What Does the Protagonist Want?
It’s been a while since I saw a trailer that made my palms sweat.
I’m a big fan of Max Brooks’s novel. It looks like this is nothing like it. I’m okay with that.
Tags: movies, zombie movies ·
I’ve seen you talk about how most of the people who work on movies don’t see much out of the profit of the film. Given your experience with how the industry works, what would you guess Mr. Brooks got for the movie rights? Would the fact that they’re only using the name have any bearing on that?
I have no idea what Mr. Brooks’s deal is regarding the movie of World War Z. My guess, considering that the book was a huge bestseller, that he is very satisfied with it and with the attention the movie will bring to his book. As Tom Wolfe said about Bonfire of the Vanities, it doesn’t matter if the movie is bad, the book is still the book, and the movie only brings more attention to it. Lots of people bought World War Z, lots and lots more will buy it when it is also a movie starring Brad Pitt. Mr. Brooks stands to make a lot of money.
Being the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, my guess is that he also has some awareness of how show business works. And the fact is, World War Z works great as a book but would not work great as a feature film, especially not as a feature film that would require the budget that World War Z enjoys. The more money you spend on a movie, the bigger its audience needs to be, and the fewer risks a studio will be willing to make. In the case of World War Z, that means creating a protagonist out of whole cloth and sending him around the world to do something or other.
I don’t regard “they’re only using the name” is a “fact.” I haven’t read the script or seen the movie, but I would guess that the problem facing the screenwriter of World War Z is one of adaptation: that is, “How do I write a screenplay that gets across the same tone, feeling and ideas as this book, but is also a screenplay that serves the demands of a mega-budget action thriller?” It’s the same problem that faces any screenwriter working on an adaptation of a book, except that in this case he or she also needs to create a protagonist and devise a plot that will bring together all the desired elements, which is not the same as “only using the name.”
Thanks for the insights! I hadn’t considered the problem of adapting the story into something that people would want to see.
Also, thanks for your posts in general. They’re always fascinating reading.
It’s not even a question of what “people would want to see,” it’s a question of narrative types. The novel World War Z capitalized on a very specific narrative type, the “oral history collage,” that made it very exciting and very real. But a movie, especially a huge-budgeted movie, can’t do that — you need a through-line, and a protagonist.
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