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Adaptations (part 2)

This week, Brook and Sarah are joined by film and television producer, author, and entrepreneur Mark Grenside to discuss some of the decisions that go into adapting a book. They discuss how music videos and streaming have impacted adaptations.

Discussed in order

Fall Out (2020) M.N. Grenside

The Detective (2005)

Lonsome Dove (1989)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1986) Winston Groom

The Godfather (1972)

Chinatown (1974)

The Conversation (1974)

All About Eve (1950)

Columbo (1971-2003)

Poker Face (2023)

Death on the Nile (1978)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Offer (2022) Paramount+

Fraggle Rock (1983-1987)

Where to find Mark Grenside

Mark’s author website mngrenside.com

Blog: andanotherthing.com


For more information

Instagram: @cluedinmystery
Contact us: hello@cluedinmystery.com
Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery. Hi Sarah.
SarahHi Brook. How are you this morning?
BrookGood morning I’m great and I’m so excited about 1 of our special interview episodes.
SarahThis one is going to be great.
BrookSo today we’re going to be talking with Mark Grenside and I’ll just read his bio to get everyone acquainted with him.
BrookMark was born and raised in London began his working career straight out of school at Lloyds of London, specializing in kidnap, ransom, and extortion insurance. At 25, it was time for a career change and to dump the suit and tie, so he started his media career working for Jim Hinson and The Muppets. From that moment on, he has been involved in entertainment in nearly every aspect of it. He went on to create and produce several television series and miniseries. At the same time, he started a music management company launching million seller artist Nina Cherry. In 2004 he arranged the $250 million buyout of the Hallmark Channel International, which was then successfully sold to NBC. He returned to producing a number of movies and miniseries. He has recently morphed into a serial entrepreneur and is now a co-founder of seed-to-shelf CBD producer Dragonfly Biosciences and a co-founder in two separate digital companies. In addition to his love of cooking, an unhealthy amount of time and money is lavished on a collection of classic cars and he has raced all over the world. He enjoys risk and has parachuted in New Zealand, scuba dived in the Pacific, hang glided in the Himalayas, and even tobogganed down the Cresta run, in nearly every case, chasing after his wife who he says is utterly fearless. He is now writing the follow up to Fall Out, entitled The Bastion. In addition, he writes a humorous blog with subscribers in over 40 countries, and you can find that at Andotherthing.com. Mark has two grown sons, two daughters in law, three grandchildren. He lives in Malta with his wife and two French bulldogs. Welcome Mark. We are just thrilled to have you on the show.
Mark GrensideThank you for doing that. Sorry it was a bit of a mouthful for you. But I’m sure we left out lots of things that I’ve been up to but anyway I’m delighted to talk to you And yeah, I’ve had a fairly varied career I’ve argued with a lot of screenwriters over the years and I now feel very guilty about it having started writing myself and knowing how difficult it is but I’ve done a lot of adaptations of books to the screen. So I’ve seen both sides of the equation.
SarahWell, so that’s a great place for us to start, Mark. What goes into the decision to adapt a book?
Mark GrensideAh, well I think you have to, there are a number of really basic things you have to decide. First of all, you have to decide who your audience is. And I know you were saying and in a podcast I listened to earlier that you know if you have a bestseller it’s sometimes pre-sold. Yes, and no because the audiences are not necessarily the same. The next thing is the content. The number of books requiring massive special effects. So if you’re talking about science fiction or ah period drama battle scenes, you know there’s a limited number of those that get transferred into film anyway, just because of the statistics of doing it. Ah. So you have to know who your audience is and you have to know what the best format is. I mean when I started making miniseries most of them for television, I did Arthur Hailey The Detective but I also was involved in Lonesome Dove. Now that was the first miniseries that wasn’t a traditional miniseries of two times 90.
