Sunday, October 7, 2007

Uncharted Territory

It's weird, but I may be writing a screenplay. How did this come about? Funny you should ask. It's a long story, but it involves a bunch of people, some guy I've never met, a $35,000 camera and a new movie studio. The thing is, though, that I've never written one before and I'm not entirely sure how it's going to play out. Apparently there is screenplay software that can make it easier to get it all down. Normally I hate stuff like that, like novel-writing software that just takes a bite out of creativity. But a screenplay has to be in such a specific format, one that I'm unfamiliar with, that I'm likely going to use it.

My first strategy, however, is to study the way a written piece differs from the same item on film, since it's based on a work that I wrote years ago. That sounds pretty challenging, but basically I'm watching movies based on books that I've read and noting the differences. There are obviously many things left out of a book once it gets translated into film, but its amazing how pretty large plot points can be taken out, even when they are deeply intertwined with the main plot. Other things I've noticed:

  • Visual shorthand. There are numerous ways to make a point visually that time won't permit a deeper exploration of. One example is the latest movie version of Pride and Prejudice. In the book, the family wasn't poor, per se, they just had many components of the middle-class lifestyle that wasn't quite fashionable at the time. You can't very well annotate a film, nor can you spend 10 minutes describing how their lifestyle differed from those they were trying to impress. The visual shorthand was chickens. There were chickens and a few other farm animals running around, signifying that the family wasn't considered wealthy.
  • Tertiary characters. A book may have room for them, but a movie usually does not. I may keep a few tertiary characters in the background in non-speaking roles, or even give them a few lines, but there isn't room for a lot of background information on them. J.K. Rowling had a tremendous amount of background information on several of her bit players. She kept trying to find a place for them but there wasn't room for it even in her huge novels and they were reduced to extras in the films. To keep key plot points, these guys have to go.
  • Exaggerated settings. Books have a tremendous amount of room to let the settling subtly interplay with the plot and characters. Small aspects of the setting can be introduced throughout the book, making the tone of the setting and the tone of the plot become increasingly intertwined. In a movie, the setting is actually the first thing you see, and it's rarely possible to introduce aspects of that setting later in the work. The setting has to get attention right away and has to transmit a lot of the information. One of the guys has been going on and on (and on) about set design, and I'm probably going to have to listen to it eventually.
  • Movie people will want to expand the scope and add in a bunch of crap for different demographics. That's pretty noticeable in movies now that I'm looking for it. I've already been given a speech about adding in elements for different demographics, which is fine.
Before the thing gets written, I have to do a "treatment," which is just a long synopsis. If they like it, I get the go ahead for the long format. It's a little scary, but I've had scarier projects. I can do this. I hope.

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