What have you done with my work!?! Oh…oh, yeah, that’s fine, actually.

So David Anthony Durham just announced that his Acacia series has been optioned to Relativity Media, a major production company (Hellboy II, Hancock, Wanted, and a bunch of others)–which gets it one step closer to movie material. Now tons of books get optioned without ever actually making it to the silver screen, but still…that’s pretty cool. And David’s excitement (I think he said “yahoo” at least twice in the same post) got me to thinking about the whole book-to-something business–and why we get so pumped up about it.

From a certain perspective, you’d think that authors would be a little wary of the whole process. After all, the one-star sections of movie review sites are littered with great books that became hideously terrible movies, and book or movie-to-game conversions (like the one being done of The Third Sign) have a pretty spotty history too. Ursula LeGuin felt the need to publicly announce how terrible SciFi’s conversion of her Earthsea books were (and understandably so, if you saw it), and there are some authors who have absolutely refused to let their books see the light of a theater (J.D. Salinger is probably the most obvious example, although he’s also the most extreme…because, well, he’s J.D. Salinger!). Once you sell the rights to a book to another creative entity you lose much of your control over it unless you’re extremely careful in how you handle your contract, and given the track record this is a pretty frightening prospect.

Besides, there’s the whole artistic issue–a movie can’t possibly capture the nuance of the story, goes the argument, and the last thing we want people to be doing is getting more movie and less book oriented anyway. And yet, authors keep selling the rights, and books keep getting made into movies–in fact, far more than you might think. Why?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a couple of guesses. First of all, a given movie doesn’t need to replace the book. In fact, movies which are slavishly true to every nuance of the books from which they’re made tend to be pretty boring affairs. David points out that the film will be a “cousin” to his book, so he’s not stressing about the changes which might or might not be made…yet. But if the changes don’t do violence to the book, the basic spirit of the narrative will still be there. Look at how freaked out everyone was over the Lord of the Rings movies before being made, and now I think you’d have a hard time making a serious argument that Jackson’s exceptional films did anything but celebrate Tolkien’s vision. (Go ahead and make the argument if you like, but not seriously. 🙂 )

Second, well, it can be a lot of money. Really. A lot. Which is, you know, not necessarily a bad thing.

And finally–and this one is a bit harder to explain–there’s just kind of a “cool factor” to getting your work transformed into a different medium. I’ve had a chance to experience this on a small scale with TTS–walking through some of the opening scenes of the game has been pretty astonishing, and every so often I find myself sitting back and thinking “I actually wrote this.” Or not this, exactly, but the thing which led to this. And getting the chance to see your imagined world realized on a screen, in an even more overtly visual context, is pretty wild. When I get the chance to see the full game version I’ll probably feel even more this way, and if I’m fortunate enough to see my work on film I’ll probably just sit around feeling stunned for a while. 🙂

What it comes down to for me, and I suspect for David, is broader communication. Writers want people to read their work, and the more people get exposure to that work the better…even if it’s through film or computer game first (or only). So if a production company does come calling, I’ll definitely listen.

Especially if they cast Viggo Mortensen as something, because that guy is just cool.