What Do Directors Do When Faced with the Challenge of Adapting a Play or Book to Film, Besides Pull out Their Hair?

        When it comes to adapting either a book or play to a film, there are many adversities to face. People will have look at important aspects such as costumes, set, lighting, casting, and directing, in order to create a good film. The combination of all of these imperative elements of film makes this process of conversion long and grueling sometimes.

        First when adapting the book or play to film, people must take a look at costumes. Now, for a play this can be slightly easier than it would be for a book, but it still presents its own fun bunch of challenges, especially if the director of the film wants to go in a “new direction.” When people are dealing with a play persons often times have a live production, if not several at persons’ disposal, which makes it very easy to view all of the costume designs. Persons just have to decide which one they like best, or take the elements persons like best from each design and put them together to make them their own. On the other end of the spectrum, when they are creating an adaptation from a book it is much harder than that because persons have to take the descriptions of clothing that the author gives persons and create their own costume design from scratch. I really did like the director’s interpretation of costumes in the 1939 film version of Emily Brontë’s 1847 Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler. His use of Omar Kiam’s costumes pulled me into the film in a way that would have not been possible had he made some different costume choices.

        Next persons must take a look at the element of set/setting. Once again it is much easier to do this with a play because they can look at the photos from productions and “copy” off of that. On that note, I personally though that the 1938 film version of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard, had an exceptional use of set/setting. They brought the setting of the play version of Pygmalion into magnificent spender in a way, which I thought was not possible for this film. The location choice of the film makers was spot on. When I watched the movie I remember that all of the scenes that took place in the house were a mirror image of what I had seen in my head while I was reading the play.

        Then persons have to look at lighting. Lighting in the book is almost none existent for the most part. Yes, persons may know what time of day it was, and therefore they can judge how much sunlight there was, but they cannot copy the original intentions of the writers unless they have gone into great detail to write a description of the lighting, which is highly unusual. On the other hand, when persons have a play to go off of, persons can look at the lighting design to get an idea of what would be most suitable for the film. Of course persons have to tone down the boldness of the lighting exponentially, but nevertheless they get a good idea from looking at the play’s lighting design. The best example of using lighting to the film’s versions advantage, which we watched in this class was the 1961 film version of the The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and based on Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw. If anything, I would say that Jack Clayton’s use of lighting added more to the film than possible in either the book or play to create suspense.

        Next, and perhaps one of the more important and tedious elements to work with during the adaptation of a book or play to film is casting. Of course casting plays no role in the book version because the characters are cast simply by the imagination of the writer. In both the play and film versions, however, good casting is invaluable. Casting can make or break a play or film. It is an element that must be viewed from under a microscope. It is largely affect by those actors who show up to the audition, how well they audition, did they have a great audition, but are terrible actors, or did they have an awful audition, but are a magnificent actor, and or course the physical look of the actor is important as well. The director, casting director, and many other important members on the production staff of the film are the ones responsible for making the best decisions for the film when it comes to casting. Persons also face the problem of casting actors who was brilliant for the role on the stage, but will they be the same in the movie? One film, which I have already used as an example, but I will use again, is the 1938 film version of Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard. It displayed an obvious very well thought-out casting process, which turned out to be a magnificent success in my opinion. The actors chosen for each role, such as Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, created a character that fit to a T what was written in the book.

        All of these important elements have been leading up to one thing that actually makes all of the ultimate decisions, which is the director's vision. The director is usually the person with the most power on a film’s production staff. The director is supposed to have a concept and a vision for what he wants the film to look and feel like. Without this persons would simply be stumbling in the dark trying to throw together something that might be called a film, and will more than certainly flop in the theaters. The director will read many versions of both the book and play many multiple times so that he can lie out of his options in front of him. Then he is faced with the sometimes daunting task of making a decision on each minute detail of the film. This will include every single element I have discussed above and more.

        As persons can see, adapting a book or play into a film is a process of a multitude of tough, if not impossible, decisions. When people are given adequate time and good director and a phenomenal group of people working on the film, some of these decisions may be easy; but even the best cast and production staff in the world have their fair share of hurdles to leap. So, next time people are watching a film version of either a book or play think about how hard it was to try and create something remotely close to that beautifully painted picture persons have in their own minds of how things should be.

Benjamin Hawkins