Adaptations Are a Balancing Act, Execs and Writers Say

Power Women Summit: You have to find writers sensitive to not alienating fans, Sony’s Lauren Stein shares

The Art of Adaptations panel at TheWrap's Power Women Summit, Maybourne Hotel, Beverly Hills, California on Dec 5, 2023.

No matter what’s being adapted — from books and video games to obscure articles — “It’s all about character for us,” Sony Pictures Television Studios creative head Lauren Stein said. “People don’t come to watch spectacle, they come to watch characters.”

Writers from “Lessons in Chemistry” and “The Other Black Girl” came together with executives from Sony, “Call of Duty” and Roblox to share their insights into the world of adapting material. The conversation took place Tuesday at “The Art of Adaptation: Storytelling Across Mediums” as part of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit.

Stein estimated that about 95% of her business is based on intellectual property.

“It gives security to buyers,” Stein said. “It’s shocking to me though, that the days of truly original ideas are so rare.” She added that she gets excited when she gets to work with an original idea.

“But yeah, I don’t see IP going anywhere,” she added.

Stein said that she isn’t a gamer or a deep genre fan, but explained that having someone like her on a project helps them to find new audiences. She said that’s especially important with books, which don’t have as large of a built-in fanbase as IP from some other mediums. Projects she’s working on include adaptations of video games like “God of War” and “Horizon Zero Dawn,” as well as the “Wheel of Time” book series.

“You are going to piss somebody off, so you want to give the true fans something,” Stein said. “You want to give them a lot. But there are always going to be people that are angry that you don’t stick to the exact thing, and you just can’t do that in TV.”

She argued that the original way something is done doesn’t always translate in a new space. So, she said, she looks for writers sensitive to not alienating the fans while also not alienating new audiences.

One creator who came out of being a fan was “The Other Black Girl” co-showrunner Jordan Reddout.

“I read it when it first came out,” Reddout said of the original book she helped to adapt. She and her writing partner begged to get into the room for “The Other Black Girl,” she said.

“It’s something that obviously speaks very close to my heart as a Black woman who came up in predominantly white spaces,” Reddout said. “You need that passion, you need that love for the material to carry you all the way through.”

“People have a lot of opinions about adaptations,” Reddout said. But, she noted, a book like “The Other Black Girl” doesn’t get pulled apart the same way a genre book like “Game of Thrones” does.

“For us, it was really more nailing the thematic — the messaging,” Reddout said.

Their writers’ room focused on what they were trying to say with the show, she said. Early on in that room, they went around answering, “What do you want to see from the book?” The room was also mostly Black women, which allowed them to contribute their experiences.

“Lessons in Chemistry” screenwriter and co-EP Elissa Karasik said that she always immerses herself into the source material when working on an adaptation. However, she puts all thoughts of that final destination and form to the side while doing that.

Translating what makes the original material work into a new form is about tapping into its essential truths, Karasik said. She looks for what she connects to in the storytelling and the characters, she added, because she believes that those essential truths transcend the story’s form.

“I always come back to the term ‘honoring,’ like ‘honoring’ the source,” Karasik said. But, she continued, “That can look like a lot of different things,” nodding to the balance between staying true to the source while adding a new perspective.

Of course, sometimes that means making major shifts — like toning down how much of the book’s story was told from the dog’s perspective. She said that both she and co-showrunner Lee Eisenberg felt strongly that spending too much time in the dog’s voiceover “was going to kill the thing, wasn’t going to service the story we were trying to tell.”

The panelists also offered their predictions for the future of adaptations.

“The future of storytelling is immersive,” Roblox’s Christina Wootton argued. She is in charge of partnerships for the online platform, which allows users to connect with other fans and create 3D worlds. It features a range of styles, from classic blocky characters to more highly detailed spaces that fans can dive into.

That includes partnerships with franchises like “Saw X” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” letting the public into a Roblox-ified version of those properties. She noted that their projects involve building based on the fans’ feedback, iterating and creating experiences that work for all ages.

Johanna Faries, who works at Activision Blizzard as a senior vice president and general manager of the “Call of Duty” franchise, offered her own prediction for the growth of IP.

“Video games have not yet made it to the Oscars, but they will,” Faries said. “I may not be alive when that happens in a couple of decades. But it’ll happen.”

The panel was moderated by TheWrap film editor Kristen Lopez.

For all of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2023 coverage, read here.


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