Alan Dean Foster is a great writer in many genres, creating his own works and bringing to life the works of screen and television. He was my first interview subject in 2002, and who knows, if this will be my last but it would be fitting, he is a treasured person of talent for me.
Here is the interview, please enjoy.
Alex: I know you went to a very good film school after getting a political science degree. Does the film school work you did help in reading and adapting the works to the novel format? In what ways yes, if yes? And how not, if no?
ADF: UCLA graduate film school. Didn’t really help with novelizations, except to show me early on how to navigate a screenplay. Prose is so different from a script…you either can write it or not. Film school prepares you for a very different type of writing.
Alex: A Film Degree didn’t help you write? Is a novel written in a way much differently than film writing?
ADF: It didn’t, really. Only in the sense that I learned screenplay format.
Writing a novel is much more difficult than writing a screenplay. Much that you can show in a film, such as a character’s reaction to something, has to be spelled out in a novel, and that takes a greater command of the language… if you want to make it worth reading.
Alex: When you are given the screenplay to adapt, do you immediately get pictures in your head of the scenes? And therefore, the better the screenplay the easier it is for you to adapt it to novel?
ADF: Oh, absolutely. I’ve always been a very visual writer. As soon as I read a sequence in a book, I’m mentally filming it. A better screenplay makes it easier to adapt into a novel only because it’s better writing, not because of the format.
Alex: I am not, in any way, shape or form, suggesting my work matters compared to anyone, least of all you, but, I have a serious hard time ghost writing. I've been asked to do that more times than to write my own work. I usually say no, and the few times I've said yes it is for people I love who I know need my help, and I never charge. So, getting to my question, how do you do Movie Adaptations, and I know you've Ghost written, as in Star Wars the New Hope adaptation for George Lucas, knowing that you won't be given credit as the artist?
Are you a Zen master and have eliminated your ego somehow? I don't mean to be offensive with that, simply saying, most people in the arts want to be known for the works they've done.
ADF: You don’t do the work as a Zen master: you do it as a fan. Who hasn’t sat in a theater and thought how they might change a scene, or a line of dialogue, or even the music? Once you go at it with that mindset, it’s very easy to do. The only book I’ve ever ghost-written was the novelization of the first SW film. I’ve been asked numerous times since to do the same for other projects. I’ve declined only because I didn’t have the time.
I think if you’ve never received credit for original work, then doing nothing but ghosting work would be hard to take. But if you have a body of original material, then you should have no problem ghosting for someone.
Alex: Compared to your original work, do they pay much? Do you think the pay is commensurate to the work?
ADF: I think the payments are generally fair. Just as with original material, payment for a novelization or a spinoff varies according to the property and the publisher. I’m occasionally “underpaid” (on Terminator: Salvation, for example) only because I refuse to be satisfied turning in half-assed work that short-changes the reader, even if contractually I’m not obligated to write a single additional word following official acceptance of the manuscript. Fans deserve better.
Alex: You've done work in Alien/Aliens - StarTrek - StarWars - Terminator - Transformers franchises and no doubt many others. Do you believe that the owners of the franchises choose you because your work is recognized, good, or something else?
ADF: Recognized and good, yes. Also, I am able to subvert that artist’s ego you spoke of earlier for the greater good of a project. And I can write very, very fast.
Alex: What book, books or series of yours would be the best movies, which would be impossible to make?
ADF: Nothing’s impossible to make anymore. I think excellent films could be made of MIDWORLD, SAGRAMANDA, MAORI, PRIMAL SHADOWS, and the Flinx series. SPELLSINGER would kill as an animated feature.
Alex: As a writer with a film degree do you have a desire to write screenplays as well? Do you find yourself correcting dialogue in movies, subconsciously or otherwise?
ADF: I enjoy writing screenplays, too. Just had one, OLYMPUS, co-written with Joel Berke, optioned to L.A.-Beijing Pictures, for possible production in China. As to correcting dialogue in movies, when I watch, I find myself correcting everything … from the dialogue, to the sfx, to the direction.
Alex: What movies are favorites of yours? Do any of them play roles in novels of your own? (Thinking Lucas's adoration of Hidden Fortress)
ADF: My two favorites films are GUNGA DIN and the 1940 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. But they don’t influence my writing.
Alex: Moving on from film and adaptations, we are now firmly in the digital era where paper books are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of the industry. If people like me hate ebooks, and youth hate hardcopy, when will the critical mass or event happen when paper is seen as so not worth having? Does it remain forever as a tiny cottage market?
ADF: I think paper will remain a substantial portion of the market until and unless the cost of a book starts to diverge significantly. If a hardcover is priced at $25 and an ebook at $12, that’s already approaching such a gap. If ebooks drop regularly to around $2.99, then that relegates print to traditionalists and collectors.
Alex: If tomorrow humans found out that they were able to travel across the stars to any planet, galaxy, moon, dwarf planet, what would you like most to see?
ADF: Midworld. With suitable armor, etc. I love rainforests.
Alex: As a writer of futurist work, in many respects, you have to be optimistic. Is that easy to still be facing the serious issues we face globally?
ADF: Realistically, we’re running the Earth into the ground (pun intended). As an SF writer, I have to be optimistic or I’d stop writing the stuff. There’s no shortage of dystopian tales out there and I don’t feel the need to add to them.
Alex: I don't want you to stop writing, so this isn't a secret agenda question, but, when will you stop writing for print, or will you? Why would you?
ADF: I have no intention of ever stopping. I’ve slowed down some due to domestic concerns, but I’ll never quit. I like telling stories.
Alex: I have enjoyed your works Mad Amos and the Icerigger trilogy the most of all, so I don't have a specific genre I follow with you. Which genre for you is easiest to write in, why do you think that is?
ADF: Fantasy. SF takes research, non-fiction takes still more research, Westerns are based on historical reality, Mysteries require application of logic. Fantasy…as long as you maintain the internal logic, you can do anything you want.
Alex: As a poet I've attempted to step back from judging the present world and instead write about it as a reporter or observer. Can a writer of prose science fiction and fantasy do that? Or do they have to become so much more conversant in the world they write about?
ADF: No, you can step back. Obviously, you can do so with non-fiction (as in PREDATORS I HAVE KNOWN, for example). You can certainly do it with SF (as in the MONTEZUMA STRIP stories, for example, or SAGRAMANDA).
Alex: Thank you Alan Dean Foster for your time, thoughts and ideas for us to consider.
The author has a great website at AlanDeanFoster.com And he continues to create great works, so buy them, and support living artists.