“That book was so good, it should be a movie.” If we’ve never actually said that about a favorite novel, we’ve almost certainly heard it. Fantasy casting is a popular pastime with many readers, and the success of book-to-TV adaptations in recent years shows that it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility for a book that hits the right note to make the leap, especially now that the silver screen isn’t the only option. Cable TV and straight to internet streaming platforms expand the possibilities, which begs the question, what books would you like to see make the leap?
Long before the advent of HBO or Netflix, when Hollywood was the only game in town when it came to movie adaptations, fantasy casting has found its way into many discussions among book lovers, and, in the age of the internet, when it’s possible to cut and paste pictures of the desired actors, it’s a rare discussion that doesn’t touch on this in some form. For some, fantasy casting takes into consideration only the looks of the actors, so “casting” a comic actor for a dark, brooding role works if he has the right appearance, and a screen siren from the golden age of moving pictures, no longer with us in real life, is a perfect fit if she resembled the heroine in her prime. For others, there’s a complicated list of qualifications, encompassing past works, chemistry with other actors, modifications in hair/makeup/wardrobe, or even the use of prosthetics. In either case, this can be a fun pursuit, or cause for heated debate.
Even as publishing changed with the advent of electronic and independent publishing, to say nothing of the boom in audiobooks, so has the definition of “movie” changed. Where that once meant a two hour feature in a cinema, the definition is now looser than that. Cable TV has brought us adaptations of novel series like Game of Thrones, and even The Walking Dead, which first saw life as a graphic novel. Other works, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, find new exposure via streaming adaptations viewers can watch from computers or mobile devices, anytime, anywhere, no TV involved.
None of those, however, are romances, though romance fans rejoiced when Diana Gabaldon’s classic Outlander debuted on cable TV, to great success. Can this open the door for other romantic adaptations? Maybe so. With the preponderance of linked books, a cable adaptation could well go for several years within the established story world, whether the series is open-ended or has a finite span. This brings us to the inevitable subject of tradeoffs.
Adapting a work from one form to another isn’t a perfect science. What works on the page may not on the screen, and aiming a story at the viewer rather than reader is going to call for a few changes, which may not always please diehard fans of the book. On the other hand, it can also bring forth some delightful surprises. For every scene that ends up on the cutting room floor, or supporting characters, plural, who wind up consolidated into supporting character, singular, there are other scenes and characters, not in the original, that become fan favorites even though they veer from the original -sometimes by a large degree.
When a story is contained within a novel, the author can do anything they want, unconstrained by the demands of weather, labor laws, budgets or the vagaries of life. Family emergencies, illness, injury, pregnancy of cast members, number of hours a child actor can work, etc, can all mean things need to be tweaked, whether a little or a lot, to accommodate these factors. In some cases, this can challenge the creative team to new levels, working in the change while staying true to the spirit of the law, as it were, even if they can’t hew as tightly to the letter of the same. Casting, as much fun as it can be for many, when it comes to fantasy, isn’t as easy as picking out pictures in reality, which brings another dilemma; whether to get things rolling quickly or take the time to find exactly the right fit, which is not always a luxury production schedules will accommodate. When a long running book series is adapted, the number of roles to cast can be astronomical, not only for individual characters, but how they work with all of the others. In the case of paranormal, fantasy, science fiction or historical romances, especially, there is also the matter of budget. Writers can make entire worlds, galaxies and universes on the page for free, embroider the past in painstaking detail, but when it comes to putting all that on the screen, it’s time to do some math.
Anyone who has seen a favorite novel adapted poorly knows the pain of watching the wrong actor in the role of a beloved character. No matter how well the actor has performed in other productions, or even in the current one, it’s not possible to fit every reader’s image of that character, which means they’re going to fall short for somebody. For the reader/viewer, that brings the dilemma of whether to push through watching every scene, knowing that the character’s hair should be a different color, their walk is all wrong, and why on earth did the powers that be decide that Distinguishing Physical Characteristic wasn’t an essential part of the character as a whole? Then again, in the hands of the right actors, with the right chemistry, costumes, sets and camera angles, magic can happen anywhere.
As with anything else, it’s a balancing act. For some, seeing a favorite story come to life on a screen of any size is, by itself, a treat, and nothing else matters. Others may turn to the internet in righteous indignation when Character X coughs instead of sneezes at a significant moment. Yet others may sit, zen-like, in the middle, weighing the balances, and taking the new work on its own merit. There are as many points on this continuum as there are readers and viewers, which guarantees that, however the adaptation goes, there will be fodder for endless discussion. That’s a win on its own.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you have any favorite romance novels, be they series or standalones, that you would like to see adapted for film, TV or streaming? Do you fantasy cast favorite novels as a matter of course, and, if so, do you limit yourself to only currently popular actors, or widen the field? Why do you think romance adaptations are thin on the ground, though romance is a hugely popular genre? If you think books and movies/TV/streaming are two different animals and never the twain should meet, we want to hear from you, too. Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.