Archive for the ‘Adaptation’ Category

Why must we have board-game movies?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

questionmarkSo, I understand the merits of re-making movies from the past, or making old TV shows into features. I also get it from a studios perspective inasmuch as it’s a known property that has a fanbase, or has made a profit in the past.

But when I see studios making adaptations of toys like “Magic 8 Ball” or “Battleship” or “Stretch Armstrong” it really bums out the aspiring writer in me. It makes me think Hollywood doesn’t want my original idea. Can you talk me down from the ledge?

– Logan
Los Angeles

Logan, I’m right there on the ledge with you. But when you look down past your shoelaces, you realize that it’s not rocks and crashing waves below. The ledge we’re standing on is about eight feet high. At the bottom is concrete.

Jump wrong, and it’s going to be painful. Jump carefully, and you’ll be fine.

Yes, I rolled my eyes when the “Battleship” movie was announced. But I’ll happily see a modern naval war movie, and if it has to be named after a Milton Bradley property, so be it. A hidden upside to writing a movie based on just a title is that the screenwriter has huge latitude, unlike a book or TV adaptation.

Pendulums swing. It was dumb to make a movie out of a theme park ride before Pirates of the Caribbean. This trend towards making movies out of properties with no inherent narrative will eventually end. (A big success from an original like Inception might help.) In the meantime, let’s root for the best versions of these projects.

Good movies are a blessing, regardless of the source.

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Based on your own novel

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

questionmarkWhen writing a screenplay (under contract) that is based on a book that you also wrote, do you still include the “Based on the book by…” line on the title page? Or would that be seen as pompous overkill?

In the same vein, if you have a PhD is there any reason to put it at the end of your name on the title page? (My personal opinion is that only a douchebag would do either of those things, but then again I’m not yet qualified to make that call.)

– Daniel
Portland, OR

Yes. “Based on his novel,” might be another way to handle it. It’s not boasting, really. It helps explains the rights situation, and might clear up confusion down the road.

No. A PhD means nothing in screenwriting, and to include it would only invite mockery..

Should I write a novel or a script?

Friday, May 18th, 2007

questionmarkAfter dreaming of publishing my own stories, either in screenplay form or novel, I finally landed a job writing for a local alternative music publication. With a year of deadlines, word counts, and earning endless scorn from my editor (who I am convinced possess more red ink than blood) under my belt, I now feel comfortable beginning the process of flushing out these stories in a structured form.

My question is: Which format should I pursue?

Through your site, I now understand the plus and minuses of writing a screenplay. And, I take heed into delving into the business end of screenwriting. (I enjoy living in Florida and have little desire to pack up for L.A., at this time.) Also, some of my ideas just seem easier to tackle for a first time screenplay than a first time novel, such as my quirky rom-com outline rather than my existential mind bending sci-fi epic. Finally–not to belittle the screenwriting process–there are some stories that I feel more comfortable sharing credit on the final product compared to other stories I feel so strongly about that I want to collaborate with no one.

I know your personal answer would always be a screenplay. But, have you ever read a friend’s or fellow professional’s script and advised her material is best suited as a book? For what reasons? And, what format would be best for a (semi) unpublished writer? (For some reason, the Premiere magazine feature on Rex Pickett and his struggles to sell “Sideways” as a screenplay keep popping in my head.)

I searched your archives and could not find a similar question to answer my query. If I missed it, I apologize.

– Mike Rabinowitz
Head Writer
REAX Music Magazine

Assuming you enjoy novels, you should probably write one, rather than writing a screenplay.

I know that seems like heretical advice for a blog about screenwriting, but I think the numbers support me. In the U.S., more than 3,500 novels are published each year. Compare that to film: For 2006, there were 607 movies released theatrically.

If you’re looking to put your story out into the world, paper beats film, hands down.1

Beyond the hard numbers, consider the relative levels of authorship. Novels are a final art form — you write a book and that’s it. It sits on a shelf with your name on it. Screenplays, on the other hand, are one link in a long process leading to the final art form: a movie. While it’s your name on the script, the movie is the result of a huge collaboration. Right or wrong, the director will get most of the credit for what makes it on screen.2

So why would anyone write a screenplay?

Based on questions my readers send in, a couple of scenarios come up frequently:

  1. To get rich. Often, when you read about a new script, the story has a dollar figure attached: “Joe Smoalan sold his spec MONKEY BUTLER to New Line for high six-figures.” One you figure out that “high six figures” means more than $500,000, you realize that there’s a lot of money to be made in screenwriting. Most of the authors you find on the shelves of Barnes and Noble aren’t making that much money.

