You'd think writing a feature script from a novel would be fairly straightforward...
Yeah but nah.
If, like me, you've never written a feature script, only novels, then, like me, you might be naive about how different they are. I assumed I'd take the 'good bits' and critical moments from my edited MS - what I thought was a straightforward coming-of-age-in-a-time-of-conflict story - throw them into a scene breakdown (a paragraph thumb-nailing what happens in each scene), and then write the dialogue script.
Nope. Typewriter says 'no'.
Turns out, even though I'm a television scriptwriter, I apparently learned nothing by watching hundreds of films and am largely clueless about building a feature script. It's the difference between living with bookshelves all one's life, then actually constructing one. It requires an understanding of new tools, and and an attention to detail that a lazy novelist like myself finds difficult.
All the subtext and nuance in your deathless prose means zero when you have to communicate ideas and emotions visually - often in an entirely obvious way. You need to write the scene in which the viewer actually hears a character say 'I love you', and sees the kiss.
And so it was that my mentor, the estimable, Robert Watson, received my first draft of a scene breakdown for the opening sequence, with a dismay he graciously hid behind some patient advice to try writing the same sequence as script. This I did...
...only to achieve the same response. I'd completely failed to introduce the characters in a way that provided viewers with understanding, empathy and insight. Waaat...?
In a lengthy phone call, Robert guided me toward understanding the difference between writing a descriptive passage and creating visual action that tells story. It seems so obvious, I know, but the subtleties of prose have to be tossed, the clever novelist expansion of plot and character has to be kicked aside, the narrative has to be pulled apart and sorted to find workable components - or write new story to make all the bits work as story. I need to write new material to show stuff happening, and engage viewers much earlier. My novel on which this is based, is to be viewed as a dumpster of building materials, some of which are junk and some of which are useful.
I'll be honest - it's hard.
Three months to write a feature script in between my working days?
9/27/2021 11:20:34 am
Great stuff Ben. Look forward to reading more.
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