Mark GrensideIt was a six-episode show and it was the precursor of what’s really now happening in the streaming business. Now, from my point of view, it is far easier and far more effective to transfer a book into a stream series of episode than it is a movie. Um, and I’m prepared to make stick my neck out and make a bet that um, the book about Elizabeth Holmes was transferred both into a miniseries for Disney and it is now being shot as a movie with Jennifer Lawrence as a full movie—I don’t know because I haven’t read the script—but I guarantee you the TV miniseries by Disney will tell the story better than the movie. Because you just can’t do it and turn on. So if I was looking at a project now whereas originally I would always look you know and suck my teeth and go how on earth do I do this in 3 hours now you have the luxury of doing 8, 10, 12 hours depending on which platform you’re on and that’s really the best place for a book to go. I mean again I was listening to you the other day you know a lot of adaptations of books have not been satisfactory, mainly because it’s so difficult to compress. But it’s not always the case. Some books are not as good as the movies. Um I would cite Forrest Gump as the movie is better than the film in my view. So there’s a lot of elements that come into play and then you know. Then there’s some really basic stuff like you know who’s gonna be in it, is there are there I’m afraid to to talk about money, but are there tax deals where you could possibly shoot it because that’s very important if you’re a producer. How you’re gonna do that. Ah.
Mark GrensideDo you attach director to it? Do you attach talent to it a writer? Um I mean there’s so many elements that that make up what you decide as a book I mean let me tell you if Tom Cruise walked through the door saying he wants to make Mickey Mouse live action, he’s got a deal but that doesn’t have very ah um, sorry okay, that answer the question a bit?
SarahYeah, no, no, that was that that was great. So when you’re deciding or looking at a ah book to adapt, do you want to have the author involved in that adaptation? Or would you prefer to just have the author step away?
Mark GrensideMy first book, Fall Out, incorporates in it a script because the book is a mystery about a screenplay that has clues hidden in it as to what happened on a movie that stopped shooting 25 years before. And I can tell you the discipline between writing a screenplay and running a novel are miles apart.
Mark GrensideOn the whole writers, and that isn’t always the case, you were talking about Anthony Horowitz a while ago you know Anthony, he writes books and he writes screenplays and he’s bloody good at both. Um, you know Mario Puzo wrote along with Coppola. A fantastic screenplay for The Godfather but on the whole it’s better to get a screenwriter to adapt a book than the actual writer. Not least because as I said if you’re having to compress it. You’ve got to drown a few babies. And it’s much easier to drown the babies if they’re not your babies if you see um, a screenwriter is much more cold-hearted I suppose is is is how it’s best described and you need someone to do that with a book because even on ah, a stream thing. You can’t probably fit everything in I mean to read a book takes on average what 12 hours 13 hours and even when you do that you’re shorthanding what you’re looking at you see what I mean so even at 8 to 10 hours you’re having to compress it down.
SarahAnd like I can think of a couple of examples of movies that I’ve watched that are based on books where there are scenes that um, didn’t appear in the book and is that you know again because the screenwriters has recognized that there’s something else that the story needs.
Mark GrensideYeah, I mean I think you have to understand or you have to grasp that screenwriting is a very different discipline from storytelling in in in a novel. There are some real basics I mean most screenwriters enter a scene as late as possible. I try to do that when I write, but authors on the other hand don’t they’ll build up to a scene screenwriter will go right in at the tail end of the scene. The other thing you have to remember is a screenwriter is only dealing with words. There’s no description. Um, no emotional description. So he has to develop um character by action. So, if I used this the other day but it’s such a good example if you ever watched Chinatown. Okay, it was Robert Towne wrote the screenplay. But there’s a section in that where Faye Dunaway is in the car with Jack Nicholson and she’s describing to him the fact that Noah, the John Huston character, is not only father but the father of her child and this is something that Jack Nicholson has sort of guested and doesn’t want to hear. Now what Robert Towne makes him do is to take out a cigarette and he’s trying to light the cigarette and he can’t get the goddam cigarette lighter to work. That action by Robert Towne explains all the turmoil that’s going in in Jack Nicholson’s character. Now that is a screenwriter. Okay, it wasn’t a book. But that’s a screenwriter who has taken action to show character and that is a huge difference between what you can write in a book because you can write obviously emotion and  third party or all sorts of things. So when screenwriters interject or it they inject or create scenes or do things they’re doing that. Because they need a method visually usually to express an emotion or something that’s going on. I mean when you’re writing a screenplay they’re called lanterns. You have lanterns in a scene that are specifically there to throw light on the development of so story but mainly the character
