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12 Famous Novelists Who Became Hollywood Screenwriters

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Just because an author can write a best-selling and critically acclaimed novel doesn’t necessarily mean he can make the transition to screenwriter. Some novelists who take the leap find success in Hollywood, while others are defeated. Here are 12 popular novelists who tried their hands at screenwriting—and how their attempts fared.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald / Screenplay: Three Comrades (1938)

In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood, just one in a mass exodus of novelists trying out a new career in screenwriting. He ended up with just one screenplay credit to his name, for the 1938 film Three Comrades (and even then, the script was heavily rewritten by Joseph L. Mankiewicz). But the Great Gatsby author produced a large number of treatments, re-writes, and screenplay polishes in the Hollywood movie studio system. Fitzgerald’s work was either not used or recognized; most producers and directors considered his work not suitable for the big screen.

Most notably, Fitzgerald worked on the screenplay for Gone With the Wind, but ultimately, the pages he turned in to the film’s producer David O. Selznick were not used or filmed. It was reported that he was instructed to only use the text that was featured in Margaret Mitchell’s novel and not stray away from the original source material. 

2. William Faulkner / Screenplay: The Big Sleep (1946)

In 1932, critically acclaimed author William Faulkner signed a screenwriting contract with MGM Studios that would give him financial stability after his breakthrough novels The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Sanctuary failed to gain commercial success with a mass audience. While he worked on more than 50 films during his 22-year career as a screenwriter for 20th Century Fox and then Warner Bros, Faulkner’s work with Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman on Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep is his most notable. The big-screen adaptation of fellow novelist Raymond Chandler’s book of the same name, the movie is a seminal and important work in the film noir genre.    

3. John Steinbeck / Screenplay: Lifeboat (1944)

Regarded as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, John Steinbeck took up a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter after he returned from World War II. He wrote the film Lifeboat for director Alfred Hitchcock in 1943. Despite being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Steinbeck demanded his name taken off of Lifeboat because he felt that Alfred Hitchcock introduced an underlying racist quality into the film and he therefore didn't want to be associated with the project.

4. Dave Eggers / Screenplay: Away We Go (2009), Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

New Sincerity movement author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers started a new career as a Hollywood screenwriter in the late 2000s. He co-wrote the Sam Mendes-directed film Away We Go with his wife Vendela Vida, and penned the film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are with director Spike Jonze, both in 2009. As he wrote and edited highly acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction, Eggers also continued to write screenplays for small independent films, including Promised Land with co-screenwriters Matt Damon and John Krasinski for director Gus Van Sant.

5. Nick Hornby / Screenplay: An Education (2009)

British novelist and essayist Nick Hornby is mostly known for his heart-felt books High Fidelity, About A Boy, and How to be Good. In 2009, Hornby took a stab at screenwriting, penning the British coming-of-age film An Education for director Lone Scherfig. The movie stayed close to its source material, a memoir from journalist Lynn Barber about her early life attending Lady Eleanor Holles School. An Education garnered three Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Carey Mulligan, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Nick Hornby.

Currently, Hornby is working on adapting Cheryl Strayed‘s bestselling memoir Wild for Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée.

6. Cormac McCarthy / Screenplay: The Counselor (2013)

Cormac McCarthy's novels were the basis for some of the best films produced in the last 10 years, including All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and the Academy Award-winning film No Country for Old Men for directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Earlier this year, the author made his first attempt at an original screenplay, The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott. Although the film was mostly critically panned, The Counselor saw moderate box office success with $60 million in worldwide earnings.

7. Kazuo Ishiguro / Screenplay: The Saddest Music in the World (2003), The White Countess (2005)

Although two of his novels—The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go—were adapted for the big screen, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro didn’t have a hand in writing their screenplays. He did, however, write the original story for Guy Maddin’s masterpiece The Saddest Music in the World in 2003 and the James Ivory film The White Countess in 2005. Though Ishiguro found moderate success as a screenwriter, the 59-year-old author is better known as a well-regarded novelist.

8. Joan Didion / Screenplay: Up Close & Personal (1996), A Star Is Born (1976)

Novelist and literary journalist Joan Didion started a career in screenwriting when she moved to Hollywood with her husband, screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, in the early '70s.  Didion and Dunne worked extensively on the rock musical version of A Star Is Born, starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, in the '70s, and also adapted journalist Jessica Savitch’s memoir Up Close & Personal in 1996. In an interview with The Paris Review in 2004, Didion said of screenwriting, "It's not writing. You're making notes for the director—for the director more than the actors." 

9. Truman Capote / Screenplay: Beat The Devil (1953)

In 1953, novelist and playwright Truman Capote teamed up with director John Huston to make a loose film adaptation of Claud Cockburn’s novel Beat the Devil. While John Huston wanted the film to be a parody of The Maltese Falcon, a film that Huston directed a decade earlier in 1941, Beat the Devil was met with a poor critical reception upon its release. However, the late Roger Ebert praised the film, as he put it on his “Great Movies” list. Ebert also recognized the film in the year 2000 as the first “camp” film.

10. Michael Chabon / Screenplay: Spider-Man 2 (2004), John Carter (2012)

Michael Chabon took the plunge into Hollywood screenwriting after film producer Scott Rudin bought the film rights to the Pulitzer Prize and Hugo Award winning novels Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union in the early 2000s. While he was only a consultant on the film adaptations of his novels, Chabon was an author on an early version of Spider-Man 2 for director Sam Raimi in 2004 and Disney’s John Carter in 2009. He once described his attitude toward Hollywood filmmaking as "pre-emptive cynicism.”

11. Raymond Chandler / Screenplay: Double Indemnity (1944)

Crime author and pulp fiction writer Raymond Chandler made the transition from novelist to screenwriter when the critical and commercial success of film adaptations based on his work redefined the film noir genre. Although Chandler’s work on the films The Blue Dahlia and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train are of note, his collaboration with Billy Wilder on the film noir Double Indemnity earned the pair an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing in 1944.    

12. Ray Bradbury / Screenplay: Moby Dick (1956)

In 1953, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury joined forces with director John Huston to adapt Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick for the big screen. Famously, Bradbury and Huston did not get along during the film’s production due to Huston’s attitude towards the science fiction pioneer’s work. In fact, Bradbury was so traumatized from how he was treated while making Moby Dick that he wrote two fictionalized accounts of the contentious encounters in the novel Green Shadows, White Whale and the short story “Banshee.” Moby Dick would later go over budget and fail to gain an audience when it was released.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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