Tag Archives: film

Saving Characters like Mr. Banks

You can probably guess what this post is going to be about. Good for you.

For any who haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks yet I highly recommend it. I thought it was an excellent movie and very much enjoyed it. And I think there’s a lot to see in the film, even beyond the immediate story.

For any who don’t know, it recounts P.L. Travers’, the author of Mary Poppins, struggle to maintain control of her story that is being transformed into a Disney movie. In the process, she recalls her childhood memories that inspired her to write the original story, including the purpose behind it.

As a writer myself, I strongly connected with Mrs. Travers (as she likes to be called in the film). Admittedly, I’ve had a much easier life than she’s had, but I still can share in that agony of surrendering your character into another person’s hands. It’s painful enough for me to give up my works as reading material even to my closest friends and family, because those characters are precious to me.To anyone out there who’s read my fictional works, you should understand just how much I’ve surrendered even just in giving a glimpse of a chapter. Even this blog, can be difficult for me to share.

Mrs. Travers tells the Disney corporation that Mary Poppins and the Banks are family to her. Of course, she means in the sense of having created them based on real people, but for me there is a strong reality of seeing my characters as more than fictional beings on a page.

SAVING MR. BANKS

I dealt with a lot of loneliness in my junior high days. And one of the main things that kept me going was my writing. I spent most of my free time at school scribbling down stories on pieces of notebook paper, folding them up and tucking them away to take home. To this day I have hundreds of pages just from eighth and ninth grade year. And in those times, my characters felt more like friends than simple figments of my imagination.

There was a sense to me that if my characters could go through the things they did, then I could find the strength to face each new day. I could push myself out of bed, get ready for school, head off for a few hours of lonely writing time. In many ways my characters could achieve the things I’d only dream of, and I could create their own reality that was different than mine. And it gave me hope.

I’m not the lonely little girl I was back in those days. But I still find a sense of happiness in writing, in creating new people to become acquainted with, who will not judge me when I share my darkest secrets. They never disappoint me. They never leave me. They’re always their. A constant companion to guide me through my hardest times. Real friends come and go. They break hearts, they tear open wounds. That’s not to say characters are always perfect. They have their struggles, they have their quirks, and they have their weaknesses. But there’s something indescribably special in breathing life into an empty dead piece of paper covered in ink.

And then to have others look at your characters and change them or criticize them. It’s painful. They’re like my children. Like my best friends.

“Life is full of risks,” my father said when I explained how much I sympathized with Mrs. Travers. And I guess it is. But putting out your works feels like so much more of a risk. What if people hate your beloved characters? What if your publisher changes things around and makes it seem utterly different from how you originally thought it would be? What if they end up utterly misunderstood why you have to stand on the sidelines as their only champion? There are so many things that can go wrong. And it’s so hard to understand if you have never created a character that you know and love as much as a good friend.

“Why did you have to make him so cruel? He was not a monster!” Mrs. Travers cries when she sees their portrayal of Mr. Banks. How accurately this captures the author’s unique perspective on a character, the insight they have that others don’t. A character is an author’s whole world. And seeing them ripped apart is never easy.

SAVING MR. BANKS

There are many wonderful aspects of this film that I cannot even begin to cover. But from a writer’s perspective there is much to garner from this author’s struggle to maintain control of her beloved story. Life is full of risks. For Mrs. Travers it’s possible the risk wasn’t worth it. But I think those of us who enjoy the wonderful film of Mary Poppins would disagree.

As writers we have to risk putting our characters out there (or just our works if we’re not interested in fiction). Sometimes we cannot save them from the fate of what publishers, movie makers, or readers consign them to. Nothing has been more painful than having a friend tell me they don’t like one of my characters (one they’re not supposed to hate anyways) or having someone tell me: “he’s immature, she’s too grumpy, or he just isn’t at all appealing as a person.” Because so often they’re missing the true perspective only I can give them. I’ll reply to the criticisms: “He’s never been given a proper childhood, she’s just gone through a death of her beloved, or he’s just working on developing into a better human as we all are.” But often it’s too late. They’ve made their judgements. And only for us are those characters saved.

Do any other authors out there agree with my analysis? Have you seen problems in other people’s perceptions or changes to one of your characters? As someone who has not been published I can never fully give a perspective on that, but I’d love to hear from others. To any other readers, tell me your thoughts on the movie if you’ve seen it. If not maybe tell me about a movie you have seen that’s inspired you as a writer. I always look for more!

This trailer might contain a few spoilers but I thought I’d post it anyways.

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When a Movie is Better than a Book: My Take on Hunger Games

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As an English major, saying a movie is better than its literary counterpart is almost blasphemous, but I am going to say it nonetheless.

Movies and books are for some reason assumed to be similar by some. I have friends who complain nonstop about the issues in some movie that was an adaption of a book. And while it is true that many movies utterly ruin the story (The Lightening Thief is an example in my opinion), others do a fairly good job considering what they have to work with.

The formats are so vastly different that it is impossible to have a movie that directly replicates a book. The closest I can think of are Masterpiece Theater versions of books that have 5 or 6 hours to run because they are on television rather than on DVD. The issues with transferring aren’t hard to see. Here are a few.

1. Narration. While a first person narrated book is a wonderful thing to read, a constantly narrated movie gets boring after a while. The viewer can see most things and therefore does not need a constant voice explaining what is happening. However, for explaining some important details or giving thoughts or feelings, this transfer can cause an issue. While a character might already know something and explain it to the reader in his or her brain in a book, a movie must use a different means.