Mark GrensideAnd that’s why it’s so different and and you know it’s very pompous of me to say this and I don’t mean to because I’m not saying that I’m brilliant at it either. But one of the mistakes often that when you start writing that you make is you write dialogue. Never write dialogue always say it because people overwrite dialogue. We never use any of the you know I don’t know how many gabillion words there are in English but we use like five percent of them when we’re actually talking. Um, and and people make that mistake. Screenwriters understand that. They understand dialogue is is disjointed. You know a lot of people when they write. It’s linear it somebody says this and somebody says that and somebody says this and somebody says that great screen dialogue goes off at tangents.
Mark GrensideSomeone will say you know “it’s cold today” and then somebody else will say “I was talking to the milkman” you know what I mean it’s just and that’s how that’s how it works and so in defense of screenwriters who adapt books. It’s a different discipline. It’s a different view through the prism. And if they’re good at it they enhance the story even if it’s not quite along the same lines as was written in the book because you just can’t translate that does that make sense.
BrookUm, yeah I think that your um, your experience as a screenwriter it can happen in reverse as well, I think, Mark because you were talking about having to build characters through action and I feel like. Now as an author your work does that a lot so you’re sort of using that trick or it’s not a trick but skill to then inform the way that you write your fiction and we do see a lot of action and things as a way to describe character.
Mark GrensideYeah. I do I do. That’s nice of you to say so but you’re right. And it’s a different way. Ah, it’s a slightly different way of writing I mean again I can only speak now scripts I could speak with with some sort of authority because I’ve worked with so many writers but when you’re writing a book I actually write quite filmingly. if you if if you’re reading Fall Out it actually rolls out as if you’re watching a movie. Hopefully. Rather than um, a more ah esoteric maybe or a slightly less, how should I say, well written novel I’m not in the business of that I’m in the business of giving someone a thrill. Ride that’s fun. That’s interesting. Well-developed characters hopefully but in a style that they’re more used to because we live in an age of visual medium. Um, and if you write like a visual medium Hopefully you’ll ah you’ll attract more readers I mean. You know I can remember when I was producing when you mentioned Nina Cherry. There was a ah very famous video producer called Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Jean-Baptiste Mondino was the first person to understand visual shorthand which he put into videos and the effect of that is dramatic. If you watched how film shorthand has changed so movies like The Conversation, The Godfather, All About Eve they have a different visual ah style to them. All movies up until the mid 70s early 80s have a different pace and a different patina to them than post that and funnily enough, that was down to people think it’s to do with video games. It’s not. It was actually music video that changed people’s ability to grasp very quickly visual science of what’s happening and that’s why in my view. That’s why so many films cutting and pacing changed. From you know, Video Killed the Radio star but it but it also killed old fashioned filmmaking.
BrookYeah that’s fascinating and I and and that timing is is exactly right and those are ah mini movies aren’t they, they’re just small stories that we get in two or three minutes. So that’s fascinating. I had never put that together.
