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4.4 From Print to Film

The second generation of media provides us with new sets of communication tools and skills. The traditional literacy skills of writing and reading enable us to use the tool of print. Apart from taking snapshots, our interaction with the tool of film is largely passive. Only a few of us have the resources, financial and personal, to make movies.48 However, now that the pre-production, production, and post-production of films is increasingly becoming digital, and we can acquire a desktop video production studio for under 10 thousand dollars, more and more of us will deal with images as we have dealt with words in an active way.

A third set of skills is the translation of print into film. John Irving describes this difficult process in his book about the adventures of a novelist in the movie business [IRVING]. He has not been impressed by the adaptations of his novels - The World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire - into movies. Indeed, he was so unhappy about the adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany that it was released under another name - Simon Birch (see Figure 4-3 for a list of his novels and corresponding movies). He set out to write his own script for the movie adaptation of Cider House Rules. Fifteen years, six scripts, and three directors later, it finally appeared. Although he won an Oscar for best script, he has settled back into writing novels with a sigh of relief.

One interesting issue about this process of crossing the corpus callosum between the two hemispheres is why people almost invariably say that they preferred the book to the film. One person sits down with simple equipment (quill, typewriter, word-processor) to write a book; whereas hundreds of people with thousands of dollars of equipment and millions of dollars budget work together to create a movie. Perhaps the hundreds of people is part of the problem. Imagine a book written by a committee. Perhaps the thousand-dollar equipment is part of the problem. There is less direct person-to-person communication when mediated by so much technology. Perhaps the million-dollar budget is part of the problem. This investment must be recovered and the movie must thus appeal to a lowest common denominator to attract a large audience.

A more subtle explanation may perhaps be implied by the Toronto School of Media Studies. If the medium is the message, then the message can not survive the transition from one medium to another. Something is always lost in translation. As the message moves from novel to script to story-board to film, it is inevitably changed. In successful transitions, some essence is preserved. Is that essence the story? Are all media just different ways to share our stories? An important aspect of human nature is what Carol Shields calls our "narrative hunger". Human nature has not changed over historical time - only the means of telling stories to satisfy it.

Teachers in writing classes, delight in telling students that there are only X stories and that they have all been written already. All that the student can do is update the story for a particular time and place. X varies from situation to situation. My candidate is 4, based on the Triad Model (see Figure 3-2). Stories involve drama and drama involves conflict. There is the conflict between the person and the ecosphere (nature), the person and the sociosphere (society), the person and the technosphere (machines), and conflict within the person. Prototype stories for each category are "Moby Dick", "The Scarlet Letter", "Frankenstein", and "Jekyll and Hyde". Sigmund Freud suggests that those dramas appeal to us because they reflect conflicts within ourselves - id (ecosphere), superego (sociosphere) and ego (technosphere) battling it out within our nervous systems.

We tend to assume that the dramatic introduction of Multimedia and Internet adds new stories to our repertoire. However, the basic stories remain the same. Human nature is the constant throughout all generations of media. All that is added is new means of telling our stories. New media at most simply add new plot devices. You've Got Mail is a remake of Sleepless in Seattle with the internet replacing the telephone as a communication device to get the protagonists together, and of The Little Shop Around the Corner in which the communication device was the mail. It's the same story - all that changes is the medium.

The daughter in American Beauty discovers that her father called her friend because he used *69 whereas before she may have made this discovery by eavesdropping. In Sneakers the valuable object being sought is a computer disk with crucial information, whereas in The Maltese Falcon, it was an object containing more concrete valuables. In every cop show, the detective now always checks the telephone-answering machine of the victim for clues about recent activities, whereas before the detective got such information from diaries. In an episode of Hamish Macbeth, a corpse is found because his murderers buried him with his cell phone, and someone called him.

Even such a novel movie as The Matrix is simply a retelling of the familiar story of a protagonist finding him/herself in an unfamiliar situation. S/he is in a strange world in which the familiar rules no longer apply. The conflict is between the objective world and the subjective map of the protagonist. The two-story version of the Triad Model (Figure 4-1) adds another story to my list of basic stories. The creative people behind the movie understand this, as they make tongue-in-cheek references to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Whether you get to this strange, rule-bending world by falling down a rabbit hole or clicking your heels or being fed a virtual world, you are in the same (or rather same different) place. Indeed many references are to one of our oldest stories of all - the hero is the Chosen One betrayed by one of his disciples.

48   The constraints are personal as well as financial because many of us do not have the personal attributes required to make films. While author-in-residence at a publishing company in Monterey, California during the 1970s, my corner bar was the Hog's Breath Inn in Carmel. Since this bar was partly owned by Clint Eastwood, many of the regulars were film people. At happy hour, a film person would ask how I spent my day. S/he would be horrified when I replied that I had sat at a typewriter all day. When I asked about their day, their replies would be all over the place: I talked to some producer about financing for a film. I was writing a script. I was visiting a site with my location manager. I was actually filming a scene. I was editing the film. This life was as horrifying to me as my life was to them. The desktop video production studio promises to make "film-making" accessible to people like me who don't mind sitting at a desk all day.