Put the film inside the book: that’s my advice to all young, aspiring authors; remember that the film has long overtaken the novel as the hard disk of human memory; that the reader of today is a filmgoer first – not even a filmgoer but a filmsitter who gets it all on his/her TV/PC/laptop/tablet. Films are like the fast food, the junk food of modern culture, videos – including YouTube – representing the finger food and the street food. People are lazy as well as crazy, so you’ve got to build the film right into your novel like the skeleton within the human body. That’s what I tell my would-be authors: keep it a little visible, though – especially in the first few chapters – so that the literary agent can see it or smell it even if he’s bored or drunk.
Gone are the days when the book and the film used to be two separate entities, though related to each other, like the dowdy mother accompanying her gorgeous film actress of a daughter to the Oscar ceremony. Or heard the one about the two goats in Hollywood? (Didn’t I read it in the Mad magazine sometime at around Woodstock?) One of them is chewing a reel of film. ‘Taste good?’ asks the second goat. ‘The book was better,’ bleats the first goat between cudfuls.
Whereas these days every book is pregnant with the film; publishers don’t buy books unless they’re pregnant – the book, I mean, not the publisher. ‘I’m with film,’ the book says tearfully to its future publisher in a suitably romantic-dramatic-sentimental scene. The publisher finds that sexy because he can cash in on the deal and chalk up extra sales by merchandising ‘the book to the film’.
And then we come to the reader or readers – again, not just the fellows employed by publishers to read/reject tediously long manuscripts – we mean the ordinary reader, a rare and extraordinary creature in his own right. The modern reader is so used to films that it has begun to affect the way he or she reads a book – and when I say a book, I mean a novel. The projector starts whirring inside the reader’s head by the time he – who is mostly a she – has reached the second para. It’s as if he, well, she is wearing virtual reality goggles – more like blinders, as on horses, for me – and watching the film ‘embedded’ – what a word! – inside the book.
Originally the film had very little to do with the book. Go back to the silent film and you’ll see that films descend from the circus and clowning as well as from magic, burlesque, vaudeville and slapstick. To this day, the first characteristic of a film is that you don’t need to be literate – neither the producer, nor the director, nor the actors and certainly not the audience. Books used to be about as far a cry from films as Lady Chatterley from her working class lover.
Until democratisation set in; modern mass culture, entertainment culture – entertainture! – set in. Now the selling point of any product – from hair remover to presidential candidate – is that it sells. And films sell better than books. So why do we need books at all? Because of the story, stupid, as Bill Clinton would have put it, or haven’t you been reading your Robert McKee? The story, that’s the pearl within the shell. The story, that’s the mother of every star, brought out and paraded on Oscar, Emmys, Grammys and what-have-you, hugged and kissed on the public stage and then back to the cellar or to the attic with you until the next photo op, possibly next year. Did that tiny woman really give birth to such a beauty or such a bitch? What’s the mother called, by the way? She’s called the book. She’s the mother of The Film. Just a surrogate mother, you’d think, the way they treat her.
So be it. You’re the author, you’re the husband of that poor woman called the book. You’ve loved her and courted her and spent all your lonesome hours with her over the years. Now the two of you will be sitting in the third row holding hands while this celebrity child of yours – The Film – goes up on the dais wearing a transparent, cutaway dress which would have made Hans Christian Andersen write the Empress’s New Clothes as well – whereas you, the author, and you, the book, the proud parents in their borrowed tux and the borrowed gown – sorry, this is getting much too filmsy for me.
So this is what I have say to my aspiring author and his book: sell the ruddy child (by which we mean the film rights) – put it up for adoption (by which we mean adaptation) – get the lucre and go and live in the Bahamas or as far away from Hollywood as you can. Good luck and good night.