  2. “I could never write a novel, but…” Because screenplays have fewer words than a novel, they should be easier to write, right? Besides, everyone’s seen bad movies. It can’t be hard to write one better than The Grudge 2.

  3. “I could never direct a movie, but screenwriting is just words.” So much of moviemaking is esoteric and intimidating. Just watching the end credits scroll by is bewildering to anyone outside the industry — who rated the men to pick the Best Boy? But it’s not hard to imagine writing a script. It’s just words and margins.

It will surprise no one when I point out that these are three terrible reasons to write a screenplay.

We’ll start with the money. I get frustrated when journalists treats screenwriting as a kind of lottery, emphasizing the payday rather than the work. Most scripts never sell, and most scripts that do sell, sell for a tiny amount. The reason why you read stories about million dollar sales is because they are pretty infrequent.

In terms of the “I could never write a novel” excuse, yes, some writers seem better suited to one kind of writing than another, just as most painters aren’t sculptors. But creating characters, shaping storylines, and stringing together words in a pleasing fashion are prerequisite skills for both novels and screenplays. I would lose respect for any working screenwriter who professed an inability to write traditional fiction.

It’s true that the learning curve for screenwriting isn’t as steep as it would be for, say, directing. And it costs a helluva lot less. But a screenwriter quickly finds that maintaining a willful ignorance about the moviemaking process is impossible. In order to get your film made, you’re going to have to learn about the physical and political ordeal of production. You can do that in school or on the set, but you’ll soon know your grips from your gaffers.

So back to the original question: Should you write a screenplay or a novel?

The answer is a question: What does your idea want to be?

Do you envision an intimate psychological profile of a half-Korean woman trapped in a mediocre marriage who imagines an affair with her co-worker? That’s probably a novel. The story is largely internal; the action is minor; the stakes are low. In the novel version of your story, you can spend a paragraph detailing her decision to buy percale sheets, describing the different textures and comparing them to the geography of her homeland. In the movie version, she buys sheets, and maybe has a conversation during the process.

Are you looking to write a comedy about a deposed crime boss who goes into witness relocation at a fat camp? That’s a movie. Here’s a test: Can you envision a one-sheet poster? It’s a movie. Could it star Martin Lawrence? It’s a movie. Could you describe it as “something meets something?” (e.g. SOPRANOS meets SISTER ACT) It’s a movie.

What happens if you have a novel-worthy idea, but you’d rather write a screenplay? Tough. Don’t make the mistake of trying to force it into screenplay shape. Yes, some books can be adapted into great movies, but it’s because they inherently had enough cinematic content to make the leap. If yours doesn’t, you’ll only frustrate yourself and your readers.

  1. Yes, I’m omitting films not shown theatrically. That’s a significant number. I’m also leaving out television, which is kissing cousins with screenwriting. On the book side, however, I’m omitting paperbacks and genre fiction. The total number of books published in the U.S. is 50,000 — and they’re not all gardening manuals.
  2. Interestingly, the screenwriter may get a lot of the blame. In my experience, the screenwriter’s name is approximately three times as likely to show up in a negative review than a positive one. That’s a master’s thesis waiting to be written.

Finding out if a book has been optioned

Monday, April 30th, 2007

questionmarkWhat is the best way to find out if a novel has been optioned for a film/screenplay?

–Jon Hanemann
Union City, NJ

I could swear I’ve answered this question before. But in 30 seconds of searching, I couldn’t find my previous answer, so it’s unlikely you could. And it’s so simple, I might as well answer it again.

  1. Open the book to the publishing/information page.
  2. Note the publisher.
  3. Call 212.555.1212. This is New York City information.
  4. Ask for the phone number for that publisher.
  5. Call that number.
  6. Ask for “subrights, please.”
  7. You’ll likely get a voicemail telling you to fax your request. Follow their instructions.
  8. In your faxed letter — or in the event you connect with a live person — explain that you’re trying to track down film and television rights to THIS GREAT NOVEL by This Author.

You may need to follow up a week or two later, but you’ll eventually get contact information for the author, her agent or attorney. You then write to them to ask.

What if it’s not a New York publisher, or not a US publisher, or some other special case? You can almost always find someone who knows something. Eventually, you need to get through to the author or her representatives. They’re the only people who will really know the status.