Christopher Hampton on translating books to the stage and screen

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Playwright Christopher Hampton

Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp

You’d think one requirement for a book being translated into a movie is that it be really well written.

Not necessarily so.

Playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton is probably best known for his film adaption of Dangerous Liaisons. More recently he wrote the screenplay for “Atonement.”

Today on Midmorning Hampton argued that, when looking for a book to adapt for the screen, great writing is one thing you don’t want.

Sometimes you have to be careful of a book that’s really well written, because that’s the one quality that won’t show in a movie. If the prose is beautiful, that’s a novelistic thing, not a dramatic thing, so you look for… the novels that work when they’re translated to theater or to film are novels with a dramatic line. And often a beautifully written book or even a powerful book that will haunt you for years will not work as a movie.

Hampton is in the Twin Cities this week in preparation for an upcoming celebration of his plays at the Guthrie Theater. He’ll be seeing God of Carnage. a play that he translated into English, at the theater tonight.

You can listen to Kerri Miller’s entire conversation with Christopher Hampton by clicking on the audio link below:

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