Book fans are incredibly passionate. Unsurprisingly, this passion leads to very strong opinions among readers that in turn can lead to some very serious debate, especially when it comes to casting beloved characters in movie adaptations. This has caused many disgruntled fans to voice their displeasure on social media, often reaching out directly to authors to demand explanations for a particular casting choice.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is no exception, becoming the latest in a long line of casualties following the release of her screenwriting debut Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in November and the announcement that Johnny Depp is assuming the role of dark wizard Grindelwald. The fandom went into a frenzy with some hailing it as pure perfection whilst others took to Twitter to express their disapproval.
Whilst debate within a fandom can be rewarding, the abusive messages authors receive make it clear that there is widespread misunderstanding of the processes involved in adapting an author’s work for the screen leaving many book fans believing that authors maintain some kind of control when their material is adapted for the screen. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. When an author signs the rights to their manuscript to a production company they effectively give that company permission to do what they like. In many cases there is an (unspoken) agreement that the adaptation will be a true representation of the material and of fans expectations but given the collaborative nature of filmmaking, what materialises on screen is very different to what individual readers imagined during the intimate experience of reading.
One author who has been extremely vocal about this issue is John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) who has had to publicly state his non-involvement in the making of movie adaptations of his books numerous times via social media, even going so far as amending his Twitter bio to explicitly state that he “does not cast movies”.
Since Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins released an official statement in support of Jennifer Lawrence’s casting as Katniss Everdeen in 2011, it has become common practice for authors to publicly support decisions made by production companies, making the process of adapting books all the more confusing for fans. So why do authors do it?
More often than not, an author will agree with the studio and are excited by the prospect of a particular casting choice and want to personally share the news with fans. Equally, there are also times when an author sees their role of giving the studio support as a way of contributing to the making of the film, as their role within the studio is often very limited.
Additionally, some authors will lend their support to the individual being cast to keep them from being the target of angry book fans who do not agree with casting choices. John Green is one such example, regularly giving his opinion and using his social media profiles to publish a series of essays in support of actors such as Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort whose casting in The Fault in Our Stars was seen by many as a controversial choice.
From the studio’s perspective, gaining and author’s sign of approval is very advantageous. This is because an author’s approval adds validity to the studio’s decisions which can effectively be used to calm a grumbling readership, thereby ensuring that the film will be as financially successful as possible.
With or without an author’s sign of approval casting choices will always be controversial with debates rippling through fandoms. So one question still remains; should authors cast movies?
As the creators of the source material it would make sense to allow authors to cast film adaptations, as they are in the best position to choose actors who best represent their characters and ensure that the expectations of their readership are met.
However, an adaptation by its very definition is to change the way in which a story is told to better suit a different medium; a transference from the written to the visual. With this transference of medium comes the transference of material from one author to another: the director. From that moment on, the story belongs to the director and their crew and should thus be allowed to tell it in whatever way they wish and cast whomever they believe will be best suited to convey their story.
There will never be an easy answer or a quick fix to make all fans happy and, to be honest, debate within a fandom never hurt anyone. In fact, it;s brilliant to see so many fans engaging with the material and forming their own opinions. Perhaps the only thing to do is wait to see the finished product and to respect it as something separate to its source material. Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen. Shailene Woodley is Hazel Grace Lancaster. And Johnny Depp… well, we’ll just have to wait and see.