The Mechanics of Books versus the Mechanics of Movies

The Mechanics of Books

As of today, there are two kinds of publishing in the United States: trade publishing and educational publishing. Each category mainly publishes books. Trade publishing is the smaller part of the industry, with educational books a much larger part.

Trade publishing means general interest, hardcover and paperback books which one finds in general bookstores in the U.S.A. such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. Educational publishingmeans text books, reference, technical, science, biography, history, technology books, along with cook books, regional interest books, and university press books. One can find educational books in general bookstores, but they are mainly available in specialty bookstores or in specialized areas of a store (like a university bookstore, or the education section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore).

One of the most significant factors in the history of Western culture has been the prodigious increase in the multiplication of texts. The first great Western breakthrough came in 1430–1460, with Gutenberg and Co. The second came in 1780–1820, when industrialization revolutionized both the volume, manner, and distribution of book production. Then, specially in the American 1930s (but gradually in Europe as well), recorded music, movies, radio, and eventually TV and multimedia digital media (cell phones, Blackberries, personal computer) created massive new media competition with books. The public’s entertainment and education attention diversified and thus storytelling diversified. As of 1930, nonfiction book titles published in the U.S.A. began to outnumber fiction titles. This has been true ever since. Then, after World War II, there was a tremendous increase in education—sparked by the GI Bill of Rights1 and the Baby Boomer generation—and U.S. educational publishing skyrocketed.

Nowadays, book publishing in the America breaks down into the following process, step by step:

  1. Author’s writing and research
    1. Possible secretarial assistance
    2. Possible agent and contract to begin with (but both unlikely, specially for beginning authors)
  2. Author’s composition and text refinement
  3. Manuscript acquisition by publisher
    1. Possible intermediary: agent
    2. Contract (Ideally an author begins with the contract. But the reality is far from ideal.)
  4. Editing by publisher: Editing was once a major factor, now minor. A vital author-editor relation is mainly a thing of the past in the U.S.A. In most cases, editing is now the author’s sole responsibility.
  5. Publisher: book production process
    1. Copy Editor:i. checks and corrects spelling, punctuation, factsii. styles manuscript for printerThe U.S. copy editor is nowadays mainly a technician; he does not play a key part in shaping or discovering the final work—as with the great U.S. editor at Scribner’s Maxwell Perkins (1884–1947), who fathered F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and others, into print.
    2. Design and production editor: book’s physical appearance.
    3. DComposition: typesetting, makeup, proofs, printing and binding.
  6. Bookselling
    1. Publication and diffusion
    2. Market targeting and pricing

The Mechanics of Movies

The American motion-picture industry has its own way of doing business, its technique and art—the “seventh art.”2 The mechanics consist of three areas, each with a set of six components. These are:

Preproduction Work

  1. Script. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the majority of major Hollywood films were based on material that came from other forms, mainly literary. Most U.S. films nowadays are created from scripts written to be directly filmed.
  2. Actors. For all but the major actors, casting is done by a casting director. The film actor—as opposed to the stage actor—has to be superb in close-ups, powerful with the understated gesture. Movie acting is not about versatility and range, but individual charisma—and a certain haunting continuity (playing “in character”).
  3. Sets. Two kinds: natural and studio-constructed. Why one rather than the other? Answer: budget, convenience, time, and the director and producer’s personal vision. But do not think what you see is what you get if a movie is filmed in a “natural” setting. In Coppola’s The Godfather (1971), the “realistic” director rebuilt a city street to make it look “more authentic,” while director Michelangelo Antonioni was known to spray-paint trees and bushes to get the color he wanted.
  4. Costumes. Clothes count. The legendary French designer Coco Chanel once said: “A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed.” Clothes visually situate the story in an historical period or place without need of narrative comment. They heighten characterization and create a charismatic signature: like Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat. Plus, subtext must suit the style. As historian Edward Gibbon put it, “Style is the image of character.”
  5. Aspect Ratio. This refers to film frame proportion, the ratio of width to height of the image on film and on screen. This is crucial since aspect ratio frames the screen image. Thomas Edison created a slightly rectangular screen, then sound films brought a nearly square screen. The U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932 returned the aspect ratio to its original, Edisonian 1.33 : 1. This became the standard until the 1950s when a wider screen (CinemaScope, 2.35 : 1) was introduced.
  6. Film Stock. This is the raw, unexposed film, traditionally distinguished by gauge, type, and exposure index. It also means black and white or color film. Why black and white today? As U.S. actor and director Sam Fuller says to Wim Wenders in his movie The State of Things (1982) “Life is in color, but black and white is more realistic.” Film stock has changed the way movies look and age. If a color movie was made with an impermanent dye, then there’s no way to tell what the original story color was meant to look like (as with much of Eastman Color film commonly used in the U.S.A.).

