Oscar-nominated writers discuss ‘respecting’ source material

As the March 27 Academy Awards loom, the conversation focused on the Academy’s decision to downgrade eight categories, their Twitter contest for fan favorites, and their double-standard vaccinations for entrants.

In other words, while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might shine the spotlight on the nominees, they instead shine the spotlight on the Academy. That’s a shame. The nominees are worth discussing, especially the enormous talent in the adapted screenplay race.

The suitors are Sian Heder, “CODA”; Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, “Drive My Car”; Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth, “Dune”; Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Girl”; and Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog.”

The writers and their scripts are a study in contrasts. Haruki Murakami’s short story “Drive My Car” needed to be expanded, while Frank Herbert’s epic “Dune” needed to be compressed. “CODA” is based on a French screenplay, “La Famille Belier”. There are two novels in the mix: “Daughter” was written by the somewhat mysterious Elena Ferrante; Thomas Savage’s 1967 western novel “Dog” was optioned several times, but the scripts never worked.

All writing is difficult. When asked if there was any additional responsibility for the original author, Hamaguchi said Variety, “It was not an ‘additional’ responsibility: I saw it as an appropriate responsibility. You must respect the original work. If you fail to provide that respect, things won’t go well. But the responsibility is still there. He should be there.

When asked if he was concerned about Murakami’s reactions while writing the script, Hamaguchi replied, “I did, but I thought maybe I shouldn’t. My communication with Murakami was quite limited. I sent him my plan for the plot and he gave his OK. He said something like “Feel free to work freely”. Getting approval gave me confidence to move forward with my performance.

Heder of “CODA” says the French film had a very different tone to his (and employed hearing actors as deaf parents). Philippe Rousselet and Patrick Wachsberger, two of the producers of “CODA”, have teamed up to make a remake of “The Bélier Family” at Lionsgate. Says Heder, “They were looking for a filmmaker to put their own stamp on the material, so I came in and pitched my take on this family. Patrick and Philippe were very supportive and insisted that I make my own film, allowing me to deviate from the original while retaining the beautiful emotional core of the premise.

Helder adds, “I had spent a lot of time in Gloucester, Massachusetts growing up and felt that the town and especially the fishing community was a very cinematic place to set the story. I knew that by setting this in a place that I had known so well from childhood, I would be able to give this family and the film a personal, lived-in texture.

She also realized that the standard way to write a script “was nonsense”, since ASL is a visual language. She did a lot of research and went through the script, line by line, with ASL experts Anne Tomasetti and Alexandria Wailes.

All five Adapted Screenplay nominees include the director as a writer. Villeneuve said Variety recently, “I tried to be as close as possible to the spirit of the book. He added that Herbert’s novel was “our North Star” in the making of the film.

Spaihts adds, “As childhood fans of the novel, Denis and I were united in our reverence for ‘Dune’ as a book. But Denis came to the project with an intense drive towards a cinematic interpretation. He told me early on that his ideal ‘Dune’ would be a film without dialogue. This, about the most talkative novel in science fiction! But his instincts were true. And moving forward with that code — trying to build as much of the world as possible without words, to not explain anything the pictures couldn’t explain — was an essential part of making the movie he eventually made.

Campion is a triple nominee for “Dog,” as a writer, director, and producer. Beginning to adapt the novel, she was “cautious”, since a film had been planned by Cornel Wilde in 1967, by Brut Productions in 1975 and by Randy Quaid in 1989, hoping to direct himself and his brother Dennis in 1989 .

Campion tells Variety“I could see the challenges clear; how to handle Savage’s brilliant eye for ideas and observations of God in the minds of the characters, giving the reader fantastic intimacy with each character, especially with the difficult to understand Phil Burbank.

“I established a few rules: Bronco Henry would not appear in a fantasy CGI haze and there would be no backstory.

“I’ve been involved in a few adaptations and found it much more challenging than scripting an original play – the same kind of challenge, perhaps, as a complete renovation, compared to creating a building. totally new. For adaptation to work, it can’t just be faithful; it has to find itself, it has to shine in a visual medium and be taken to new places with the added insight of another creative, me.

“Lost Daughter” represents the first screenplay produced for Gyllenhaal, which genetically comes from his talents: his father is a director and his mother is a screenwriter. She says both parents were supportive of her debut as a writer-director, although “When my mum read the novel, she said, ‘It’s a very difficult adaptation.'”

According to Gyllenhaal, “The process of taking a book and adapting it – it’s a similar muscle that you use as an actor. As an actress, you take the text and ask, “How am I going to do this in a way that’s not literal?” It’s a process similar to that of a writer: why is this scene here? And how can I represent it so that it is not literal? »

The writer-director had limited contact with Ferrante, but when the author saw the film, she wrote that Gyllenhaal “makes real cinema: she trusts the images… It’s a great job”.

Like Gyllenhaal, the “Drive” Oe co-writer is seeing his first screenplay produced. Hamaguchi tells Variety about another challenge for an adapter: inner feelings expressed in fiction cannot easily be translated into film. Although Chekhov’s play “Uncle Vanya” provided a solution.

“The main characters, Kafuku and Misaki, don’t talk much, but we need the audience to get a sense of how they feel,” Hamagushi says. “‘Uncle Vanya’ was mentioned in the short story, and I thought of extending that by having Kafuku say Vanya’s lines, as a way for the audience to understand her feelings.

“What appealed to me about the story,” Hamaguchi continues, “were the two main characters and their relationship. become clear.

Hamaguchi summarizes: “When you make an original, nothing limits you, you have freedom; it makes the process easier. When you work on an adaptation, you have characters and a world already set up. Readers know the material and you can’t make them feel the same way with a movie.

“While they read, their imagination is working; it’s hard to convert that into images that can match what they already have in mind. And keeping it in the same spirit as the material requires a lot of sensitivity.