Conan – A Little Conversation About The Frost Giant’s Daughter
Thank you all for taking the time to read the short piece. I just wish people would be more open about their opinions. ;-). Considering the actively voracious nature of some of the comments, both here and on the REH site, I thought I would maybe expand a little bit on what I was trying to do. I am going to do this because I think you might be interested in the screenwriting process and why some decisions are made in adaptations. I’m trying not to write defensively, which trust me, is difficult. I’ll try to keep it pure, ’cause we’re all Conan fans here.
As I said, my intent was practice, but what I had in my mind was actually writing what I fantasized might become a teaser scene for one of the new movies, released as an extended trailer or as a pre-title sequence. This means I was really aiming for something very short. It could only be a couple of minutes long. I chose FGD because I felt it could be condensed most easily. This is because the action is simple: a fight, a chase, a fight, an escape. (I know there’s more to it, but those are the basics)
So now I say to myself – what is essential? Obviously many of you disagree, but in THIS INCARNATION of the story – a very short film – I felt that the opening battle was not needed to tell what I thought was the most interesting part – Conan being tempted by Atali, chasing her, fighting her brothers then having his prize taken from him. What convinced me of this was that I was going to get a marvelous battle with the FGs anyway. So that rendered the opening fight extraneous. As for information, do we really need to clock that Conan is a stranger in this land? Not really. He’s merely the survivor of a battle. In this incarnation, do we really need to know anything about the battle itself?
A few people commented on the sword in his belly rather than being bonked on the head. Those are purist thoughts and while I understand them, they are really just staging. All one needs is for Conan to be out of it for a moment so Atali can have the upper hand. Without a battle, woozy was difficult. Unconscious was boring. I decided on badly wounded. The sword just seemed very cool to me, as I imagined a low angle shot across his body and the blade sticking tall from the wound. And I can show Conan being tough by freezing the wound shut. (However, I take very well the point that Conan would have had a big reaction to Atali toying with the sword.)
Also the ending is not as graceful as I might like. Too rushed, a result of not thinking out clearly how to get the impact of the cloth without Niord’s dudes.
In matters of dialogue, I might very well choose to add back in some of REH’s words, especially “Conan of the Black Hair”, and “I’ll pile the heads of your kinsmen…” etc. I can’t tell you why I chose not to put them in at the time, except, well… let me think.
No, that’s not true. I can. And it goes to why I wanted to practice on this one. To me, FGD has always been about mood, not plot. The wildness of the landscape, the breath in the wind, Atali’s impossible beauty. Its essence seems purely poetic to me. And, it has its roots in Greek mythology, which I devoured as a child. I think that as I wrote it, the dialogue fell out because I was seeing it from middle and long distances. It seemed more magical without words. And this is the great difference between the stories and a film – REH has to give you everything – all the feeling, the emotion, the sound of the snow. A screenplay doesn’t, and in fact shouldn’t. That’s because it’s a blueprint to which the actors, director, dp and editor will add their skills. So I know as I write that my words will be filled out by many many people working on the project. This is not to dodge responsibility – if I write badly, then that’s on me – but screenplays are different than books. Books are commandments; screenplays are suggestions.
Which brings me to character. You all may have a point here about me missing the boat on showing who Conan is, but I have to admit, this never seemed to be a great character showcase, even in the original. It has always been a little more poetic, perhaps even primal, than many of the other stories. Maybe that’s why it’s always been a favorite. Because let’s face it, Conan was going to rape this woman at the end, as was the character in the Greek myth it’s taken from. (Apollo chasing Daphne I think, who implores Zeus to save her, which he does by changing her into a tree).
However, I don’t think I painted Conan as some staggering dunce. I think your own fears and memories of the horrific earlier movies may be informing your reading. I think at worse I underpainted him, which if so, is obviously a mistake. My viewpoint of Conan has never been that he is an oaf, so I will always imagine him with a fierce, intelligent face, whether he speaks much or not. (I’ll tell you this – in the script my partner Howard and I just wrote, he speaks quite a bit. I’ll bet half of you complain that it’s too much. :-) So perhaps my mistake is this – I wanted to enter the world myself and see where it took me. In doing so, I paid little attention to convincing readers who Conan was, because I already knew. (For myself of course, not in any pretentious, ‘only I know who Conan is.’)
And the last thing I ‘ll say is this, and I think it’s very important. (For the three of you still reading.) There were a few comments about not straying from the material. I mean, not at all. I can’t be any clearer about anything than about this: you don’t really want that. Here’s why.
Point of No Return
If you haven’t seen Point, it’s based on La Femme Nikita (great movie!) by Luc Besson. Point is awful. Why? Because it is literally a shot by shot remake of Nikita. Someone evidently thought the original was so good it shouldn’t be fucked with. Well they were wrong. The remake became a lifeless mess. This is because the artists had abdicated their responsibility – to interpret the world through their own lens.
I bring this up to make a point that being too faithful to the original can be stifling. It squashes artistry. And please, make no mistake – filmmakers are artists. Every one of them wants to bring their POV, their life, their words, their gestures, to bear to create something new, fresh, alive. If they feel too constrained by the material, they won’t bring their best game to bear. And then you get Point of No Return. A dead thing.
Please understand – you will never have the REH that is in your head. You wouldn’t get it even if you wrote it and directed it yourself. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If the artists are good, they will take the essence and the soul of Conan and give you something different… and fun as hell. If they’re not good, then faithfulness to the material won’t matter anyway. From my own experience I can tell you I didn’t miss Tom Bombadil in LOTR but hated The Shining… the first time. Now I think it’s a marvelous movie.
Allow me to clarify a couple of things. First, none of what I said is to convince you that what I wrote is ‘good’. Either you liked it or you didn’t. I only hope that some of my words can perhaps frame` the upcoming movies a little for you so you have a better chance at enjoying them. And this should go without saying, but it seems little does these days: REH’s source material is marvelous. Wonderful words and images and characters that have survived a long year. I am merely pointing out that purism is both impossible and undesirable. Some of you asked a very interesting question: ‘why do you think you’re better than the material?’ Truly, nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare wasn’t thinking he was the cat’s pyjamas when he cherrypicked Gesta Danorum for Hamlet. Peter Jackson didn’t think “whoo, glad I was able to clean up Tolien’s mess”. Barbara Eden didn’t think Jeannie Riley’s song was shit when she starred in Harper Valley PTA. Anyone who adapts is doing so precisely because they were inspired and thought the original material was worthy of retelling in another medium.
Wow. Longwinded. Sorry. But then, you didn’t have to read this far if you didn’t want to. If you did, hopefully I was helpful. If not, well that’s on me, too…