March 1, 2015 at 3:35AM

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Adapting novel or play to the screen

What are the techniques to adapt novel or play to TV/Film?

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You need to see if the novel or play is out of copyright (in public domain) or secure the rights from the property owners.

March 1, 2015 at 6:40PM

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Todd Green
Writer, Director
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What if you have no intention of producing or even distributing the screenplay? I want to adapt one of my favorite novels as a sort of writing exercise but have no plans on showing it to anyone. I just want to get better at formatting and screenwriting in general. Any tips for rewriting the work for the screen?

March 2, 2015 at 5:58PM, Edited March 2, 5:58PM

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I'm not a copyright lawyer, but plenty of people write fan fiction and make fan films. Have you've seen that recent fan film made for the Power Rangers? They didn't accept any money for it, I believe. That was even just to make it, no distribution or anything like that. Ultimately, you can't profit from making the movie or writing the script, etc - but it's how the copyright owner defines "profit" though that can always cause trouble. As far as just writing something for yourself - my first script attempt was Spaceballs 2 lol but after about 12 pages I realized I didn't like sequels anyway.

As far as rewriting for the screen, just look at some great novels/adaptations. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shining, even Jurassic Park. You need to outline the whole novel with detailed notes, find the core tension and themes in the novel, the cinematic impulses of the characters, the lines of dialogue that every fan of the novel would melt over, and then boil it all down to an abbreviated version of the novel that runs 100 pages or so. It's difficult, especially cutting stuff that would affect the movie.

Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining though. And look how difficult The Great Gatsby has been. Some novels don't translate well. Some do.

Best of luck, Matt. I think adapting as a writing exercise could be very cool.

March 3, 2015 at 10:08AM

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Todd Green
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http://stephenking.com/dollarbabies.php
If you're looking for awesome source material to draw from that's also easy to secure the rights to, look no further.

March 3, 2015 at 1:26PM

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Avery Maycock
Writer, Director
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Personally I'm not sure of the value in adapting existing novels into films. Writing a script based on an existing source strikes me as more difficult than coming up with something from scratch, as the moment you start changing characters or cutting down the plot you'll start unbalancing the overall story, so you're already building your house on sand.

If you have a particular book in mind that you absolutely love and know inside out then go for it. Look for ways to simplify the story, cut the main characters down to just a handful, identify the main theme(s) and then cut absolutely everything that doesn't relate to that theme. Look at something like LA CONFIDENTIAL - the film is very different from the novel, and had to be. But what Brian Helgeland did was remain true to the heart of the book, concentrated on the main three characters and then build up from there.

But if the aim of this is just having a story to practice scriptwriting then I'd consider short stories or news items and then bulk them up. That way you're in control of the story, adding stuff you want rather than having to cut back the source material. The film JINDABYNE is based on a Raymond Carver story that's about 8 pages long. But by taking the very small idea and adding to it, the writer was able to explore themes of racism that weren't in the original, explore their own characters, take the narrative where they wanted to.

Hope that helps!

March 3, 2015 at 3:25PM

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Jon Mills
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