Tag Archives: screenwriting

remember my best sellers challenge? et al.

Remember that thing I said? That I was going to pick up my best sellers reading challenge from 2016? I really did enjoy diving into The Horse Whisperer and getting transported back to the 90s while watching the visually beautiful film adaptation. It was one of those books that makes you almost *enjoy* your anger while you’re reading it. So yeah, maybe I’ll make an empty promise to go back to this list again.

I still have my copy of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and his prose is mainly what stopped me from reading the rest of it. His writing is so bad for so many reasons… but hey, I have no excuse not to finish it now. And, in case you can’t tell, I love books with film adaptations. I love seeing changes/differences and understanding why the writers made the changes they made.

I’ve been watching one of the Great Courses on screenwriting with all my downtime and I’m getting a lot from it, except one major point with which I disagreed mid-course. Prof. Angus Fletcher recommends writing an adaptation as a “warm-up” exercise to eventually writing an original story of your own. Having done both, I can say an original script felt FAR simpler than an adaptation. You’re not attempting to meld a story from one medium into another when you’re writing an original piece. Can’t say it wouldn’t be a great challenge though for someone interested.

We’re so quick to criticize books > film as an audience I don’t think we tend to appreciate the MASSIVE challenge screenwriters/directors face in the process. Having recently watched the 2020 Emma., and being about as unimpressed as I thought I would be (not with the visuals – those were super fun), I keep going back to my favorite 2009 BBC adaptation with Romola Garai in the title role.

Honestly, it’s probably THE only adaptation where they get Harriett’s character right…

It’s 4 hours compared to 2 which should be noted, but Sandy Welch does an excellent job with every series for which I have seen her adapt a story for the screen.

Bringing it back, I’ll probably go back to The Da Vinci code and watch the movie just to see what Tom Hanks was so excited about. Although reading the book… I think Dan Brown was imagining more of a Chris Hemsworth type than a Tom Hanks for his protagonist.

We all have dreams, don’t we, Dan Brown?

The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Film

For those who don’t know me, I hate research. Okay, I don’t HATE research, but I’m not a huge fan of it by rigid academic standards where they want you to show your work like in a math problem. I’m far too free of a sprit when it comes to what I read and consider research. “Reasearch-y” type books with stilted academic language drive me crazy. So, when I picked up The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction Into Film by Linda Seger from the shelf of my university library I gave it a mad side eye.

183949I’m not going to act like I know everything there is to know about writing. I don’t. I have a blog I barely update, 1 degree (and coming up on another in “creative writing” – whatever that means) and most of what I write remains either in the slush pile somewhere or between the pages of my journal. What does that mean? I read more and write more and read more and write more. Gotta get better in the meantime. By the “meantime” I mean the space in which I avoid writing my dissertation.

Seger’s book was written in the 1990s so it’s a tad outdated – and almost hilarious with how much Seger talks about a potential The Phantom of the Opera (based on the Lloyd-Webber musical) film adaptation. Oddly enough, most of her suggestions were addressed in the subsequent 2004 adaptation. She talks about Field of Dreams a LOT as an example of an adaptation that made some significant changes, but still was a successful translation to the silver screen. And I’m a firm believer in films still being true to the book and decent translations of the original text even if they veer here and there. Hey, I even have/had a podcast about it! But that’s MIA right now…

What I like most about Seger’s approach though is, she’s been in the trenches, she’s been consulting on scripts herself since 1981 so she’s not just theorizing what does and what does not work. You can kind of tell the authors of these “how-to” books who have never actually done the job themselves. They use “perhaps” and “quite possibly” a lot…

Nah, in my mind, something either does or does not work, and that’s the approach Seger takes. The first 4 chapters alone detail why specific genres defy the transition to the screen: Why Literature Resist Film, Why Theatre [sic] Resists Film, Why the True-life Story Resists Film etc. Brilliant. Start with what doesn’t work. ANNNND the whole book runs just over 200 pages. No need to wax on.

I think my other major take aways are her discussions on style and tone and the need to clearly establish these in the beginning of a film/screenplay. Film is a different medium than a novel, you don’t have as much time to rest on your laurels in exposition (I’m looking at you Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). And a change in style or tone mid-film can alienate an audience and throw them off. She didn’t use this as an example, but Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, for one. The book is set firmly in the realm of fantasy until midway through the main character, The Wizard Howl, steps into the real world. In Hayao Miyazaki’s film of the same name the entire story remains firmly rooted in fantasy and it’s wonderful. A shift in the middle would have made it feel like a different film entirely.

What I’m trying to say is, if you want a good, no-nonsense approach to adapting something into a screenplay, this is a good read OR if you’ve ever watched an adaptation of one of your favorite things and thought, “This… doesn’t work…” and can’t figure out why, Seger probably has the answer.