Richard was interviewed during promotion for P.S. I Love You. This question and answer jumped out when you consider his next project.
Paul Fischer: Are you looking next into something very different from this style?
Richard LaGravenese: Yeah, I mean I’m looking at something that’s a little more stylistic. We all have a million stories in us and once you’ve done one kind of story, you’re interest tends to triumph for something else. Some other part of yourself. And so this is, there’s plenty of other stuff that I wanna do that isn’t like this, that isn’t this kind of genre.
Well, luckily for us, Richard took on the adaptation of Water for Elephants. His script was enthusiastically received, with the cast and movie critics alike singing it’s praises.
Way back in March, Christoph Waltz was asked about his next project during a backstage interview at The Oprah Show,
“Water for Elephants. I really admire that adaptation; they’ve done a fantastic job and really dramatized the story. There’s so much in the story–apart from the bestselling aspect that…I don’t really follow these paths– but the adaptation is sensational.”
You know, this is one of those scripts that shouldn’t have roped me in the way it did. It’s basically a love story. But the great thing about Elephants is that it’s a love story wrapped in a loony dangerous unpredictable package – the Bizarro World version of Titanic. Not to mention it has the best villain I’ve read all year hands down (can’t wait to see what Waltz does with it). You’re not going to read anything like this again for a long time.
Making the cut
A while back, Water for Elephants director, Francis Lawrence tweeted about editing the film. We, the kinkers, jokingly responded, “Don’t cut out too much, we’d love a four hour version!” That reminded me of an old Hollywood legend from the early 1920’s, during the silent film era. Eccentric (and genius) actor-director, Erich von Stroheim, tried to film an extremely detailed version of the novel McTeague by Frank Norris . His original ten hour film was cut to six hours and then to a four hour version which was still refused by the studio. The studio took control of the project, cutting with apparent abandon, ending up with a two hour film. The film, 1924’s Greed, was a failure at the box-office and panned by critics. The injudicious cutting of scenes and key characters led to huge continuity gaps and plot holes. Erich von Stroheim disowned the work.
The lesson? You can’t really make a two hour film from “a book”. It has to be adapted into a screenplay first. The average novel will contain in the area of 80,000 to 120,000 words on about 300 pages. A script or screenplay, however, is much leaner; 120 pages, about one-third of the words.
A picture is worth a thousand words
The descriptive language in a book is cut to a few words in a script. You’re not going to read a two page ode to a sunset in a script. Instead you get,
That saves a lot of words. Still, the judicious cutting or combining of characters is a very common adaptation technique. For instance, Gone with the Wind.
We know the character of Uncle Al has been combined with August Rosenbluth’s. This is genius, streamlining the “business of the circus” part of the story and adding menace and power to August. It also makes Marlena and Jacob more vulnerable; if you’ve read the book you might recall that, at times, Uncle Al is something of an ally to them.
Let’s see, another example… I know! In adapting Twilight from book to screenplay, great swathes of Bella’s inner dialogue, ranging from the sluggishness of her internet to the beauty of the Quileute tide pools, is cut in order to give more attention to more important plot issues.
Now, that’s an extreme example and like I said above, I would happily sit through a much longer version of Water for Elephants to see as much of Sara Gruen’s novel brought to life. *hopes for extended scenes, deleted scenes and a director’s cut on the DVD*
Much of Older Jacob’s story, especially his internal dialogue, in the book occurs inside the nursing home with his caregiver Rosemary but the part of Rosemary wasn’t cast. Through narration and, possibly, with the modern circus manager, Charlie, Jacob will have the opportunity to share those thoughts. And, of course, Mr Holbrook brought most of us to tears with two seconds of trailer screen time.
Well, I have my own wish list of scenes from the book that I’d love to see in the film. (Jacob climbing the train, Jacob with Bobo and Rosie and the toothless lion) Also, some scenes that I could live without. (Get your hands off Jacob, coochie girls! Just kidding. Kinda ) How about you?? Scene you can’t live without? A bit of dialogue you hope makes the cut? Let us know in the comments.