Tuesday, August 22, 2023

'Red, White & Royal Blue's adaptive elements

Gay romance novels have never been more popular than they are today.  The most popular example is of course “Red, White and Royal Blue,” Casey McQuiston's bestselling 2019 novel. The recent premiere of its film adaptation became the number one viewed film on Amazon Prime. And it's well deserved.


Having recently assigned both a review and an interview with the film’s director for my day job with the Bay Area Reporter as Arts Editor, I was happy to receive an unsolicited complimentary press packet of not only a book, but a pair of socks as shown in the main poster, along with a bookbag, a copy of the paperback tie-in and a red white and blue blanket.


But what surprised me more than the swag package, was how well the film adapted to the book by limiting it to the most essential parts of it and combining other aspects to make it fit into the two-hour time slot.


The film is directed, co-written, and executive-produced by Matthew Lopez, playwright of the gay seven-hour Tony Award-winning opus "The Inheritance," based on E.M. Forster's "Howard's End."


Of course, some elements had to be shortened, like the extensive emails and texts that Henry and Alex, the two lovers, send to each other, as well as the expansive quotes by prominent other figures and authors that they share, which compare the two's budding romance to  becoming “History, huh?”


So instead of just showing the text to appear to talk to each other in proximity which visualizes their growing intimacy.


I noticed a few changes that paralleled my own adaptation of my first novel “PINS” when in 2002 I was commissioned to turn it into a play for New Conservatory Theatre Center here in San Francisco.


Along with reducing entire wrestling tournaments to a mere sound effect with a few characters there were very large scenes that had to be cut (the criminal trial) or referenced instead of dramatized.


The additional change of having a queen and instead casting Stephen Fry as the king of England proved a clever casting decision.


One element that happened in both “Red, White & Royal Blue” and my own script was the removal of a younger sibling that had something to do with the story but was not essential. I mean the casting of a 10-year-old sister would not have been essential in my play. Similarly, in Lopez's co-written screenplay, Alex's sister is removed and all the things that she serves in the story are combined with other characters.


And –spoiler alert– the nemesis in the book is melded into a former liaison of Alex, who is in the film also journalist. The book version where the affair was leaked was very involved and not exactly cinematic.


Adaptations of good novels have always been a fascination for me. In a few cases when I had writer's block or structural problems, I would switch to reducing my story to a screenplay in order to get to the point. A novel can ramble but a screenplay has to make sense structurally and get to the point.


I'm thinking back to my days before I was even a published writer. As a teenager, the Peter Bogdanovich film adaptation of “The Last Picture Show” is a prime example of a terrific film adaptation.


In the old days of before streaming and Netflix, when a movie was shown on network TV or a local affiliate, you watched it when you could. I remember taking a paperback version of “The Last Picture Show" and through repeated viewings, highlighting lines in yellow that were spoken in the film I was taking a screenwriting course, I guess, without even knowing it. It taught me the importance of what's essential in terms of image versus dialogue or description.


But what about the aspects of romance and sexuality? While my two romance novels, “Every Time I Think of You" and its sequel “Message of Love” are –spoiler alert– pretty graphic in terms of its sexuality, it's because those scenes further the plot and the difficult relationship between two main characters, Reid and Everett, as ever becomes a paraplegic. How they are manage to have sex is a storyline that is essential to the rest of it.


For “Red, White & Royal Blue,” the kissing scenes, romance and eventual actual sex are shown in a way that's tasteful not graphic but also informative to the characters’ development. While my book includes a museum scene, it involved a comic abruptly interrupted blow job, while “RW&RB”’s museum scene is more solemn.


But as in her novel, McQuiston dodges the graphic specifics or “plumbing” with references and ellipses that usually jump to “Afterward,” meaning after they had sex.


My own books, which are more descriptive, are probably never going to be adapted into films. But hey it could happen. I did mention that I have a few screenplays ready to go!.


One essential part would be to have sexual scenes that develop the story, not just gratuitous showing of body parts.


Despite its mainstream style, it is actually quite surprising how far “Red, White & Royal Blue” goes in terms of depicting the sexuality.


The fact that it's become such a huge hit gives me hope. Since “Every Time I Think of You" was one of my most successful books, it actually took me the least amount of time to write because it was so inspired. I'm certainly open to any adaptation that does it justice. Of course any writer would want that.


Anyway, I hope you enjoy my books as well as Casey's and check out the Amazon Prime adaptation. I don't know where you can get those socks, but I enjoy the ones that I received.