Writing in the Film Generation

If I’m to be brutally honest, I don’t really read that much – particularly not as much as I think I should, as a writer. This isn’t a new problem for me, but I haven’t always been this way – in my youth and young adulthood, I used to read voraciously, devouring book after book with gusto. In fact, I would argue that I stopped reading so much around when I started writing (an odd coincidence, to be sure), but it also occurs to me that I stopped reading quite so much when I started watching.

I’ve always loved movies, film and TV, and there was a time when I would be excited about all the newest movies in theaters, or the latest TV show to grace cable networks (I’ve also come to realize that, as I get older, I kind of just want to watch the same stuff over and over again, a kind of comfort in familiarity). And if I’ve never said as much outright, I find that film and literature are really two sides of the same coin – namely, storytelling.

I think that’s what I really enjoy more than anything – a good story. Something that triggers the imagination, that gets the creative juices flowing, or simply makes you feel. And I don’t particularly think that any given story ‘needs’ to be told through any particular medium; the core essence of the story can be just as valid as a book, a poem, a photograph or a full-length movie. However, the way in which the story is told is more important to the medium, and this is where I think that, as I write more and more, I’m slowly realizing the influences that are guiding my storytelling.

You see, reading in the past – wonderful books like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Great Expectations, or even Salem’s Lot – got me feeling in a way that, in my experience, only a book could. When Scout and her brother are being stalked through the dark, or when Magwitch is waiting in the staircase for Pip, I remember feeling a deep unease, a fright and terror that no movie could ever instill in me – something that came from a deep caring of lovingly crafted characters, and the words on the page painted emotion as much as they did images.

Film, on the other hand, is (obviously) a heavily visual medium. And whilst some films don’t necessarily explore this in depth, others manage to convey the story in a way only visual imagery could. The Lord of the Rings, Lawrence of Arabia, or even the manufactured but highly enjoyable Marvel movies … these are all prime examples of stories that, I feel, are absolutely best told through film. The grandeur, spectacle, and beautiful blending of sound and light simply wouldn’t work as words on paper (ironic, that all of these would have started life as scripts – or in some cases, actual books).

But as I delve deeper into writing my own novels, I’ve come to realize that I’ve become more influenced by these visual stories even as I put digital ink onto screen. When I write The Redemption of Erâth, I see the story in my head, almost as a film playing before my eyes; I write it as if I were describing a movie. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m really writing movies – 400-page movies, to be sure, but movies nonetheless. My inspirations aren’t the books of my past, but the films I’ve watched and adored.

It’s interesting, because in some of the reviews I’ve read, people have actually said that they would make great movies – perhaps because of the visual element I’m trying to instill into black and white text (not always successfully, of course). And it makes me wonder – is there room for a different kind of story in me? Can I even write a book that toys with emotions and thoughts in a way that film can’t do justice to?

In any case, I enjoy writing these stories – whether they’re primarily visual in my head or not – and I suppose I’ll carry on for now in the way I always have; after all, I don’t particularly want to see a great change of style halfway through the Redemption of Erâth series. But as I continue through my literary journey, perhaps I can try to include a little more of the written story in my books, as well.

What do you think? What books have made you feel things that you couldn’t imagine from a film? Or vice versa?

The Dangers of Political Complacency

I remember a time, as a young man, that I was utterly uninterested in politics. It felt far removed from my everyday life, a game of backstabbing and machinations that highbrows played in courts and halls; it was difficult to see how one president or another could really make all that much of a difference. I grew up in England in the era of Tony Blair and the Labour Party, and the things that were discussed then – even whether or not to go to war in Iraq – seemed of little consequence. Sure, people fought, people died, but everyday life carried on, as it always did, and I actually never voted in England, because it felt like there was no point.

Even when Bush Jr. was elected in 2000, and Al Gore seemed like an ideal candidate to align with my own personal beliefs about topics such as climate change, it didn’t feel like a moral degradation of society. It just felt more like the ‘other guy’ won, and that despite the then-presumed emphasis on business, tax cuts for the rich and oil, it never seemed as though the communities I lived in would really be affected all that much. And arguably, the Bush administration responded to the 9/11 attacks – despite the rapid-fire counterstrikes that seemed almost entirely unjustifiable at the time – better than Gore might ever have been able to.

When Obama was finally elected in 2008, it felt like there was a subtle shift in morality in the country, and when I returned to the United States in 2010, things felt, well … progressive. We had a black president, an intelligent, well-spoken and charismatic president, someone who seemed to have his finger on the pulse of my generation, and who actually seemed to stand for positivity, tolerance, and civility. I voted in 2012, but again, it felt a little pointless – a reinforcement of what it seemed like society at large was ready for.

When Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, I don’t recall anyone really thinking forward to the subsequent election that would obviously follow in 2016; no one really wondered if someone might come along and undo the progress that had seemingly been made over the previous four years. I remember laughing, like most people, when an incompetent, bumbling oaf threw his hat in the ring for the Republican candidacy – surely it was just a joke, an attempt to find a candidate that was as unlikely as possible.

Even when Donald Trump secured the nomination, things didn’t necessarily feel wrong – not yet. Bizarre, yes; unfathomable, certainly; but there wasn’t too much hint at the potential danger that was to come. It wasn’t until he started campaigning hard as the Republican candidate that red flags started showing: the vacuous, borderline-hateful rhetoric, the casual sexism and misogyny, the outright racism and mockery that came across as childish, petulant and crass were all deeply unsettling warning signs.

That was the first time when it truly felt like being politically active mattered; that a thing I could do, a choice I could make, could actually make a difference to the country I lived in – because it was becoming rapidly clear that Donald Trump himself was capable of making a difference – to great harm. There were people in the world who thought like him, who felt like him, and who not only believed his words, but saw them as validation of their own prejudices that, for years, they’d been told were wrong.

I get it – no one likes to feel like they’re wrong. No one wants to be told the way they perceive the world is harmful. There’s a comfort in nostalgia for the past, and Trump brought with him the idea that grown adults could act like children and get away with it. That there was nothing wrong with the old games of Cowboys and Indians, that calling someone names because they hurt your feelings was okay, or that it was totally normal to dislike people who were different from you. He made people feel like their own feelings and perceptions of the world were valid, and that what we were told as children was, in fact, not wrong.

But somewhere along the line, a line was crossed. It began when people with true social power – police, judges, politicians and lawmakers – began to believe they could act on these childish emotions without consequence, because the man they voted for – the man with the highest authority in the country – could do the same. It isn’t a question that more ‘bad’ things happened under Trump’s administration than under Obama’s; don’t forget, Brock Turner got away with rape six months before Trump was elected, and the massacre at Sandy Hook happened only just after Obama’s second term began. In both of these cases, there was raging debate about who was to blame and how it could have been prevented, but when a world leader comes along and says things like “there are fine people on both sides”, it does incredible damage to the moral fabric of society.

Instead of denouncing horrible people as the villains they are – for there will always be villains amongst us – Trump at best failed to speak up at all, and at worst defended these people through words and through actions. When George Floyd was murdered by police in broad daylight, he didn’t condemn his killers, but made it seem as though Floyd’s death was of his own making – that the police were justified in their actions.

And those same people who initially saw Trump’s words as an excuse to erase progress and fall back into old, hurtful ways now took his words as an opportunity to speak up – and speak loud – that they were being oppressed for not being able to “tell it how it is”, or for voicing controversial opinions on race, gender, and so many other things.

And somehow, throughout all of this, there remained an enormous number of people who continued to feel the way I used to – that life for them carried on as it always did, that the squabbles and race riots didn’t apply to them, and so it really didn’t matter – it wasn’t that big of a deal. In an ideal world, a Republican candidate should be able to align with a large portion of the country based on the merits of their beliefs and policies, and I think that a lot of those who voted for a second term for Trump did so out of the notion that even if he might be a deplorable person, he represents the party that they most identify with.

The people who rioted in the Capitol last week represent a tiny minority of right-leaning conservatives – I don’t believe that most Republican voters would laud them for their actions. They are the far-right, unjustifiable in their beliefs, and deplorable in their behaviors. The problem – what any sane-minded politician would recognize – is that whilst there will always be these people in our society, they must be allowed to act out their hate-fueled rhetoric. These kind of people are the worst kinds of cowards, and they would not have acted with such violence had they not believed they had the encouragement, and indeed the approval, of the man they believed represented them.

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump does not represent anyone but his own self-interest. He is a power-hungry man-child who most likely believes, deep in his heart, that he is owed all the fame and money in the world. He doesn’t care at all about the people he governs, and his words following the DC riots show this perfectly: had it not been for the danger of impeachment and presidential protection being removed, he would certainly not have condemned the rioters – even as weakly as he did.

But the complacency of the Republican Party is was allowed last week’s riot to take place. The belief of millions of conservative voters – who have every right to be conservative – that it just doesn’t matter that much – is what led to the insane far-right to summon the courage to march on Capitol Hill and break down the doors to the Capitol Building, beating a police officer to death in the process.

