Monday, July 12, 2010


Among the stress and joy of adapting to the life that grows forward around me, I suddenly feel the need to adapt a book into a screenplay.

Okay, maybe the feeling did not occur so suddenly, but it has suddenly become apparent to me. I think a combination of things has led me to this conclusion. For starters, I've watched Pride and Prejudice, the 2005 version with Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen, twice through in the past week (once with the commentary). I really like how it was filmed. It's full of beautiful one-shot scenes and great music. And, of course, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books.

I've also been reading The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, after having watched the movie. It has surprised me with how much football background the author uses (two whole chapters to start), because the movie seems to target a completely different (more feminine?) audience than the book. I'm not finished with it though, so I can't judge it in it's entirety yet.

Another chunk of my time lately has been spent reading Screenwriters on Screenwriting by Joel Engel. In Engel's conversations with Ted Tally (writer of screeplay adaptations for Silence of the Lambs and All the Pretty Horses), the two talk about why book adaptations can be useful in gaining an audience with film producers.

Tally says:
"Somebody already published this book, so it must have something -- at least, that's what they figure. Even if they haven't read it, they assume there must be something to it; there are at least existing stories and characters. I think the vision of the original writer gets monkeyed with less; therefore, an adaptation is more likely to be made than an original script."

If you are an avid reader, your mind is probably screaming "Why? The book is always better!", which is an honest reaction to many movies. However, I urge to to rethink the way you look at the two. Books and movies are two completely different mediums. Trying to make them look exactly the same is like an artist trying to carve a sculpture using paintbrushes. You have to use different tools to make a movie than you do to write a book.

The simple truth is, adapting a novel is a great skill to hone for a screenwriter. At the least, it's great practice, because it takes some of the pressure off from having to create a story and characters. You just have to figure out how to put them on the screen. I really enjoy coming up with stories "from scratch", but the process of adaptation seems to be a wonderful way to test my technical screenwriting skills.

As of today, I'm halfway through writing a short film (a funny peice currently titled "Strike Me Now"), and I have about five scenes of a feature length written, too (and the rest mapped out in paragraphs and outlines). There are other stories floating around, somewhere between my brain and my computer, that need to be developed more, too. But, now that I've come to the conclusion that I'd like to try my hand at adapting a novel, I need to figure out which book I want to study for a few months.

I'd like something new, geared toward young adults or teens, but not having anything to do with vampires. Actually, a simple but realistic tale of life on Earth would be great. Any suggestions?

The one that I'm thinking of doing is a book by Melody Carlson called Just Another Girl. It's a 224 page young adult novel. I read it several months back, to get a feel for the genre. The official description on is below:

Aster Flynn is stuck. She has to spend all of her "free" time with her younger sister, Lily, who, though fifteen, is mentally handicapped. At age seventeen, Aster should be hanging out with friends, dating boys, and working at a fun job. But her dad's MIA, her mom is always at work, and her older sister Rose is too self-centered to give her any help. It's not that Aster doesn't love Lily--it's just that for once she'd like to be able to be a normal teenager. So when a cute popular guy seems to take an interest in her, Aster hatches a plan. Somehow she has to get her workaholic mom and deadbeat dad to be the parents Lily needs so that Aster can have a life of her own. But can she ever get her parents to start acting like adults? Is this new guy worth the trouble? And, most importantly, will Lily get hurt in the process? With its real-life characters and struggles, Just Another Girl will immediately draw teen girls in. Author Melody Carlson knows how to write to girls just where they are.

What do you think? Should I go for "Just Another Girl"? Or, have you read any other books lately that you think would make a great movie? I'd love to hear some feedback!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A "Learning Problem"

Lately, I've been working on a short film script that I hope will be funny when it's done. Being funny AND telling a good story at the same time is harder than it sounds. (Ever seen "The Informant"? Eeeek.) Again, I used a prompt from Writer Digest's "Promptly" to practice. The task this time is, using 500 words or less: "Write your most memorable report card story. Or, alternately, write a story about a character who has failed an unfailable class."

This entry is slightly autobiographical, by the way. Which may or may not make it more funny to you. Also, I had to shave several words to cut it down to 500. It seems a little choppy because of that - that and because in my head it's more a script than literature. Enjoy!

Chad’s "Learning Problem"

It’s two in the afternoon. Chad Chandler, who had a fairly carb-loaded lunch, is resting quietly in the crook of his arm. His teacher thinks he’s reading along in his history book. The student next to him is laughing at the sight of Chad drooling on his desk.

A loud crackle interrupts the teacher’s monotone reading on the Louisiana Purchase. “Chad Chandler, Please report to the office.”

Chad jerks awake. The sudden movement garners more attention than the incredibly loud and unexpected noise of the classroom speaker. If Chad’s neighbor had been drinking anything, it would have come straight out of his nose.

Everyone is already looking at Chad when he smiles confidently and slams his book shut. The realization that he had been drooling hits him the moment he removes his books from his desk, but he waits until he gets to the hallway before he wipes his chin. He walks nonchalantly, yawning all the way to the office, but the look on Chad’s face changes when he walks into the school counselor’s conference room. His mother is waiting for him.

Chad declares, “I don’t know what this is about. I didn’t do anything. I promise.”

A couple of teachers, the principal, and an unknown woman in a suit enter the room. Everyone says hello, settles into an office chair, and commences shuffling paper according to rank. Chad and his mom have no paper, and the principal has an inch-high stack. The unknown official trumps the paper shuffling completely. She opens a laptop and starts clicking.

The principal takes the lead. “I guess I’ll begin the meeting. Chad, Mrs. Chandler, I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Grace Fontenot. She is the School Psychologist, but we share her with three other middle schools in the district, so we don’t see her a lot around here.”

Mrs. Chandler replies, “It’s nice to meet you.” The look on her face is complete confusion. She’s not sure yet if it will be “nice” to meet her or not.

The principal continues. “Well, we are having this meeting because we need to discuss Chad’s report card. As you know, the last report card of the year indicates whether a student passes or fails a class. We are sorry to say it, but Chad, you have failed eighth grade reading.”

Chad’s mother looks disappointed, but not surprised. She seems a bit relieved, actually.

Mrs. Fontenot chimes in. “You are going to need summer school to catch up, but first we need to do some evaluations to see if there is a learning problem that we can work on for next year.”

“A learning problem?” Chad’s mother jumps up. “Are you kidding me?”

Suddenly, another announcement interrupts the atmosphere around Chad.

“This is Mrs. Butcher, the school newspaper advisor. I’d like the congratulate Chad Chandler. He has won a national writing award and has been invited to Columbia University in New York City to accept it in person. We’re very proud of you Chad.”