Archive for Adapting a novel

Bob Gale

One more tip from Bob Gale (“Back to the Future”) from his interview in the March 2011 issue of the UK’s Writing Magazine:

“…It is very difficult to sell original material to producers or studios because the financial risk they take is so enormous. These guys are much more likely to take on something that someone else has already shown some belief in, so if you can get a book published or a community play staged or a short story or a radio play out there or any other exposure through any other medium to give it some credibility, the movie business is far more likely to pick up on it from that point than it is from cold.”

I know that’s kind of a bitter pill if your passion is for screenwriting, but I agree with him. When I started out, there was a brisk trade in spec scripts. Studios actively looked for gold in the slush pile. These days the studios are focusing on the big franchises (superheroes, vampires and others that can spawn sequels) and getting a spec script considered has become challenging.

This is not to say that it’s easy to get a book accepted by a publisher or a radio drama sold to the BBC. However, you do have more options via the internet. You can self-publish and if you’re willing to promote like crazy there’s a reasonable chance that people will take notice. You can produce a short film, or a radio play yourself. You can link up with a drama group (pick carefully–a bad production will kill your project).

All of these add up to a lot of extra work, but that’s the name of the game.

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Keith Moon

Parodies of children’s books seem to the flavor of the month—first “Go the f**k to Sleep!” and now it’s “Good Night, Moon,” which says good night permanently to the dead Keith Moon, drummer for “The Who.” interviewed the two writers, Bruce Worden and Clare Cross. Considering the nature of their book, I was surprised to read that, “The authors explained that their children had a large influence on the book. Worden said he is usually motivated to produce something when he sees gaps in the “kinds of media that are out there” for his son’s age group and feels that he should fill in these gaps. On the other hand, Cross explained that she writes to leave something for her children. “I like to think of my work as a part of me that my kids can hang onto after I’m gone,” she said.”

I wonder whether this will lead to a feature film that is a parody of a kids’ movie. There have been lots of parodies of horror films and some other genres but to my knowledge there’s not been one of children’s films (although some elements of films like “Tangled” might qualify). Failing that, it could be a great genre for a short.

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Do-it-yourself film writing school

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Do you need to go to film school to learn how to write good screenplays? I don’t think so. You can teach yourself a lot by watching films that work, as well as films that don’t work. Usually it’s best to watch a film just to enjoy it the first time around, and then again to analyze it.

Sometimes watching a film three, four or five times can be useful. Director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”-nominated for best foreign film) says he watched “Apocalypse Now” fifty times. He compared the released version to the director’s cut–and came to the conclusion that most of the time directors’ cuts are a mistake. That’s another useful strategy: compare versions.

Here are some basic things to consider in your analysis:

  • How does the film pull in the viewer in the opening scenes?
  • How soon do we understand whose story it is? How is that conveyed?
  • How soon do we know the basic dramatic conflict? How do we know it?
  • How soon do we meet the opposing forces? What makes them more complex than just plot devices?
  • What do we feel about the protagonist at the start? In the middle? At the end? If this changes, how does the script achieve that?
  • What revives or renews our interest in the middle of the story?
  • What emotions does the film arouse and how?
  • If there’s a strong subplot, how does it relate to the main plot?
  • When the film is over, what are we still thinking about? How does it create that lingering interest?

If you watch a film that fails to achieve these things, why? What could have been done better? How? When you’ve done that for fifty films, congratulations! You’ve probably learned more than you would have in a year of formal screenwriting lessons.

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