To turn a movie into a novelization, it’s all about the text. Our job in the novelization of Act of Valor was to take a 97-page screenplay and an approximately 100-minute film and turn them into an 87,000-word book. Among the challenges we faced with this project were issues of characterization and white space. In a film, you can see the characters, and in Act of Valor, they are introduced visually and colored in by using a few sentences of dialogue and sometimes a voice-over. In the novelization, we used that as a starting point. We then had to give each character a physical description, history, and a dozen other characteristics real people have. We had to, in text, give each of them a personality and individuality.
The issue of white space is a huge one. Films use what we call white space quite liberally. They can have an action or scene taking place on a ship and the next one taking place on land thousands of miles away, with the same characters and very little transition. In doing the novelization, we had to take the reader from one place to the next and provide texture and information as to how and why a character went from one location to another. This often involved adding scenes and dialogue just to make this happen. We had to account for how they got to where they were going. They couldn’t just materialize somewhere.
Our production of the manuscript for Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor was on an accelerated time line in order to get the book (a Penguin premium paperback priced at $9.99) into production for a Jan. 10, 2012 release date. From the first viewing of the movie in mid-April to completion of the writing in early December, the novelization was completed in eight months. At one point in the production process, Dick Couch and I, to use the old Godfather phrase, “Went to the mattresses,” and in the space of 10 days we created the final 40,000 words of the book. Needless to say, we were eating our meals in front of our computers (and probably weren’t the most sociable human beings on Earth during that time).
We turned the novelization in on time, which we are very proud of. We were getting emails from our editor with subject lines titled MEGA, MEGA RUSH. NEED ASAP. The editor would typically say something like, “Here it is, and I need it back by tomorrow.” We were getting emails from New York at 2:00 a.m. their time. It was a fast-paced several months to complete the book and shepherd it though time-critical rounds of editing, re-editing, and copy-editing, but it was a privilege to turn celluloid film into prose and tell this story with the granularity to enable the reader to experience what he or she might have missed in an action-packed, 100-minute movie.
We believe we were largely successful in producing a novelization that does justice to this phenomenal film. Best-selling author Larry Bond put it this way in a post on this website earlier this month:
“It’s exciting because it pits a lot of really interesting good guys (the SEALs and their friends) against some very nasty narco-thugs and terrorists. The action ranges from Costa Rica to Somalia to the Pacific Ocean, and as hairy as it gets, the danger they face is nothing compared to the danger they’re trying to prevent. There are lots of fights, and lots of good story between the fights.
“It’s authentic because not only do we see the SEALs with their wet suits and M4 rifles, but we see them before deployment, as family men. The authors create complete, realistic characters who have decided to take on the most challenging duty in the armed forces. At the same time it’s showing us the tremendous demands SEAL duty and missions place on these men, it shows us what kind of men are capable of performing them.
And while the story in Act of Valor is fiction, thanks to the news we know there are other stories out there that are not. Even if you’re planning to see the movie, buy the book.”
Tom Clancy wrote a foreword to the book that includes a link to the Navy Seal Foundation website (http://nswfoundation.org/), and we are honored we are able to help support that incredibly worthy effort.
Finally, the SEAL and SWCC community continue to endeavor to recruit “the best of the best” and anyone interested in learning more about becoming a part of the SEAL and SWCC communities should go to the official Navy SEAL + SWCC website at: www.sealswcc.com.