How To Deconstruct Fried Worms
There are some distinct advantages to being married to a screenwriter. For one thing, you get to filch his copies of Creative Screenwriting when there's an article that involves your profession. Let's all sit down and talk about the upcoming How To Eat Fried Worms, shall we? When I was at the ALA Conference in New Orleans, I got my very first taste of this film in all its newfangled updated glory. I should state for the record that I am an adamant fan of the original book (written by, of all people, Norman Rockwell's son). I reviewed it for Amazon and I don't take back a single word of praise. The book is one of my favorites. Then Walden Media got their grubby little paws on it. At this moment in time Walden is running 50-50 when it comes to successful children's book adaptations. Sure, they dropped the ball with Hoot, but let's remember their The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to say nothing of Holes. Charlotte's Web looks as if it'll fall in the "dud" camp, so hopes were high for Worms. Which is to say, MY hopes were high. I think the moment of pure disillusionment came when I saw Pepsi girl Hallie Kate Eisenberg on the poster. A girl? Why is there a girl on the poster? Then I saw the trailer. Oh damn damn damn. They've done it again. Is it 15 worms in 15 days? Nope. It's 10 worms in one day. And there's a bully. And a little brother. And Billy now has a weak stomach.
For solace, or at the very least some kind of explanation, I turn to Creative Screenwriting to hear Mr. Bob Dolman's side of the equation. Y'all know Bob Dolman, right? He wrote the Banger Sisters. In fact, that was the last movie he ever penned (or took credit for). Now, for the first time, he's tackled a children's book adaptation. As for the liberties taken with the plot, Mr. Dolman has this to say:
If I was adapting something longer, say an adult-length novel, I probably would've taken more pains to be loyal to the book.
Wonderful! Adults deserve the authenticity that children do not. What a droll thought. Mr. Dolman also mentions that, "One of the problems we had was that eating the worms is all the book's about". Really? I always saw the book as an increasing escalation of tension. The tale could easily be seen to be about war. How things get out of hand in battle. Fine, throw in something like Billy being new in the area, but don't touch the essential structure of the book, dude.
The sad thing is that I can already picture the publisher of the book printing out copies of Worms with the movie poster on their cover. Not quite as ridiculous as Cheaper By the Dozen (my favorite most-misleading-cover of all time) but close.
Fellow screenwriter John August actually sold his own version of Worms back in the day. He's the fellow who brought the world that fun fast-paced film Go (I love you, Sarah Polley!). Though he wrote the initial version of the current script, he's passed on a screenwriting credit as explained here. It makes me sad. I would have like to have read August's version, especially since he wanted to do A Wrinkle In Time (the draft used in that gawdawful tv movie pre-dated August's).
Back to Worms, am I being too harsh on a movie I haven't even seen? To answer that, I leave you with this selection from the magazine. Obviously Dolman's style is at odds with my own. I recommend the article just the same since it certainly does give you a glimpse into how some of these movies come to be.
When it comes to adaptation, writers usually subscribe to one or two rules of thumb: either stick closely to the source material, as William Goldman does, or use it as a foundation from which to build a variation of the story, as Anthony Minghella does. Dolman split the difference with a systematic approach. "I read the book, then I put it away. I tried to make room for other ideas. Then when those ideas came, I'd look at the book again and see how they fit".