The Process and Reception of Book to Film Adaptations

‘The Process and Reception of Book to Film Adaptations’ is a dissertation originally written in 2010 by Steve McCarthy as part of a Masters degree in Publishing. This dissertation was produced with the help of industry professionals acknowledged below, and is now being re-published online with the aim of illuminating the process of book to film adaptation for the wider public. In some places, where appropriate, the author has edited content to bring it into the modern day context in which it is being shared. The dissertation will be published in 6 parts covering the key players in the process: the author, the agent, the script, and the producer.

Methods of data collection and statement of results

‘The market seems to be highly competitive, and those who succeed – that is, make a good living without necessarily becoming nationally-known figures – need to have an acute sense of what the public wants.’34 As this dissertation will come to reveal so much in the creative industries rests on the ability to communicate effectively with an audience. They are the customer, consumer and the target market. For unfortunately, like any business – and the creative industries are businesses no matter how much they try to hide it – marketing drives sales and sales boost profit.

So although for the most part this study aims to highlight the process of book to film adaptation, it would be foolish to completely ignore the driving force behind it: the desire to satisfy. But who are these professionals from the book and film trade trying to satisfy, and what are their opinions on the whole process? Do people really watch more films than books? Are people aware they are watching an adaptation of a book, and how many of these had read the book first? I conducted a survey of 55 people, 31 Women and 24 Men between the ages of 13 and 78, between April 2010 and August 2010 to find out more. The results were as followed35:

  • 33% said they watched ‘Lots’ of films a year, in comparison only 7% said they read ‘Lots’ of books.
  • An almighty 55% responded ‘Not Many’ when asked how many books they read a year.
  • A staggering 90% were aware the film they watched was an adaptation of a book.
  • When asked to rate the Top 50 Grossing Movies of 2009, on average book adaptations received a rating of 6.68 out of 10, beaten only marginally by a 6.78% rating for films based on original screenplays.
  • When asked who they could identify from an adaptation of their choosing (from the list of Top 50 Grossing Movies of 2009), Directors (30%) and Producers (15%) came off worse with only a small majority ticking ‘Yes’. Actors (76%) and Authors (68%) faired far better.
  • There was a split response on those asked if they’d read the book on which the film was based, with 52% saying they had, and 48% saying they had not.
  • Of those who had read the book, 53% had read the book before seeing the film.
  • 57% of people who had read the book first described their expectations as ‘High’. And having then watched the film 43% described their satisfaction as ‘Very’ and another 43% as ‘Quite’.

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34 Hoggart, Richard. (1998) The Uses of Literacy. Transaction Publishers. Page 158.
35 All supporting data was originally supplied in an Appendix but is not shared here due to the volume of the data.

I would like to thank the following people and organisations for their support, advice and contributions to this dissertation:
Kingston University, Alison Baverstock, Sarah Mahaffy, Mary Braid, Julian Friedmann, Linda Seger, Tally Garner, Nick Hornby, Lucy Chavasse, Evan Leighton-Davis, Adam Baron, Kieron Connolly, Ken Marshall, Emma Wood, and all those who participated in the survey.