The Work of Filming

  1. Lenses. A camera lense fulfills the practical requirement of obtaining an image and a desired artistic effect.
  2. Camera Distance and Position. Camera distance, height, and angle all influence a scene’s effect. The camera is where the viewer’s eyes will be and effects the viewer’s response to the meaning of the scene. Lens, filter, and camera angle are decisive when photographing the movie star. The flamboyant, hard-living American stage and screen star Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968) said at the end of her career: “They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.”
  3. Composition. This is the spatial arrangement of the scene. It is crucial since it focuses audience attention on the explicit meaning of the visible and the implicit meaning of the unseen.
  4. Camera Movement. When the camera moves, composition changes. This distinguishes film from painting, which has a fixed perspective. Film can constantly shift and alter its shape, present its material from ever-changing viewpoints. Camera movements include the pan, the tilt, dolly3 in or dolly out, a tracking shot, crane shot, jiggle shots, zoom shot, slow, medium, or fast.
  5. Lighting. Photography means literally “to write with light”—which is what movies do. Film lighting derives from still photography. Filmmakers talk about two kinds of lighting: high key and low key—high key is bright with little shadowed area; low key leaves much of the set or scene in darkness. Additional factors: contrast, light angle, kind, quality, and color of the light, muted or dispersed light (as with smoke or fog).
  6. Sound. From shellac disc recordings of the late 1920s to contemporary multichanneled digital sound, the search has been for realism in sound when the film is actually made. Sound track manipulation is done in the postproduction stage. However, the Italian director Federico Fellini could not care less about sound quality when he filmed. The image came first and all other sounds that mattered were recorded or altered after the filming. Alfred Hitchcock in The Birds (1963) opted for a constant interplay of natural sounds and computer-generated noises. As Hitchcock told François Truffaut: “Until now we’ve worked with natural sounds, but now, thanks to electronic sound, I’m not only going to indicate the sound we want but also the style and the nature of each sound.”4

Working with the Exposed Footage

  1. Processing and printing.
  2. Editing. The final stage of creative manipulation.
  3. Special effects. The unusual technical means by which an image is manipulated, with a charm and style characteristic of each technological era. There is no such thing as “the ultimate special effect.”
  4. Music. It is oxygen to movies (it either gives life and breath or suffocates the movie to death).
  5. Sound effects. These add mood, tone, place, ideas, and emotions.
  6. Postsynchronization or dubbing. To rerecord, cast other voices, add dialogue, prepare a foreign-language version.



1   The G.I. Bill (officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) was a bill that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G.I.s) as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It also provided many different types of loans for returning veterans to buy homes and start businesses.

2   The phrase was first coined by the early Italian-French movie critic Ricciotto Canudo (1879–1923) in 1911.

3   Camera dolly. In German: “Kamerawagen.”

4   François Truffaut, Hitchcock (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967; originally pub-lished as Le Cinema selon Hitchcock [Paris: Robert Laffont, 1966]), 224.


Select Bibliography

The subject of the relation between literature and movies as a critical subject has been widely studied and analyzed since the middle of the twentieth century. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, Anglo-American critical writings on this subject were done by significant film critics and authors such as James Agee (1909–1955) and Graham Greene (1904–1991). Movie industry professionals everywhere have always known a lot about adaptation—since it is their bread and butter—and still do. Excellent proof of this is screenwriter William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983). Seek out academic criticism and a current check on JStor’s website ( will show about five thousand available critical articles on this theme. The interested student of film can now target what point he/she may seek to know more about, or go ahead and produce yet another close-reading study of adaptation. The critical breakthrough book in the U.S.A. on this subject, still quite useful, especially as a beginning point, was George Bluestone’s Novels into Film (1956)—noted below.



Arnheim, Rudolf. Film as Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.

Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Barsacq, Léon. Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions. Translated by M. Bullock. New York: Signet Classics-Plume, 1978.

——. Le Décor de Film. Revised and edited by Elliott Stein. Paris: Seghers, 1970.

Beja, Morris. Film and Literature: An Introduction. New York: Longman, 1979.

Bluestone, George. Novels into Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957.

Boum, Joy Gould. Double Exposure: Fiction into Film. New York: New American Library, 1985.

Brady, John. The Craft of the Screenwriter. New York: Touchstone, 1982.

Bullert, B. J. Public Television: Politics and the Battle over Documentary Film. Rutgers University Press 1997.

Burke, Peter. Varieties of Cultural History. Cambridge: Polity Press-Blackwell, 1997.

Caine, Michael. What’s It All About. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.

Cartmell, Deborah and Imelda Whelehan, eds. Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text. London: Routledge 1999.

Corliss, Richard. The Hollywood Screenwriters. New York: Avon Books, 1972.

Corrigan, Timothy. Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Costello, Tom. International Guide to Literature on Film. London: Bowker-Saur, 1994.

Davis, Ronald. Words into Images: Screenwriters on the Studio System. London: Blackwell, University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

Enser, Alfred George Sidney. Filmed Books and Plays: A List of Books and Plays from which Films Have Been Made, 1928–1986. Aldershot: Gower, 1987.

