Generations of novelists have been frustrated upon seeing their books interpreted onscreen. But on three recent films, the writers won’t be able to complain that their vision was compromised. Scripts for Dennis Lehane’s “The Drop,” Jonathan Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You” and Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” were all written by the book authors.
Why deal with the frustrations of film production? For some, it’s insurance against having their material ruined, which famously vexed authors from Anthony Burgess to Stephen King.
For others, some of whom are already working in TV and film, it’s a way to stay in the loop and stretch their wings.
Though Boston-based crime novelist Lehane has written for TV, other scribes handled the screenplays for “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” all films based on his work.
But “The Drop,” which opened Sept. 12 after playing the Toronto Film Fest, came with a different set of requirements, since it’s based on a short story. “It was a matter of expanding rather than cutting,” Lehane says.
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“The reason I never tried screenwriting in the past is that I’m not a cutter. If I knew how to do that, my novels would be 120 pages, not 400 pages.”
Likewise, Tropper has prior credits in TV — as creator of Cinemax crime show “Banshee.” But his bestseller “This Is Where I Leave You” is a family dramedy. Turning it over to another writer would have been scary, he says, though writing the screenplay had its own challenges.
“(I knew) the construction of a movie from the novel it’s based on would deal with a lot of compression,” he says. “But I was still curious about the architecture of a film, and knew when I got involved that it would be a very collaborative process.”
Two other Tropper novels also have been optioned — he co-wrote “The Book of Joe” with director Ed Burns, and J.J. Abrams included Tropper’s services as screenwriter on “One Last Thing Before I Go.” Both projects are in development.
Flynn, a former journalist, was skeptical of how much respect a novelist’s screenplay would get. “I know how the story goes, which is that the author gets to do a first draft, and then is immediately fired and someone else is brought in,” she told the L.A. Times.
It’s no wonder that most writers prefer to stick to one form or the other, Lehane says. “I had taken a couple cracks (at screenwriting) and they didn’t pan out,” he notes. “It’s a different skillset to look at a novel and know exactly what’s going on the screen. With “Mystic River,” I tried doing the first 50 pages, but then I saw (Brian Helgeland’s) script and how he made it into one cinematic image, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this right now.’ ”