Mini-Stories: Volume 9

Each year, 99% Invisible producers select short design stories to talk about with host Roman Mars. Some of these were just too brief to make into full 99pi episodes, but many also reveal aspects of how we find ideas for (and ultimately make) the show. In this collection, we’ll talk about everything from movie novelizations to costume designs!

Novel Ideas by Chris Berube

Back in the 70s, being a film buff involved a lot of patience. A movie would open and then it would play in theaters for a year or so if it was popular. But then you had to wait a long time to see it again. There was no home video, and it could take years for a movie to make its way onto television. But there was one way you could experience your favorite film in the comfort of your living room: through novelizations.

Books based on movies date all the way back to the 1930s, but with the rise of blockbusters in the 70s, books based on “Star Wars” and “Alien” hit the bestseller charts, catering to fans who wanted to spend more time with characters like Luke Skywalker and Ellen Ripley. Chris got interested in novelizations after talking with Terry Bisson, whom he spoke with for Podcast Episode:

Bisson novelized now-classic films like “The Fifth Element” and “Galaxy Quest.” But while these movies were hits, Bisson says novelizations were usually treated like afterthoughts, and because of production schedules, he would always have to base the novelizations on the script, without actually *seeing* the movie. With this in mind, the books had a consistent problem — they would often include different details from the movies they’re adapting.

The novelization of “Alien,” for example, does not have a description of the alien, because 20th Century Fox wouldn’t let the writer look at the puppet while it was being designed. And in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the famously green character Yoda is described as having blue skin.

Sometimes, too, novelists would just get carried away and add new details to pad out the story. Famously, author Hank Searls went off the rails during his adaptation of “Jaws: The Revenge,” adding a plot about the shark being controlled by a “voodoo curse.” The “Jaws” book has subsequently become a cult classic. Today, even with video-on-demand, movie novelizations still exist. But for the most part, authors try and stick to the script.

  1. Iain Clarke

    I really enjoyed the segment on Movie novelisations, but one thing was glaringly missing, as you mentioned the Star Wars books. It may have simply been due to when you recorded it of course.

    Disney are ****ing over the authors of those and other novels. SFWA were initially fighting back on behalf of Alan Dean Foster (one of those prolific SciFi authors you mentioned), but many other have come out as well.

    In short, Disney are claiming they bought the rights to publish these books, but not the matching obligation to pay royalties. This article does a reasonable job of summarising:

  2. William Westbrook

    I recall that Annie Hall wrote novelizations, which Ally Singer thought was a waste of her talent.

  3. Frank

    Thank you for the mini-stories, always an interesting listen :-)

    I happen to live in the beautiful downtown Geneva, Switzerland. The discussion on Swiss defensive architecture made me think of a few small things that I happened across here …

    Leaving Geneva one morning I ended up in a curious train car: the inner walls of the train car prominently displayed quotes from and about the Swiss. The one that stuck to mind translates to something like: the secret desire in the Swiss people’s heart is that there is a third world war so they can stay out of it again. Never saw that rail car again, I am curious whether anybody else has seen it. Starting to think I am imagining it.

    A curious feature of taking the train in Switzerland is that on Sunday evenings all the train cars are packed with people in uniform – often carrying their military issue rifles. Don’t be concerned though, war has not broken out during your mountain retreat: the Swiss military service requires the men in Switzerland to train for two weeks each year with their original group. You are allowed to split these two weeks up. Furthermore rail travel for military service is free. Hence the full train cars on Sunday evening as folks are heading home from military service.

    A side note: you are supposed to take home and care for your rifle. You are not allowed to have ammunition for the rifle at home, that is stored in armories.

  4. Keith Koski

    I enjoyed the short story about ABBA’s costumes. Btw – Owe bears a visual and spiritual resemblance to Roy Rogers.
    Happy 2021!

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