The Big Screen vs. The Book

Shutter Island book cover and 2010 movie poster
Photo Credit: and

With Hollywood blockbusters like Shutter Island bringing in $75 million since its North American release on Feb.19, 2010, and the newest adaption of Alice in Wonderland expected to also earn millions, big-budget studios and A-list actors can relish in their new busting bank accounts.

But what about the little guy? The book industry.

Over the past decade, Hollywood has looked to the hardcovers and paperback products to pump out hundreds of film adaptations to make millions of dollars.

Despite what may seem like the big blockbuster brother cheating out his smaller book publishing sibling, some believe the movie industry helps create a larger readership.

“It can direct people towards an author’s catalogue,” says Randal McIlroy, managing editor of Pemmican Publications Inc.

“The movie can boost many people that way, like it does for music.” McIlroy believes the book industry is the one that essentially wins when it comes to movie adaptations. “I find it seems to hurt the movie more.”

Most books optioned for movie deals are already best-selling novels like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, or more recently, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

These books have already built a large fan base and a good reputation, which often creates a challenge for moviemakers. They have to live up to the hype and get viewers to realize the movie and book are two different things.

“Reading a novel is a fundamentally different experience than watching a movie,” says Winnipeg writer and author of Fear Not, Maurice Mierau .“They’re a very different art form. And I often find young people don’t understand that.”

Although signing away their rights to a moviemaker gives a writer a chance at earning thousands of dollars, they also run the risk of ruining their reputation and possibly seeing their book sales dwindle.

“As much as a film can go ahead and get positive public exposure for a book, if the adaptation is done poorly, it can actually sink the book,” says Jamis Paulson, associate publisher of Turnstone Press.

Paulson believes that overall, book sales are boosted by the release of its film adaptation, but as Hollywood studios continually rack in the cash by relying on best-selling books, the true creativity and art of the writing industry may eventually suffer.

“The real danger is that all creative endeavour becomes stagnant,” says Paulson, “no one is willing to take a chance on something new, something perhaps a little risky.”

The other danger in Hollywood adaptations is the chance of slowly stomping out small budget filmmakers and publishers.

“As the industry panders a bit more to the blockbusters and makes it more difficult for the independents and the small press to operate.” Despite this, Paulson believes having one of their published books made into a film is a project he would definitely take. “That would be a tremendous boost to any of the books that we’re publishing. We liken it to winning the lottery.”

Whether or not a movie ends up a flop, or perhaps more authors become fixated on the prospect of quick cash, some believe it won’t take anything away from those who live for and love a good old-fashioned story.

“People who are inclined to read novels are going to read novels anyways,” says Mierau, “and the people who are inclined to avoid reading them are going to do that.”

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Janet Adamana of Red River College

  • 50 years old
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • User since Nov 2nd 2009, 08:52