I went to see the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie and left feeling disappointed and decidedly unmoved. It was well-filmed, well-written and well-acted, but it didn’t do justice to the book or its readers. Why? Come on – if you saw the movie then you know the answer. There was no sizzle, no spark – no chemistry – between Christian and Ana. And the sizzle sells the story. Without that spark, the film fell flat.
I think some of that and perhaps a lot of it is due to the control the book’s author insisted upon exercising over casting. Rumors are rampant that the author is demanding even more control over the sequels. If she gets it, then there is no point in making the films. And that’s true even if Erika Mitchell (E.L. James) has a background as a film assistant and a television executive. Even if the author has a background directing or producing movies, she must step aside from her book’s movie.
A story belongs to the writer when it lives only on the hard drive of the writer’s computer. As soon as it leaves that safe, secluded nest, a story belongs to the readers – or its movie producer, director, screen-writer and actors. If the author doesn’t let it go then it won’t grow into something that lives, breathes and inspires. The book will be like the child who never leaves home.
In casting the movie, particularly, the author should not – absolutely should not – be involved. A writer developed a vision of her characters that helped her tell their story. Because her vision was so strong, she believes her readers saw the characters in the same way. The author believes that if the characters appear in any way other than the way she wrote them then the story will not work. The author convinces herself that she owes it to her readers to be sure that any film adaptation will feature only actors who look the part. The author is lying to herself, of course. Every reader sees the story differently, and a film producer, director and script-writer will have their own vision. That’s the story they must tell — not the one written in black and white by an author. The author’s story inspires the movie, but it can not confine the movie.
It never mattered that the actors playing Christian and Ana looked the part because Hollywood is like a fairy godmother. It can turn a black actor white, a white actor black, and a human into an alien. It can surely turn blond, red-headed, or black-haired actors into people who look like Christian and Ana. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother could do more than dress her for the part, and Hollywood can do no more than turn out players ready for the play. Chemistry can’t be created. All the amazing special effects in the film-maker’s arsenal can’t create the special human magic that either occurs or it doesn’t.
In “Fifty Shades of Grey” – the movie – the magic spell was never cast because it never existed between the actors. People who watched the movie without having read the books were left wondering one thing: What kind of idiot female would dance to a tune played by a stalker with a God complex? Without the chemistry, the love between the characters never sold the story.
When an author’s book is made into a movie, there is only one place the author belongs — in the audience. The creative team making the movie must be allowed the freedom of spirit and independence of action that must occur to allow them to create a visual depiction that carries a viewer the way a good book carries a reader. The creators aren’t telling the writer’s story. They are showing the story that played in their heads, in their hearts, and in their spirits – while they read the writer’s tale. They are readers with cameras and make-up brushes, with scripts and director’s chairs.
A story told well will create a different picture for every reader, shaded and contoured by the reader’s own beliefs and experiences. Most readers can not take that picture and translate it into a film that moves the viewer. Making a movie is a creative act and every member of the team is an artist in his or her field. An author must respect the creative process enough to get out of its way.