BOB GARFIELD: Movies are often based on novels, but often enough novels are based on movies, and every so often a movie based on a novel gets turned right back into a novel. Take this summer's Road to Perdition. Max Allan Collins wrote the graphic novel or adult comic book that inspired the Tom Hanks/Paul Newman gangster flick but Collins also penned the paperback spin-off of the movie's screenplay. He's done the same for many other films ranging from Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan to The Rock's Scorpion King. Max Allan Collins joins us now. Max, welcome to OTM.
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: Great to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to talk to you about novelizations but first let me ask you a question or two about Road to Perdition. So many novelists over the years feel betrayed by Hollywood for having destroyed their art in the film versions of whatever the story is. As a graphic artist, were you happy with its realization in film?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: I think David Self, the screenwriter, did an excellent job and of course Sam Mendes is a brilliant director. I know I'm supposed to not like it, but I [LAUGHS] -- I just really love this movie.
BOB GARFIELD: Now what about writing the novel out-of-the-film-itself out-of-your-graphic-novel? Has that been a bizarre experience?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS:It actually was a bit bizarre. In the past, I had been given rather more latitude than I was given this time, surprisingly, since I was the creator of the material, and, and I was somewhat restricted in having to stick only to the script and not being able to flesh it out as much as I would have liked. Very frustrating. And it varies from studio to studio, project to project. Sometimes I'm given quite a bit of latitude. I was approached, for example, by the people behind the movie Windtalkers, and they came to me knowing my background as an historical novelist and asked me if I would bring to bear my research and put a lot of the detail in that could not be included in the movie. And that enriched that book and made it more like a real book.
BOB GARFIELD:Let's talk about novelizations for a moment. Without trying to sound too elitist about it, although I know I'm going to fail, it doesn't strike me as an excessively literary genre. Do you think of yourself as a novelist or as a novelizationist?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: I absolutely think of myself as a novelist. My approach has always been to write a book that would seem to be the novel that the movie was based on. Frankly, a good deal of the audience is confused. They don't really understand [LAUGHS] that the book came from the script. I frankly play into that confusion and I try to give them a real novel. If the writer views himself as nothing more than the-- literary equivalent of the action figure or the lunchbox, you're just going to have a, a hack piece of work.
BOB GARFIELD:As a serious novelist, taking a pulp script like The Scorpion King and trying to turn it into a novel, clearly that creates challenges. [SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SCORPION KING PLAYS]
WOMAN: You've been betrayed Mathayus.
MAN: You know my name?
WOMAN: And why you're here. [MUSIC PRESAGES A VIOLENT MOMENT] Ugh!
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: The challenge is to find a way into the material that can be rewarding for me so that I can take it seriously enough to deliver a good book.
BOB GARFIELD: So when you got the Scorpion King script on your desk and you said dear God what am I to make of this?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS:First of all I looked at it and said what are they trying to accomplish, and it was clear that they were trying to do something along the lines of Conan, the Barbarian or Tarzan. I loved those kind of books when I was 11, 12, 13 years old, so I basically said all right -I'm going to write an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel! I did the same thing with Maverick which was a show I had loved as a kid, and I thought the script was just okay. But I tried to invest it with all of my enthusiasm for this childhood favorite of mine.
BOB GARFIELD: You haven't done any other graphic novels that turned into Hollywood films?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: No. This is a first for me. Another graphic novel of mine has been optioned, and I actually wrote that screenplay.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you going to try to do the novelization as well and hit the trifecta?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS:If that one happens, which is a thing called Johnny Dynamite [LAUGHS] -- absolutely - I--that was in the contract. But, again, I think the most important thing about these -- and there's maybe nothing important about novelizations when you really get down to it, but the justification for their existence is if the novelist does get inside the story and give the reader a new way to perceive this. Because if you just replicate the screenplay, you're just sort of a VHS cassette or DVD-on-paper.
BOB GARFIELD:It has a sort of Rashomon quality to it -- the same story seen through 3 different viewpoints. It just so happens the 3 viewpoints belong to the same author. Well let me thank the 3 of you--
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: [LAUGHS]! Bob, I hope we haven't ganged up on you too bad here.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] No, not at all. Max Collins is a graphic novelist. Max Collins is a screenwriter. And Max Collins is a novelization novelist, most recently of Road to Perdition.
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: Well let's not forget Max Allan Collins the detective novelist who's got a book out called Chicago Confidential right now.