10.17 – Big Fish

October 28, 2010

If you’re like me, you didn’t even know that this was a book before it was a movie. Although it kind of has that feel to it, I don’t think anyone had heard of the book before it was a movie. To hear John August tell it, he had to do some pretty heavy lifting to convince a studio to purchase the rights to it, and I imagine that required getting Tim Burton on board, first.

Anyway, something that Austin Film Festival did last week, which I hadn’t seen them do before, was a “Script to Screen” workshop where a screenwriter discusses a particular movie and how it changed in the moviemaking process. A few screenwriters agreed to lead this workshops, including, among them, John August, about this story. The assignment was to watch the movie, read the screenplay, and read the book, all in preparation for the workshop.

It was really awesome getting to work through the process of adapting a script. We looked at certain elements:

  • What are the themes of the book?
  • Who are the characters? Who is the main, central character that this story is about? Or is it a dual-protagonist story?
  • What are the character arcs?
  • What are the main stories and plot points?

After going through this exercise, it became much easier to give up any allegiance to the original script. In this way, characters, locations, and plot points get combined. Other characters get expanded. Whole new storylines open up.

August, a very humble, soft-spoken guy, was never so vain as to assume that his version was the only way to adapt it, and so it became great fun to play with it and look at other ways we might have done it: eliminating the son entirely, or telling the father’s story backward, or maintaining the myth, rather than having the story become more real as time went on.

The book ends a little differently than the movie does. Similar, but the main, glaring difference, is that the book swears no allegiance to reality, and the father actually¬†transmogrifies¬†into a fish. In the movie, the son’s story reaches its climax at this moment, and he finally is willing to tell his father a story. I like that, except what was missing for me in the film version (which I admittedly haven’t seen in years) was something that would have him make that radical shift from his previous attitude. It just felt a little forced. Maybe that was in the performance, less than the script, but I think something else could have been there.

But the book, let it be known, is truly magical, and a quick, fun read.

And I definitely appreciate the opportunity to participate in far and away one of the most valuable events I’ve ever attended at AFF.


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