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‘Is the screenwriter... really an artist?'

28 September 2020

‘Is the screenwriter, set the task of adapting a novel, whether a famous or forgotten or recently published novel, really an artist? Is there an "art" to adaptation? As someone who has done a fair amount of adapting I have to say I suspect not - the artist is the one who has created the work you're transforming. Adaptation is a craft, rather than an art, I believe. But craftsmen and craftswomen are not to be sniffed at.

We are artisans de luxe, if you like, operating in a ruthless industrial medium that not only imposes stringent artistic constraints, but also stringent constraints of budget and ideology and temperament - you often have to work with very difficult, stupid and demanding people. The fact that, at the end of the day, a long novel has been rethought and reconceived as a good film (if you're very lucky) is no mean achievement. We toil in an unforgiving vineyard, but sometimes the wine we manage to make can be heady.'

William Boyd, author of many screenplays and 16 novels, including Trio, An Ice-Cream War, A Good Man in Africa and Any Human Heart, in the Sunday Times Culture