Why, Yes, In Fact, Old Man’s War Could Make a Very Fine Movie
This morning I came across this blog post, by a fellow who read Old Man’s War and loved it, which is lovely, and then discovered that it’s been optioned as a movie and thinks this is a mistake, that it should be a series instead, which, meh. He also determines that the reason I optioned it for a film is that I must be desperate for the sweet love and adoration of Hollywood. Which, lol, no.
So, let me talk about this for a second, and why, in fact, I believe that Old Man’s War could make a very fine movie.
To begin, and as background, let’s recall that Old Man’s War has been under option before, both as a movie and as a television series, the former at Paramount and the latter at Syfy/UCP. It’s now at Netflix as a movie rather than a series. In both of the previous cases people spent time and money developing them and commissioning scripts and trying to get them done, and it just didn’t happen.
Why not? Because sometimes in Hollywood (read: nearly always) it just doesn’t happen, and that’s just the way it goes. Currently things are coming along nicely at Netflix, and I’m (reasonably) optimistic about the state of things — but it still might not happen, because, again, that’s just the way it is. If it doesn’t happen this time then we’ll send the property out there again. Then maybe someone else will option it, either as a movie or as a television series, depending on their particular interest and also what they think can get made, and the whole dizzy ride will start over again.
Given the history of the property, in fact this fellow already got his wish: I did option it as a series. And to be clear, when I did, I was no more or less desperate then, than I was this time, when it was optioned as a film. It just… didn’t get made. When the next people who wanted to option it came around, they wanted to make it into a film rather than as a series. I thought that was fine and I let them.
Why did I let them? In no particular order:
1. Because I liked the people who were involved (both personally and as business people) and thought they could do a creditable job with it;
2. Because the terms and conditions of the option deal were congenial to my own plans and interests;
3. Because I like money and lots of it;
4. Because I strongly believe there’s a way to make a very fine movie from Old Man’s War.
And I do, although I will note (and perhaps this is to this fellow’s point) that a two-hour movie will not cram the entire complexity of the novel I wrote into its 120-minute running time. I mean, to be bluntly honest, a two-hour movie could get a lot of it — Old Man’s War’s plot and prose are neither dense nor intricate, and the book itself is written in a three-act structure which (theoretically at least) should make it super-easy to turn into a movie script. It ain’t Foucault’s Pendulum. But inevitably not all the book will make it into the movie.
And that’s fine, and as it turns out, necessary. Movies are not books. Movies are adaptations of books, for another medium entirely. When filmmakers try to make their movies simply a “faithful” version of the book that runs at 24 frames a second, the results (speaking as a former full-time professional film critic) tend to be dreadful more often than not. I don’t want a movie of Old Man’s War that’s a retread of what I’ve already done in the book. What I want is an adaptation and interpretation of what I’ve written that’s interesting and exciting, and is faithful to the idea and feel of the universe I created. What I want is a movie that people who loved the book can watch and say “yeah, I see where they made changes and why, but they still kept the heart of the story.” That can absolutely be done. To the extent I’m involved with the production, preserving that heart is what I see my role as being, even as changes, deletions and additions necessarily come about.
But if you did a series, you wouldn’t have to cut anything and you could still keep the heart of it! Oh, my sweet summer child. Just because a TV series is longer doesn’t mean it would be any more faithful to the books, either in detail or in tone and feel. TV series aren’t books, either. They are also adaptations of a work into a different medium. Sometimes they nail it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they do both, just like movies do.
(Also, you know. The movie vs TV series dichotomy is a pretty much a false one at this point in the history of entertainment. Hey, if Old Man’s War is really successful as a movie, guess what? They’ll make sequels! And those sequels can follow the books, or catch up with parts of the books that weren’t in earlier films, or go off into places the books never got to, or weren’t able to spend any time on. And because this is Netflix, maybe some stories in the universe might eventually become… TV series! Seems to me there might be precedent for movie franchises spawning TV series, and vice versa.)
Regardless of whether Old Man’s War (or any book) is made into a TV series or movie, it won’t be the book. It can’t be. If you demand that it must be, you are going to be disappointed coming and going. I can’t help you there. Fortunately, the books are the books, so no matter what happens with a movie, or TV series (or video game, or graphic novel, or Broadway musical, or whatever), you’ll always have those.
Since I neither want nor expect either a film or TV version of my work to be exactly like the books I write, I’m open to the idea that they be adapted to either — or both! — and that the result will be its own thing, separate but complementary to what the books already are. I think that’s exciting, actually. Especially since, unlike nearly all of you, I know what’s going on with the current adaptation and I’m pretty happy with it, and would be happy to see it, finally, go all the way into production. We’ll see, or we won’t. Either way, the books will still be there, and I will be fine, and not desperate.