Q&A: Vincent Lam discusses remixing 'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures' for television

James Adams, The National Post
June 10, 2009

arlier this week, we told you about the news that Vincent Lam's Giller Prize-winning book of short stories, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, is being adapted into a new TV series for The Movie Network/Movie Central.

We caught up with the author to talk about the process of "remixing" his book into television's Bloodlettting.

Q: When did you hear there was interest in making your book into a series?
A: There was interest in this book in late summer of 2006. At that point, the book had been long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. While the book was on the shortlist, I agreed to option the book to Shaftesbury. Of course, Shaftesbury was very happy when it won that prize, and has been running with it since then.
Q: Did you have any concerns over the process?
A: I think that the best way to think about a book being adapted for the screen, is that the book and the screen version are each like two different people telling the same story. When two people tell the same story, the story doesn't come out exactly the same, and it can actually be quite interesting to see how the story is told both ways.  
I do think that if done with integrity, screen adaptations of books should be an expression of the same "narrative core" as a book, and of course I was concerned about this integrity.
Going from a book to the screen does necessitate many changes – in structure, in tone, in dialogue. I'm fine with that, as long as it serves to tell the story. Working on the series, I was able to propose and help develop new angles and plot lines for the characters. These are new ideas which are not present in the book, which was great. It was like having a chance to revise my own work "one more time". If I were a musician, it would be like working on a remix of my own recordings.
On one occasion I was worried. There was some discussion of one of my characters, Sri, not appearing in the TV series. For me, that would have been a terrible loss to the series, because Sri is a very sympathetic character who adds a crucial idealism and nobility to the cast of physicians.
So, I put forward my concerns, the case for Sri, and what I thought he adds to the series. People listened, and Sri was resuscitated, so to speak. Shaftestbury has always been very good that way. Whenever I've felt that there are elements of the "narrative core" which must be carried through, I've found that this production has been very receptive to my concerns.
I think ultimately, we see the work in much the same way. We're telling the same story, but we're all working on the language to tell that story on the screen.
Q: Have you been involved as a consultant or with Jason Sherman in the script process?
A: Jason and I met quite early in the project, and have worked closely together since then. Jason is a fantastic writer, a Governor General's Award winning playwright, and we've hit if off since the beginning. I've been acting both as a creative consultant and as a medical consultant. So, usually when I give feedback on an outline or script, I code my feedback with a "C" if it's creative feedback, and "M" if it's medical feedback.

Q: Have you seen any preliminary footage?
A: They are going to start filming soon, at which point I?ll be very curious to see footage.

Q: What are some of your favourite Can-Lit adaptations?
A: I think head to head would be Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Ondaatje's The English Patient.

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