Scribes avoid getting lost in their translations

Thu Dec 27, 2007 2:07pm EST
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By Stephen Galloway

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A screenwriter charged with turning a novel, short story or article into a feature script must deliver on readers' expectations -- while allowing nonreaders entree into a new and possibly confusing world.

Getting such a project made often requires a certain obsessive quality, and that's what drove director Ang Lee and James Schamus, who dreamed of making a film based on Eileen Chang's story "Lust, Caution."

Yes, Schamus, who has been Lee's longtime screenwriter, acknowledges that -- after 2005's "Brokeback Mountain" -- it was a good time for Lee to return to China and make a Chinese film, but the seed had been planted years before. Drafts shifted back and forth in English and Mandarin, with both writers facing the vexing issue of staying true to a work that had become a touchstone for many Chinese -- while finessing it into a visual art form.

"We really did stick incredibly close to the story," Schamus says. "There was no debate on that whatsoever. It seemed a given to us."

There was no debate when Ethan and Joel Coen came to adapt Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men." McCarthy had no say over the screenplay. Indeed, Ethan notes that when McCarthy came to the set, they never spoke about the adaptation.

"He is a very amiable, very gracious person. But we barely talked about the story. He was not there to render judgment."


Christopher Hampton had a rather different experience when he came to adapt Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement." In this case, McEwan had the right to approve him for the job.   Continued...

<p>Ang Lee waves as he arrives on the red carpet for the 44th Golden Horse Awards in Taipei December 8, 2007. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>