19 JULY 1957, Page 33

Contemporary Arts

Book of the Film

ELIKE Ernie to the hopeful holder of Premium Bonds—a remote and unpredictable deity, whose patron- age may strike like lightning at any 9 ,minute—is the film world to anyone p4:1"Elp,0-4 , who has ever published almost any- , thing. Not that the author waits for

II the postman, or imagines his name

among the credits, or plans what to do with the money, any more than the premium man (ex- cept in a whimsical way) plans his summer holiday round his. But the faint gambler's possi- bility is there, and somewhere behind the scenes novel, play, short story, biography is being worried like ,a dog's bone by story department and producers : its plot set down, its characters analysed, its tilmable qualities reckoned to the Point where anything,from three to fifty thousand Pounds may be offered for it—more spectacular largesse than-Ernie's. To the publisher this, and its attendant publicity, is handsome enough to repay a quantity of preliminary bother with "'ens of unfilmable books submitted hopefully; to the author—to most, authors—it is dazzling.

So dark are the preliminaries kept, so myster-

"Is are the ways of film-makers, that most authors have only the vaguest idea of hoW, why, with what immediate object and what result, their Particular work has been chosen. He may have a finger in the final pie as scriptwriter or part- sertlitwriter of the film, though this is a dubious blessing, for he has a responsibility for, without often much final power over, the finished ver- sion, film-making being so fluid a business that between a finished script and a finished film enor- nions alterations may intervene, even more as a 1.11!e than they do in the theatre. A friend of mine who partly scripted his own book recently made haste to disclaim a number of dreadful jokes that had crept into the dialogue after he finished with it, attributing them to the impos- slim, , tY of making anyone listen to his objections ;r1., the stress of actual film-making. But more likely the author will sign away his rights in the Story and that will be that: he may not recognise ir result, but no one will blame him for what nejlini-makers do to it.

To the hopeful but unfilmed author the film

e°111Panies must appear (as publishers do to the "Published) one big conspiracy to keep things n°1„", : an unfriendly lot, in fact. But you have dY to climb the fence and have anything to Publishers, film companies to find they are (like ,i'm'Lishers, indeed) insatiable creatures whose uallY, existence is one of forage, excursion, com- petition and the frenzied determination to find onf°tIgh to keep them going. Both estimates are, Course, right : like publishers, film companies are determined to find themselves authors, pre- ferably

before anyone else does, and equally determined not to get landed with the wrong es

an outlook that leads to a complex state °f that mind that is, quite sharply and definitely, half a_..t. of the hunter and half of the hunted. , 1 he orthodox way of getting a book filmed is .t..iro. ugh the film company's story department, to then Pr the publisher submits his books and which sir proceeds to look at them. This sounds oraightforward, but is often the result of high- lo_awered diplomacy on the part of the story de- talent's chiefs whose business in life it is to cultivate publishers and agents and keep a sen- sitive nose for likely film subjects even before they appear in print at all. The various com- panies have their various ways of working, but on the whole their methods are not unlike those of publishers, the difference being that whereas publishers are generally more interested in a book's general quality than in its detailed plot the film company is interested almost exclusively in the plot. Action, it cannot be said too often, is the guiding principle of orthodox film- making, and so the story, in an orthodox story department, is what counts. Very occasionally a 'vehicle' is wanted for a particular actor, and then character conies more noticeably into it. But usually plot, and plot alone, determines every- thing. Film companies' readers must be pains- taking souls who are ready to put down the action in scrupulous detail, and even if the book is rejected no outline of the plot is ever wasted : filed away by an ingenious system that can keep a close check on subject matter, the stories wait in case another story remotely like any of them is, ten or twenty or forty years on, considered for filming' again; since charges of plagiarism, especially among the sort of plots that cannot, after all, be infinitely varied, must be avoided, even by film companies.

The unorthodox, but very frequent, way for a book to be filmed is through some producer having a hunch, a notion, an idea, or what you will, about it. Since the producer as a rule chooses everyone—his director and scriptwriter —from the start and so virtually sets the quality of the film, the initial enthusiasm for a story must logically come from him : so that often the story department's more painstaking efforts may be by-passed by the energetic action of indi- vidual producers, or—when they reach such a level of importance—directors or even actors. The inspired rather than the routine successes may come that way : the inflated nonsense, too. Story departments are the safer, solider bet.

Filmable plots can be found in all sorts of places—in new novels, of course, and short stories; in new plays; in television plays (Marty, Wedding Breakfast, The Bachelor Party, A Man is Ten Feet Tall, 12 Angry Men, The Young Stranger: to name a few, all recent, all first-rate and all taken from American television plays); in old novels, plays and short stories .('classics'); in old film successes, remade after a gap of twenty years or so (this happens all the time, a constant reprocessing : A Star is Born, It Happened One Night and The Barretts of Wimpole Street are three big successes of the Thirties remade these last few years); in biographies of almost anyone (these may be based on fictionalised biographies, on autobiography, or on direct research, and the line between what needs acknowledgement and what can be called general knowledge is a subtle one: suppose you film the life of a poet and all the facts you use are known to anyone, do you say it was based.on So-and-so's life of the poet? Or not?—it depends how idiosyncratic and revolutionary So-and-so's life was, but even then the point is a fine one); and lastly, though it seems odd to put at the end what ought, artistically speaking, to go at the beginning, in stories written specially for filming—'originals.'

This last is probably the ideal: every other, at least, has its disadvantages. The best novels do not, on the whole, make the best films, so it fol- lows that films are generally made from the second-best; television plays, in spite of the brilliant American handful in the last couple of years, may often be too small in subject, too cosy in atmosphere and are written for a totally different sort of audience and reaction—the man at home, alone or with one or two others, en- joying an almost solitary pleasure, not the mem- ber of a vast audience, feeling with all the others; remade films, though they may be good enough, are generally mere rehashes of a safe success; biographies suffer from popularisation; and so on and so on. But there is nothing for it, the cinema being what it is—an enormous industry as well as an art—but to take stories where and when they turn up, since there will never be enough original writers to keep pace with the public demand for films to see. Which may sound gloomy, but is a matter not of the scarcity of writers but of the vastness of audiences, which sets the pace for film- making and story-finding all over the filming world.