CREW CORNER: EXT. Water For Elephants film blog – DAY. CLOSE UP: Richard LaGravenese, Screenwriter

Water for Elephants is generating serious buzz in it’s post-production, pre-promotion phase. In this edition of Crew Corner we’ll focus on the great things we’re hearing about the script and the talented man who adapted Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel.
Richard LaGravenese is a well known writer-director-producer who has “cultivated a reputation for himself as the author of poignant, funny, and humanistic screenplays.” His list of writing credits is impressive; The Horse Whisperer, Bridges of Madison County, The Mirror has Two Faces and Beloved. His original screenplay for 1991’s The Fisher King earned him an Academy Award nomination as well as nods from BAFTA and The Writer’s Guild of America.  More recently he’s written and directed 2007’s Freedom Writers and P.S. I Love You, both starring Hilary Swank.

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.”

Recently, Scriptshadow ranked the Water for Elephants script second on its ‘Top 10 Scripts of the Year’ list and had this to say,

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.

NB: Reading about Erich von Stroheim was a blast, a very interesting man (hailing from Vienna, Austria) and career. Alas, I’ve gotten it into my head that Christoph Waltz must play him in a biopic. ;)

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,

Exterior; dusk.

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.

Uncle Al moments mixed with August moments. Which is which?

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.

Some characters need more screen time to understand them fully.

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.

Brilliant casting!

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.

About deb24601

I write stuff. About books, music, movies... occasionally about Robert Pattinson. *whistles* I blog with and
This entry was posted in Christoph Waltz, Crew Corner, Francis Lawrence, Hal Holbrook, Sara Gruen, Script, Script Secret, The Book, Water for Elephants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to CREW CORNER: EXT. Water For Elephants film blog – DAY. CLOSE UP: Richard LaGravenese, Screenwriter

  1. DeeDreamer says:

    Excellent post, Deb!!! :D I can’t wait for this film. My mom & I have been discussing it. Just the artistic nature of the trailer – it’s other-worldy. I feel like it will be a magical experience. The last pages of the book…I’m dying to see how those are done on film. They moved me to tears. MWAH, MWAH, MWAH! xo ~DD

  2. tinkrbe1l3 says:

    thanks for the lesson, kinker deb :)

  3. RobCatCdn says:

    This was very interesting! Thanks Deb! :-)
    About Richard … I’m very impressed. I’ve seen all except 2 of those amazing movies to his credit.
    {smooches} <3

  4. Claire says:

    yeah, i think leaving out the scenes with the…uh…women, could be left out

  5. hyde86 says:

    good post of love. uhmm… just wondering if the V/Os would be done by Rob… really looking forward to his scenes with Rosie and Bobo, especially the one where he carries Bobo.

    • deb24601 says:

      I’m really not sure who will be doing the voice over narration. Something in the trailer made me think it was Mr Holbrook but I could be wrong. And yes, Rob with the animals is going to melt me. :)

  6. Grace says:

    I just finished this book yesterday (read it in three days!) after seeing the trailer when I went to see True Grit. Funny, after seeing True Grit, the only thing I could think about was the trailer for Water for Elephants, a day later I got the book and four days later, I read it! It was amazing. I am a book buff and Water for Elephants is very near the top! I’m not the biggest fan of Robert Pattinson and I’ll miss seeing a red haired Jacob, but I am VERY excited to see this movie! I honestly can’t wait to see the scenes of August, funny, when I was reading the book I thought of Christoph Waltz many times as being the perfect actor for him, remembering how he acted in Inglourious Basterds. And I’ve always loved Reese Witherspoon, especially in Cruel Intentions, and I think she’s a wonderful Marlena, playing the pretty, thoughtful & strong girl. I hope they don’t take too much of a different route from the book, but we will see.

    All in all, I’m counting down the days until April 22nd!!!

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