Mark GrensideYou know it’s it’s you’ve got to be old and smelly like me to have seen the change but but but you know it’s quite extraordinary. Although, you know sometimes there’s reaction against it. I mean, if you look at Columbo. One of the fascinating things about Columbo is the last scenes when he’s doing his and another thing and everything else I don’t know how many episodes they did I think 70 or something but um 90 percent of those are one take. You watch them. Some of them were as long as 8 minutes. God knows how they managed to do that. It must have driven the directors absolutely crackers when they did it. But it’s a fascinating reversal of how we now do denouements in movies. But those Columbo shows are one shot and it’s quite interesting because if you look at Poker Face. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Which is really an homage as a series to Columbo. It’s the same format. It starts off with the crime so you know exactly who did it and you’re watching in this case, a woman work out how it’s done.
Mark GrensideBut the pacing the style even the print screen print is a copy of Columbo screen print. And it’s very interesting because I’d of thought it was going to die as a show. Um, but I quite enjoy it. But it’s completely changing everything around again. It’s gone back to different pacing. So it’s not that it doesn’t work you just you know sometimes you you need someone clever enough to to take the risk and and try it.
SarahI haven’t seen Poker Face but I will um I will definitely.
Mark GrensideUm, give it a try it honestly, it really is it’s and it’s the same idea I’ve got a huge guest star. Do you know what? I’m mean it’s that it’s the whole feel to it. They’re not 90 minutes long they’re only 45 but it’s an interesting show. Very interesting show.
SarahAh, well I was I was going to ask you know because you talked about music videos changing um being such a fundamental shift and in what viewers saw in in television and movies and I wonder if Tiktok and Instagram reels, you know that really short 10-second, 30-second video. if that if there’s going to be any impact in terms of of what viewers will watch.
Mark GrensideAh I’m sure you’re right? Um, for my sins I have to do little videos on Tiktok like like all authors do all the time. Um I I’m sure they will have an impact. What I think we’re missing at the moment is that far too many TV shows are being shot too filmingly. And what I mean by that is the lack of clear lighting on TV drives me up the wall and that is on the whole ego from the D.O.P. and the director to try and get this ambiance as if you were watching it on a screen and you feel like slapping them all and say “listen, fifty percent of your audience don’t even watch it on a TV they watch it on a laptop or they watch it on a telephone and you know, greatest respect to to Netflix and everything but House of Dragons ratings have fallen off a cliff and part of that reason because it’s too bloody dark.
Mark GrensideUm, and I find that I find that weird because at the same time as you’re saying short clips and everything else on Tiktok. You’re absolutely right? Are going to have a fundamental effect on our visual shorthand when we see drama or whatever it is. At the same time, there is still a legacy of old-time filmmaking creeping into you know broadstream drama. You know I’m not talking about Tiktok I’m talking about stuff you see on Amazon and Amazon prime and and Netflix but yeah, you’re absolutely right? It will.
Mark GrensideAnd it will be another shorthand that my generation won’t understand. I mean it’s kind of like the shorthand that you get on Whatsapp and messaging and everything else right?
Mark GrensideYou know I still can’t understand what half the abbreviations are but that generation do and it will be the same thing visually I think as as it moves forward, but what do I know.
SarahUm, well and and I wonder if that will translate into um into books right? Like if if I don’t know if if there’s a shift in what authors were writing you know. Sort of pre-music videos post music videos. Um, you just think about how authors and and all creators kind of borrow from ah everybody else who’s creating at at the time and I wonder if we’re going to see any of that reflected in the in what’s being written. Um.
Mark GrensideLook I mean you know I read like everybody else. But I’m I’m not having got my head in the book. 24 hours a day. Modern writing. Okay, for me, probably ah started in the 50 s with Raymond Chandler um he was the first one to actually cut down the length of his sentences very descriptive. But in a very concise format. Um, and from him has grown now a generation of writers who you can definitely see are twenty-first century writers. Not everybody. Ah, you know.
Mark GrensideIf anybody’s watching this and wants to scream and yell at me they’re entitled to. I’m not talking about everybody but in general I have found that sentences are shorter ah the use of adjectives has been reduced as I said. This idea of coming into a scene in a book late has grown up as opposed to setting up scenes. Those are all definitely um, they’re definitely legacies from ah a visual medium.