2. Time. A book is something we spend a good deal of time over. Most people will read a book for several days (I confess I am a book addict and tend to devour in a matter of hours, but many enjoy savoring). A movie is limited in its time. A viewer cannot simply walk out of the theater because they are tired, or have dinner to get to, or need to do something else, and expect to come back to the exact same spot in the movie. Nor can an audience be expected to sit through 6-8 hours worth of film. The transfer of book time to movie time is tricky and involves cutting some elements.

3. Action. Hollywood often needs more action in the movies than the author might have provided. Slower dialogue scenes are acceptable in books, but in movies they tend to be a little long. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to add some elements of action. Readers are disappointed, though, when scenes are cut for time and others are added to keep viewers interested. A good example is in The Chronicles of Narnia when battle scenes were added. The books were fun, but when put on screen they needed a little extra pizzazz (feel free to debate this issue with me, I can see both sides).

4. Emotional depth. It’s interesting to see how emotion transfers onto a screen. Sometimes a movie seems less emotional than a book. Othertimes it’s the opposite. I think that just depends. Seeing a picture of the story before you can be very meaningful, but hearing a characters thoughts can also be very powerful. This can cause some problems between book and movie depending (partly going back to narration).

5. Characters. Picking an actor is rarely easy. While well known names boost the movie’s potential, sometimes known actors just don’t quite fit the part. It’s hard to match a character perfectly: in physical appearance, personality, age, etc. One of my Harry Potter obsessed roommates has complained that Alan Rickman is too old to be play Snape by the books standards (he would be 31 in the first movie, but Rickman was 55 when the first film came out). It is hard to fit everything a writer was looking for when they were first creating their marvelous protagonists, antagonists, and extras.

These are merely a few of the issues going on in conversion from text to theater. I admire those who do this work, because I know the transfer takes a good deal of vision and perseverance to put the whole thing together. I cannot imagine making a book into a movie, even if I have complained I could do a better job.

I bring this all up because I (as I so blasphemously declared earlier) have found some books that I simply think make better movies. My best example of this is The Hunger Games.

I didn’t read the books until last year, the same week that the first movie came out. While I did enjoy the books for their story, I struggled with writing that I found to be less than satisfactory. I’ve never been a fan of writing in present tense, and that, along with Collin’s less skilled writing made it hard for me to follow in written form.

On screen, however, I didn’t have to deal with bad writing. I could enjoy the story (the best part of the suspense filled books) and see a picture of the marvelous Panem world. I also appreciated being able to see more than just Katniss’s perspective, getting to see some of Gale and Prim. The films seemed well done to me and I appreciated the interesting, fast-paced story.

I may have readers who strongly disagree with me. I look forward to hearing your opinions. With Catching Fire coming out this fall, it’s going to be interesting to see how the writers and director handle this next challenge. I am excited and looking forward to seeing it, hopefully at the midnight release.

Do you have movies you prefer over books? What was your least favorite adaption of book to movie? What was your favorite?

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Easy Analysis: the Reasons Hawthorne Still Shows up in Hollywood

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Many people wonder why English is so important to study in school. In my high school years I heard complaint after complaint from friends. And of course, for those who don’t like reading, literature class is not exactly a treat.

However, I think there are valid reasons to study the written past. For one, to better understand our own language, the language we use around us in everyday life. The language I use as I type out to you, my readers. The language used on facebook and the news. The language we speak and write all the time. Language is what separates us from other animals and it is important, therefore, to devote some time to studying it.

Furthermore one might argue that literature teaches more about culture, history, philosophy, religion, psychology, and many other subjects alongside the area of linguistics. English is an all encompassing study in many ways.

However, I only recently discovered another use of reading the classics. It has come to my attention that a number of popular movies either reference or parody the books that high school English classes devote time to studying.

My friends are eager to get me to see a greater variety of movies and for that reason tonight I had my first experience with Easy A. I had to admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be seeing it, but figured it would be a good break from the day and agreed to watch. As the plot started out I was amused by some of the humor and reluctantly began to enjoy. And then came the part where I realized much of the movie is a reference to The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though the plot may involve many modern scenarios and the problems of teen judgment and prejudice, there are slightly deeper rooted ideas through the connection to this older novel.

I have discovered that this is not entirely unknown amongst popular romcoms and chick flicks. Though I am just getting started in entering this field I have been appreciating how She’s the Man is a modern version of Twelfth Night. Or as I was watching You’ve Got Mail  (a bit of an older romcom, but amusing nonetheless) and realizing it was influenced by the Hungarian play Parfumerie.

To me this is a beautiful example of why literature is important to study. If books are being perpetuated in our popular culture there is clearly something that is still valuable about them. The messages are still relevant. The story ideas still have validity. Viewers can enjoy the humor of love and silly mix-ups in gender just as much in today’s time as in Shakespeare’s. And Hawthorne’s messages about judgment and condemnation also still have some relevance, especially to those living in the scary world of teenage cliques and rumors.

So why should we study the world of literature? Because it has something valuable to offer us, something we are still searching and seeking in other forms. And why not get a better understanding of how long these questions and problems have been perpetuating throughout our history. Perhaps Hawthorne’s visions of Puritan New England aren’t far off from the struggles faced by a girl in a modern high school.

Do you know of any more popular movies influenced by more “classical” sources? I would be curious to know! I am enjoying exploring this new finding of mine and hope I can continue to see literary influence in other films that I view in the future.

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