, and then you have to decide well alright, where can I loosen it up? What can I allow myself? Because sometimes you make it too hermetically sealed, and all you’ve done is really compress a narrative.
But of course books, films, plays are not simply about the narrative. I mean the narrative is vitally important, but it’s about what the narrative makes you think. It’s how it delights you, the perceptions, the understanding, and the revelations.