Adaptations True to the Original or Culture

man holding clapper board

Photo by Martin Lopez on

I recently completed writing a short film adaptation for the festival marketplace titled The Sacrificial Gift. The screenplay is based on the original story titled The Gift of the Magi written in 1905. I will be placing the screenplay up for sale so a filmmaker that’s looking for a wholesome story with a great plot twist and moral lesson (provided by the original story) will have a shot at winning several festival awards.

The last short story I wrote for the screen, not only opened up doors for its producer, but it helped expand the awarded actress’ career with a reoccurring role on a major television network. And yes, I too won a festival award for best screenplay. But that was then, and now I’m looking to sell The Sacrificial Gift to an interested producer.

Adaptations are an interesting type of story because some follow the original so closely that the film appears to be a period piece, or worse yet, it’s not understandable by contemporary society. Others use the original only as a springboard to a new creative direction that is so far from the original that it’s hard to see the relationship. Still, others find a balance between updating the story for contemporary culture while maintaining as much of the original author’s passions and intent.

A friend sent me the following link to an adaptation and suggested I watch it this weekend while the movie is free (online through tonight). Here is the link should you want to watch it.

The writer of this latest version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the original written in 1678, struggled with how to make the content relevant for today’s audience. This is a very hard decision to make and if the writer is not completely focused on the initial decisions can easily wander and create a glorious mess.

In this film, the writer wrote most of the dialog for Baby Boomers and the action for kids. The director took things a step further and cartoon-ized the bad guys with silliness, while keeping the protagonist highly dramatic, enduring pain after pain—something difficult for kids to watch.

However, Paul Bunyan’s greatest allegory still remains at the core of the story within this adaptation. Unfortunately, that means most people in today’s society won’t understand the story as the film has it unfold. Yet, in spite of these choices, Bunyan’s original story is still the second most sold book next to the Bible.

I did not want to cannibalize The Gift of the Magi, but I did want to bring it into the 21st century. I changed the main Christmas Eve setting to a typical weekend in the average American household. Instead of the holiday driving the exchange of a young couple’s sacrificial gift, I used a marriage enrichment challenge.

The original was about hard times when there was little a person could do to survive, making the sacrificial gift significant. However, with super-powerful computers in everyone’s hands these days (that’s right, smartphones are more powerful than the big mainframe computers were back in the 70s) I wanted the lack of face-to-face time to drive the need for the gift exchange.

Since I’m a person who understands the difference between an entertaining film and a heavy or important film, I’ve also added in some great humor that sets up the message in a new powerful way. Yes, you will laugh and you will have your gut hit with the impact of the final twist in the plot. But the question is, how close to the original did I keep the story?

It doesn’t really matter.

Why? Because the producer and director will also add in their artistic choices. Then, the actors and editor will also salt in their viewpoints. But hopefully, the director will honor my adapted story as I intended it and help keep everyone focused on the same impactful outcome that was designed. But we won’t know how the team handled my story until its premiere.

I’ve got to be honest. Most directors today don’t know how to properly read a script, let alone know how to keep its critical elements intact. So as a writer, I have to find ways of saying goodbye to my little darlings every time I sell a script—hoping the director knows what he or she is doing. In any case, if the intent of my screenplay is honored, the theme and plot twist from The Gift of the Magi will also be honored.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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