“Tea Rex” by Molly Idle. The author and illustrator worked for DreamWorks Animation.

Molly Idle

Whether it starts “Once upon a time” or “Lights! Camera! Action!,” a story’s success depends more on its spirit than the method of delivery.

Authors and filmmakers with experience in both filmed and printed stories will discuss the exchange between media at several workshops and panel discussions this weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books.

“As a storyteller, if you can tell a good story in one medium, it’s almost irresistible for people to pick up that story and realize it in another,” said Grael Norton, the moderator of the workshop From Book to Screen with panelists Heather Hale and Philip Sedgwick. “A really good story has potential for new artists to think they can make something new and exciting from it.”

Norton is a senior faculty member of Authors Academy, a service of local publishing company Wheatmark, Inc. The academy teaches authors methods for writing and marketing books, and Norton will participate in several other festival panels about the logistics of successful publication.

Most authors go into writing with at least a vague hope to see their work on screen someday, Norton said. That mindset can limit the potential of a book, as most books have more plots and subplots than a typical movie, TV show or webisode. The pressure often falls to the main character to make the transition between media.

Last year, The Loft Cinema hosted a year-long series showing seven movies with roots in literature. Program director Jeff Yanc called it a “knee-jerk reaction” when book fans disapprove of movie adaptations — especially when casting fails to match the imagination’s design of a character. Yanc has dabbled in both worlds. He owned local bookstore Reader’s Oasis until its close in 2005.

At the book festival, Yanc will moderate a panel discussion with Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana, winners of an Academy Award for their screenplay of “Brokeback Mountain,” originally adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx. Both have extensive experience writing and adapting print stories for the screen.

Adaptations often fall into two camps: art and pop films. Pop films, such as “The Hunger Games” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” often target youth markets, Yanc said.

“People are more accepting of a film that goes in a different direction (than the book) if it keeps the spirit,” he said. “You want that same feeling, and then you can debate in your mind what they changed.”

Yanc plans to ask McMurtry and Ossana about this preservation of a story’s essence across media. This year, “Brokeback Mountain” premiered as an opera.

“For an author just starting out, focus on what’s in front of you and writing the best darn book you can manage” Norton said. “There are no toys, theme park rides or webisodes without a great story, which only comes from an author staring at a computer, sitting alone, with drops of blood on his forehead. That’s the magic only the writer can write.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.