10 October 2008

Fragrant Harbour: The movie script

I blogged about a John Lanchester novel, in my Sept. 25 entry here.

Or I didn't. I set out that day to blog about the novel, but ended up in my errant stream-of-consciousness way talking merely about a single proverb that the novel invokes.

Can I say anything more generally about the book. Well, although I admired much in it, I couldn't help but wonder as I was reading how, if at all, it could ever be turned into a screenplay. It seems to have too much disparate material for that.

No author has a duty to produce a movie-adaptable novel, of course. This was simply the path my thoughts followed.

I can imagine myself angling for the screenwriter's job (hey, work with me here). Then reading the book and becoming dismayed at the task of reducing it to two hours -- three at most -- of filmable material. Ah, but it's time to get on the phone to the studio exec and make my pitch.

"Yes, JB, of course I think we can do it. Get this. There's a woman in a newsroom. No, not in Hong Kong. She starts off working for a small daily in a seaside resort town in England. She wants to make it big, our gal. She's ambitious. Has her eye on the London papers, and covering the biggest stories there.

"Fortunately for her, the Tory Party [pause as JB talks] those are the Conservatives ... the party holds a convention in her resort town. She meets a group of members of Parliament and goes out drinking with them.

"The next morning, she's in the newsroom, all hung over, but struggling to meet a deadline on a story about some missing kid. One of the guys she'd been drinking with approaches her, looking all shame-faced.

"At first she asks herself -- we use voice over of course -- did I sleep with him? No, I would have remembered that. I'm pretty sure. What's he here for.

"So they go off into the break room for some privacy, and he says to her, 'I said some quite indiscreet things last night. I would take it as a great favor if you would keep that especially sensitive bit I told you to yourself.'

"Well of course, JB! You're catching on. She has no idea what secret it is to which she is supposedly privy. But she's ambitious and bright. She looks him right in the eye and says, 'I'll take it to my grave.'"

"Thanks to this Tory and his friends, she gets her gig at a London paper. Once tghere, other rung-climbing opportunities and challenges present themselves, and of course there's a romance angle with a photographer.

"Yes, eventually we follow her to Hong Kong. And our gal makes it big there, too. But she breaks up with her now-long-distance boyfriend.

"Unfortunately the novel then cuts away from her story and she's only tangentially involved in the rest of the book. But ignore all that. Her story, early on, is the most cinematic part of the whole. We can give it a different ending -- something about how boundless ambition in time leads to her fall -- or something sweet involving the photographer. Or both. We'll work it out.

"Wonderful, JB! Now, let's talk about my pay...."

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