Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Guest Blog: Catherine Ryan Hyde on Pay it Forward
Guest Blog by: Catherine Ryan Hyde
About: The differences between Pay it Forward the movie and Pay it Forward the book, which she wrote, in honor of It Started With a Book Week!
My thoughts on Pay It Forward the book and Pay It Forward the movie are simple: I thought the book was better. Some might point out that I'm hardly an objective bystander. But I'm prepared to make a case for books.
First of all, the movie was two hours long. The unabridged audio of the book was six hours. So right off the bat it helps to think of a movie as being about one-third of its source material. Sort of a Reader's Digest condensed book, but for non-readers.
Secondly, there's a tendency on the part of Hollywood to make decisions based on the bottom line rather than artistic integrity. I really don't say this to run the industry down. After all, they are a business. And job one in business is to recover your investment, if not turn a profit. That I get. But I think it gets thornier when it's somebody else's fifty million dollars on the line. The tendency to second-guess yourself must be crushing. So decision-making often gets a bit suspect.
Third, unless an author has a terribly intrusive editor, a book is one person's creative vision. A movie is almost the textbook definition of too many cooks in the kitchen.
That said, many people ask me what I would do if Hollywood wanted another of my books. That's easy. I would give (and have given) it to them. For all the problems of PIF the movie (over-wrought emotion, racial casting disasters, an ending that truly dropped the ball, etc.) I know I got lucky when it was adapted. It's because of the movie that I hit the bestseller list. And enjoyed more than twenty foreign rights sales. And sold more than a half-million more copies than I would have without it. There's a reason why subsequent book covers say, "By the bestselling author of Pay It Forward." Authors need name recognition and movies provide it.
So I try to take all the above points with a grain of salt.
Electric God, another of my books, has been optioned since 2000. It was optioned by a director who really loved the book and promised to handle it with care. So imagine my disappointment when I read the screenplay. It may change dramatically. In fact, he promised me some input. But it still reminds me that the problems with Pay It Forward are probably not the exception. They are probably the rule. We also just did up a deal on Chasing Windmills, and I know the writer who will adapt. And there's interest in Love in the Present Tense, and from a movie producer who agrees that a multi-racial Leonard is essential. Does that mean I'll be happy with the result of these adaptations? Who knows. Maybe not. I'll pretend I will be until I learn otherwise. The bottom line is that these are high-class problems for a writer, and I'm grateful for the chance to have them.