——. Filmed Books and Plays: A List of Books and Plays from Which Films Have Been Made, 1928–1991. New ed. Compiled by Ellen Baskin and Mandy Hicken. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1993.

Fenton, Jill Rubinson et al. Women Writers: From Page to Screen. New York: Garland, 1990.

Giannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Gifford, Denis. Books and Plays in Films, 1896–1915: Literary, Theatrical, and Artistic Sources of the First Twenty Years of Motion Pictures. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

Goldman, William. Adventures in the Screen Trade. New York: Warner Books, 1983

Grant, Barry Keith. Film Genre Reader. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Hoffer, Eric. The Passionate State of Mind and Other Aphorisms. New York: Perennial Library, 1954.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Katz, Susan Bullington. Conversations with Screenwriters. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Reed Elsevier, 2000.

Kittredge, William and Steven Krauzer, eds. Stories into Film. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Konigsberg, Ira. The Complete Film Dictionary. 2nd ed. London, New York: Bloomsbury/New American Library, 1997.

Kroeber, Karl. Make Believe in Film and Fiction: Visual vs. Verbal Storytelling. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006.

Langman, Larry. Writers on the American Screen: A Guide to Film Adaptations of American and Foreign Literary Works. New York: Garland, 1986.

Lodge, David. Consciousness & the Novel: Connected Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Mayer, Jacob P. Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents. London: Faber and Faber, 1946.

McCabe, Scott. “Reconciling Violence and a life in Literature: An Interview with Dennis Lehane.” The Writer’s Chronicle 39, no. 1 (2006): 8–13.

McCauley, Michael P. and others, eds. Public Broadcasting and the Public Interest. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2003.

McGilligan, Pat, ed. Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Munby, Jonathan. Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster Film from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Packard, William. The Art of Screenwriting: Story, Script, Markets. New York: Paragon House, 1987.

Prover, Jorja. No One Knows Their Names: Screenwriters in Hollywood. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.

Quarles, Francis. Emblemes (1635). Edward Benlowes Quarleis and Hieroglyphikes of the Life of Man (1638). Introduction by Karl Josef Holtgen and John Horden. New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1993.

Raengo, Alessandra and Robert Stam, eds. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005

Reinhart, Mark S. Abraham Lincoln on Screen—A Filmography of Dramas and Documentaries Including Television, 1903–1998 . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.

Reynolds, William and others, eds. It’s a Print! Detective Fiction from Page to Screen. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.

Richardson, Robert. Literature and Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

Ross, Harris. Film as Literature, Literature as Film: An Introduction to and Bibliography of Film’s Relationship to Literature. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

Seger, Linda. The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. New York: Henry Holt, 1992.

Sontag, Susan. Styles of a Radical Will. New York: Delta Books, 1969.

Stam, Robert. Literature Through Film: Realism, Magic, and the Art of Adaptation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Stam, Robert and Toby Miller, eds. A Companion to Film Theory. New ed. Blackwell Companions in Cultural Studies 1. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Talbot, Daniel, ed. Film: An Anthology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

Welch, Jeffrey Egan. Literature and Film: an annotated bibliography, 1909–1977. New York: Garland, 1981.

——. Literature and Film: An Annotated Bibliography, 1978–1988. New York: Garland, 1993

Wiener, Philip P., ed. Dictionary of the History of Ideas. New York: Scribner, 1973.

Journal Articles

Gomery, Douglas. “Considering Research in Film and Television Archives?” Perspectives Online 39 (January 2001), (accessed June 22, 2009).

Kawin, Bruce. “An Outline of Film Voices.” Film Quarterly 38.2 (1984–85): 38–46.

Lopate, Phillip. “Adapt This: Fiction into Film.” Bookforum (June/July/August 2007), (accessed June 22, 2009).

Nicoll, Allardyce. “Film Reality: The Cinema and the Theatre.” Film and Theatre (1964).

Richardson, Brian. “Voice and Narration in Postmodern Drama.” New Literary History 32 (2001): 681–94.


Screenwriters: Word into Image: William Goldman. DVD. Directed by Terry Sanders and Freida Lee Mock. 1984; Santa Monica, CA: American Film Foundation, 1984.

Terry Gilliam’s History of the Movies. DVD. Directed by Terry Gilliam. 1995. 1. Travels in Time and Space; 2. Great Firsts; 3. Body and Space; 4. Modern Life, Cities; 5. Terror and Illusions.

Visions of Light. DVD. Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels. 1992; Chatsworth; CA: Image Entertainment, 2000.

Online Resources

Creative Screenwriting.

Fiction into Film Database.

George Eastman House.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Although now the best of the lot for free access online movie information, the dates given for literature at IMDB are sometimes inaccurate and the site is marred by the usual indiscriminate gossip and information claims of ignorant but usually well-meaning fans.

Museum of Broadcast Communications. Including the Encyclopedia of Television.

National Film Preservation Foundation,

The Paley Center for Media (formerly: The Museum of Television & Radio).

Museum of Modern Art.

UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Library of Congress.

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