SarahYeah, fascinating I don’t have any more questions for you Mark do you Brook have anything that you want to I mean I could talk to you I feel like I could talk to you for hours. But.
Mark GrensideAh.
BrookI Think we touched I was just going to say I think we touched on all of our big questions. But I’m I’m anxious to hear anything else. You’d like to add anything else. You’d like to share because you did hear the other episode so you kind of know.
Mark GrensideUm, well it’s just you know it? Yeah gone.
BrookWhere what we’ve already discussed So if you had other thoughts um, associated that would be really great.
Mark Grensideno no I mean I was I was listening to the one who you talking about Antony Horowitz we said before we came on air I was at school with Anthony I know Anthony very well I was actually a producer that that gave him the first series on television so that he could give up working for an advertising agency. So, I know Anthony quite well you were talking also about adaptations of Agatha Christie and you were talking about the branner one I think you have to take it in context because Branagh is remaking stuff that was already luxuriously remade in the 80s with Ustinov. Um. So he couldn’t go the big casting route. That’s my usp. He had to change them. He had to adapt them. Um I on a personal level I find Christie’s work much better the closer it sticks to the source.
Mark GrensideUm, and um so I think you know poor Branagh I think it’s unfair that he got some of the brick brats that he did because I think within the confines of what he could do. He had to. He didn’t have any choice. He couldn’t really stick. Source material because everybody will’ll say well I’ve seen that I saw that with with Peter Ustinov and David Nevin in Death on the Nile or oh I saw it with um, goodness me, what’s the name of the guy from Millers’ Crossing Albert Finney in in Murder on the Orient Express you know what? I mean I don’t I don’t think that was that was quite fair.
Mark GrensideBut yeah I mean book adaptations are in my mind best now left to the streaming companies. Very very few before that have really succeeded or they’ve been incredibly long. I mean Harrison Ford when he was doing all those thrillers.
SarahOh the Jack Ryan ones the Tom Clancy ones?
Mark GrensideThe Jack Ryan ones at the time they were incredibly long movies.They were 2 hours 40 minutes all right and they were. They were pretty good to do that in those times but at that time they were ridiculously long movies I mean the the 1 thing I would devise your listeners if they get a chance.
Mark GrensideBecause I know Al Ruddy quite well do watch The Offer which is the story. The drama behind the godfather. It is a a brilliant outline of what being a producer is all about It’s a brilliant example of moving from writer to screenwriter and what you have to compromise to do that and see it’s a great story and everything else, but it’s the best best thing I’ve ever seen about Hollywood. Hands down. Um, it’s just fantastic. So on Paramount Plus, not that I’m a big you know, um I’m not bigging up Paramount but but but um, it. It’s just wonderful and and I cannot encourage anybody enough who wants to be involved in screenwriting as well as writing thrillers that get adapted to watch The Offer.
SarahSo Mark where can our listeners find you?
Mark GrensideAh, well I have ah my own website. mgrensside.com My books are available on Amazon in some places they’re in shops in Western Canada Vancouver you can buy Fall Out. My next book The Bastion, some of it is actually set in Vancouver and Point Roberts and the Aleutian Islands. I have ah a blog. It’s not weekly, but it’s sort of 2-to-3 times a month called AndAnotherThing.com, which is more fun and observations. That’s in 40 countries I think now and and another thing dot com is is up there. Have a page on imdb obviously, the international movie database. But um, yeah, ah you know and I pop up I get very kindly invited ah like yourselves onto these kind of shows I just did one for the Crime Writers of Canada last week which is very kind of them to ask me as I’m a limey. Um, but but I have an affinity to Canada I mean Fraggle Rock shot at Glen Warren studios in Toronto. I have fond memories of of of Toronto and Vancouver. I’ve shot there as well over the years.
SarahWell thank you so much for joining us Mark it was an absolute pleasure to speak with you today.
Mark GrensideWell, it was very kind of you to invite me I’m sorry if I talk too much. Um, but I suppose that’s what you want and anytime you want to do it again. I’m happy to do it. I’m sorry to have got you up so early in the morning. It’s getting late here. Enjoy your days.
BrookThank you for joining us today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah. And we both love mystery.