From Books to Blockbusters: Sacrifices for Screenplays

Upon hearing a book is being adapted into a film, most fans go into a frenzy. Questions of whether it will be as good, who will star in it and how the directors will change it circulate the Internet and the minds of those invested.

Yet what goes unnoticed is the process that precedes the frenzy – an author watching someone else transform their work.

13 Hours Book Cover. | Photo courtesy of

“For [non-fiction authors] like us, it’s really weird,” said Mitchell Zuckoff, a journalism professor at Boston University and author of “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” which has most recently garnered attention for its cinematic future under Paramount.

As Zuckoff strolled over to the filled bookshelf in his office, he pulled out his own work and said, “[The movie] is related to my book, but when it’s all said and done, it’s a different medium.”

Zuckoff, however, isn’t the only one whose work in print is being adapted for the big screen. BU Journalism Professor and author of “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” Richard Lehr just went through the process of adapting his book, and expects to see the movie in theatres in late 2015.

Black Mass Book Cover. | Photo courtesy of

Yet Lehr and Zuckoff’s experiences proved that there’s no typical route when it comes to the process. Lehr initially endured an on-again, off-again relationship with producers looking to buy his book, while Zuckoff’s agents had been in contact with Paramount from the beginning.

Though their processes differed, both authors faced the same initial question: Do I want to let someone turn my book into a film, knowing it will involve a certain degree of invention?

Both answered yes.

“There’s lots of scenes that we don’t know what was said in them, but they have to film those scenes and invent dialogue,” Lehr said.

And while he isn’t concerned by the fact that a conversation may not be exactly accurate, he wants it to come from a place of honesty.

“As long as [the dialogue] is authentic, that was key for me. As long as it’s authentic versus is everything factually accurate,” said Lehr.

Similarly, Zuckoff understood that films require certain pieces that books can’t provide.

“I want them to be true to the story of what happened, but I can accept that, to get there in a two hour film, they may have to do things that I couldn’t do,” he said.

However, he was clear about a luxury the book had that the film won’t – length.

“This is a 300-page book and seven hours of narration that’s going to be turned into a visual medium in two hours. How can it possibly have the same level of detail?” he said. Yet, even with his doubts, he believes the film “can have the same integrity.”

Paul Schneider, a director and a film and television professor at BU, agreed that the length of films puts them at a narrative disadvantage to books.

Yet when asked whether or not a movie can actually live up to the original book, Schneider put it simply.

“Yes, some adaptions to film can be as good,” he said. “If not better.”


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