Monday, March 16 2015
Susan Young for Marshell Publishing
In the history of film, there have been many successful book-to-film adaptations (think The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter). So this got me thinking about how well Larry Laswell’s book The Marathon Watch would translate into a film. In this interview, Larry and I talk about what makes a successful book-to-film adaptation, and particularly what he thinks about the idea of his books portrayed on the big screen.
Q. Larry, you've mentioned that some of your fans thought that The Marathon Watch would make a great movie. Why do you think they said that?
Larry: Their comments surprised me at first, and they described the story as very visually compelling. I had thought of The Marathon Watch as a story about men struggling through difficult times; an inward story, not an external visual story. After some thought, I realized the first third of The Marathon Watch sets the scene, but after that, the story becomes very kinetic, and I have to admit, I wrote those sections as if I was watching a movie. This is another example of readers finding far more in my novel than I purposely intended. That taught me that a novel is finished only after someone reads it and makes it their own.
Q. Did making your books into a movie ever cross your mind as you were writing them?
Larry: Never. My only focus was to tell a good story about the people and the navy. Again, my intended purpose was to tell a story about a ship and crew trying to uphold the navy ethos of duty, honor, and tradition in very difficult circumstances. I think I succeeded, since some of my best reviews came from women — very unusual for a military book.
Q. What military movies do you believe have inspired your writing?
Larry: To me, most military movies aren’t inspirational. They tend to be about historical or fictional events and are plot-driven. Few, if any, do a good job of showing the tribulations, grace and courage of our fighting men and women. Saving Private Ryan is an exception to that rule. I see Saving Private Ryan as the story of an officer struggling against post-traumatic stress and finding a way to do his duty and look out for his men. That is the type of story I enjoy; it makes you think, and it moves your heart. I hope my readers agree that The Marathon Watch and my next novel, Vows to the Fallen, fall into that mold. I will feel honored if they do.
Q. If The Marathon Watch were made into a movie, who would you see directing it, and playing the main characters?
Larry: There are a lot of great directors and actors out there so I wouldn’t want to get too specific about names, and risk excluding other capable professionals. Let’s approach it this way: I would like to see a director who has made compelling emotional movies about people. After all, that is what my novels are about.
I am not an expert on acting, but in some movies I see an actor playing a part. In others, with great actors, the actors become the character and I only see the character. I would like to see actors of that caliber. Admiral Durham and Captain O’Toole would require strong heroic actors whose mere presence on the screen would grab your attention and shout courage, duty, honor, and tradition.
Durham and O’Toole are the defenders of tradition. Perhaps someone like Gregory Peck could play Durham.
Meyers, the Farnley’s executive officer, grapples with tradition when he discovers he is on the horns of a dilemma, since duty and honor are in conflict. He is a man destined for greatness, and would need an actor who could convey his internal struggle and courage; perhaps someone in the mold of Tom Hanks. Ross, the engine room chief, would be the most difficult to cast. That character would have to be as tough as a Marine Corps drill instructor, and at the same time tell the audience his tender heart still carries very deep, old scars. Admiral Eichhoff, the antagonist, is a cruel, conniving, yet smooth-talking slug. I can’t think of anyone to play him.
Q. How would you convince a Hollywood director that your book was worth making into a movie?
Larry: Well, I couldn’t sell a Band-Aid at a train wreck! I’m just not a salesman. If the book doesn’t sell itself, there wouldn’t be much I could to help it along.
Q. What would you change about the story line in order to adapt it into a film?
Larry: Later this year, I will release the second edition of The Marathon Watch. In the first third of the book, I will add new material and sharpen the focus on the characters’ internal conflicts. Beyond that, I would hope a director would stick with the story line. However, since Hollywood is Hollywood, they will want to add a love interest, and perhaps some sex, which is entirely missing in The Marathon Watch. There is hope though, since neither of those elements was in Saving Private Ryan. It ultimately would come down to how much I want The Marathon Watch up on the big screen.
Q. Of the books you know that have done well as adaptations, what do you think made them so successful at the box office?
Larry: I have heard actors say the magic is in the writing, and that no amount of great acting can save a weak script. I have to agree. A recent movie adaptation is from the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book was moving and the characters compelling. The producers resisted the urge to “improve” the novel with changes and additions. The movie faithfully followed the book, and is a moving and compelling movie.
Now that I think about it, this relates to your earlier question about changes in the storyline to adapt it to film. Let me change my answer to that question, and say that I would hope The Marathon Watch and my characters are compelling enough, Hollywood wouldn’t want to change a thing.