Complacency is what allowed Hitler to rise to power; it’s what allowed Trump to nearly secure a second term. And if it continues, it will only lead to further discord and unease between political parties in the United States. I’m not exaggerating when I say that as I walk in public today, I look at the people around me and wonder quietly – is that person capable of the kind of violence we saw last week? Could this person serving me coffee, or getting their phone fixed at my work, be a rabid far-right conspiracy-theorist? I’m not exaggerating when I say that I actually feel a deep, unsettling fear simply stepping outside my front door, because Trump has allowed a very small number of people to believe that they can act without consequence. And although those people are few and far between, they are very, very dangerous.

So please – come the next election, whether you lean Democrat or Republican, whether you are conservative or liberal – please consider your candidate with more care and caution than in 2016 and 2020. Please ask yourself if this person might enable dangerous, violent people. If the answer is even “maybe” – then you’re voting for the wrong person.

Politics today is no longer about the candidate representing the party you most align with. It’s sadly become about the candidate that can do the least harm to the country. If that means that, as a life-long Republican you find yourself having to vote Democrat, so be it. The alternative is what we’ve just witnessed in Washington D.C., and what we’ve seen seeing for the past four years.

That complacency is extremely dangerous. And the United States can’t afford it again, because next time the person you vote for might not simply be a self-serving, bumbling buffoon: they might be a cold, calculating power-seeking dictator in the making. The United States, the shining example of democracy for the world, is not impervious. Without even trying, we came this close to losing what we claim makes us so great; imagine what would happen if someone tried to undermine the country’s democracy with intent.

Voting absolutely matters. And it absolutely matters who you vote for: not Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Green Party, but rather between a seasoned politician who knows how to govern, or an egotistical, self-serving megalomaniac with no concern for human life. This cannot – cannot – happen again.

If it does, it could be the end of the United States as we know it.

5 Great Novel Adaptations (That Aren’t Lord of the Rings)

Sometimes you come across a book that, as you read it, simply begs for a cinematic adaptation. It might be the vividness of the characters (maybe you just hear the narration in Morgan Freeman’s voice), or the artistic scenery, but something about the words on the page just triggers you to think, this needs to be seen.

And of course, sometimes you watch a movie that makes you wonder whether it must not have been a book beforehand, simply because the world-building is so deep, or the characters’ interactions hint at backstories the film didn’t have time to go into. In many of these cases, it turns out to be true; you can almost tell when something was based off a book.

Naturally, the gold standard in the history of cinema for novel-to-film adaptations has to be Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, and given that I’ve written extensively about these films in the past, I thought – why not see what other book adaptations have graced the big (and small) screen, and which ones stand out as particularly successful?

The five films below are my personal top 5 favorite book adaptations; it doesn’t mean there aren’t better ones out there, but these are films that also rank as personal favorite movies for me, whether I realized they were adaptions at the time or not. Here we go!

5. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Yes – that’s right. One of my favorite author’s best-known works, adapted for muppets, happens to also be one of the best versions of A Christmas Carol I’ve ever seen. Period. Fight me.

From the opening of the movie, which opens with the exact same opening line as the book (“Marley was dead: to begin with”), we are treated to what ends up being one of the most irreverent, and yet authentic, takes on a story that almost everyone already knows by heart. The silliness of the muppets’ song and dance somehow beautifully enhances the solemnity of the story’s moral message, and when we see the three ghosts, played delightfully by Henson’s creations, they capture Dicken’s original scenes absolutely perfectly.

The film also doesn’t hesitate to veer into what is, for muppets, frighteningly dark territory, showing of course the fate of Scrooge should he not change his ways, but also the fate of all those around him in misery and despair. Perhaps one of the best scenes is when we see several characters talking about how glad they are that Scrooge is gone, having ransacked his bedding only moments after his death (still warm) – a scene taken straight from the book, but oft missed in other adaptations.

And of course, Michael Caine’s performance as Scrooge is dark, authentic, and outright terrifying – and not just to children. He carries the role with a magnetic charisma, playing the villain perfectly, and of course finally learning his lesson, breaking down in tears at the sight of a bleak, dark and frightening future.

Despite so many adaptations over the years, the Muppets’ remains one of the most faithful, and for that I will ever be grateful.

4. The Lovely Bones

I will profess to having never read Alice Sebold’s award-winning original work (though it is on my list!), and despite the film’s somewhat tepid performance, I fell in love with the story put forth almost as soon as I started watching it. Despite it at times feeling like a vehicle for Peter Jackson’s typically over-the-top visual effects, it remains a stunningly beautiful movie, and whether or not the book carried such impossible scenes as the enormous ships crashing into sand, or the golden tree slowly losing its butterfly leaves, Jackson – as he is wont to do – adapts the narrative with his trademark visual style and, I hope, authenticity.

It is an incredibly sad, and yet simultaneously uplifting story, and the performances are subtle and nuanced – even from Mark Wahlberg, the same man whose wooden performance in movies such as Max Payne and Transformers have won him Razzies. And as with The Lord of the Rings, the visual effects never overwhelm the story, but serve to carry it in impossible dreamscapes and worlds beyond the living.

3. The Running Man

You might wonder why, with so many successful, Oscar-winning adaptations of Stephen King stories, I would choose The Running Man as my shining example of a great book adaptation. The truth is, I simply love this movie, with its violent excess, über-80s cheesiness, and too many terrible one-liners to count. It may not pay great homage to the original story, but the concept is nonetheless an interesting one – a speculative fiction-style pushing of reality TV to its extreme (what if people paid to watch others kill each other?), and at the end of the day it’s simply 80s campiness at its absolute best.

Schwarzenegger seems to relish the chance to play his characteristically over-the-top, Austrian-accented-yet-English-named, down-on-his-luck underdog hero without the seriousness of other franchises such as Terminator or even standalones like Commando. He delivers his lines as you would expect him to, and even manages to squeeze in an “I’ll be back”, to which the film’s villain hysterically replies, “Only in re-runs!”

The thing that really strikes me about this movie is that they managed to take a Stephen King story and turn it into a Schwarzenegger action vehicle, and watching it you would never suspect its origins were literary in nature. It watches just like every other terrible 80s action movie in the world, and in that regard, it manages to be a great adaptation by virtue of its being so very terrible.

2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Everyone knows the titular character, of course – bringing vampires to the popular consciousness as he did – but before 1992’s relatively faithful adaptation of Stoker’s seminal novel, not many people truly knew the actual story of the world’s most famous vampire. The book itself, of course, is a literary phenomenon, and its style, written entirely in journal entries and newspaper clippings, makes it one of the first truly horrific horror novels: no character is safe, because the reader learns of the tale events that, within the world of the book, had already taken place.

Francis Ford Coppola, in his seminal adaptation, paid homage to this style by having Van Helsing become the narrator partway through the film, but his faithfulness to the original story goes beyond style; almost every event that takes place in the film, from the seduction of Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s castle, to the desecration of Carfax Abbey, to the epic final battle against a demon risen at the height of his power, comes straight from Stoker’s pages.

The only element of the film that was not really present in the original novel is the love story connection between Dracula and Mina, but I can forgive Coppola this, as in my mind it actually makes for an even stronger and more compelling back story for one of the world’s most famous literary villains.

It also helps that Coppola wanted to recreate some of the thematic elements of the story, such as the price of technological progress, by ensuring that no CGI or digital special effects were used; everything we see on screen, even floating heads and roaring blue flames, was done entirely in-camera, which makes the visual elements of this film all the more impressive.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite films of all time, and the Hannibal series of books are some of the best thrillers, in my mind, ever written. Despite the first novel, Red Dragon, being adapted in the mid-eighties as Manhunter, no one really knew much about Hannibal Lecter or Clarice Starling until Jonathan Demme brought the sequel to the big screen with such big-name stars as Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.

To start with, one of the most impressive aspects of this film is that it starts the story at book two; completely overlooking Red Dragon or any content within it, we are dropped into the world of Buffalo Bill and his vicious killing spree without any knowledge of exactly who Hannibal Lecter is, or why he’s important – and yet it works. We never question that Lecter is already behind bars, and despite not seeing his psychopathy until nearly the very end of the film, we also never question the extreme danger this character presents – primarily because of Anthony Hopkins’ absolutely riveting performance.

Second, the mood, atmosphere and overall terror of the film was second-to-none for its time. Although we had seen plenty of horror throughout the 70s and 80s, few – if any – of those films truly felt so viscerally real – watching The Silence of the Lambs feels as though a serial killer might be hiding right next door, ready to prey on you, and you would never know.

One of the best adaptations of one of the best books, The Silence of the Lambs remains a film I believe everyone should take the opportunity to watch, and in fact, I may just watch it again tonight!

What are some of your favorite book-to-film adaptations? Are there any that you feel did a better job in telling the story than the book? Let me know in the comments!