Monday, December 20, 2010

A Romantic Take on a Memorable Book

Today, we have another question and answer:

Q: What is your personal take on the book?

A: GREEN DARKNESS is one of my favorite novels and Anya Seton one of my fave authors. I first read the book a lifetime ago. Several months ago I was in the mood for a good historical movie. I suddenly wondered whether GREEN DARKNESS had ever been filmed and found that it had not. Spurred by nostalgic recollection, I contacted the publisher and our saga began. Remind me not to do that again! LOL

Re-reading a favorite book is like visiting the house you lived in as a small child! Memory can play funny tricks. The story has flaws. I remembered the climax as profoundly powerful. As I read it recently, savoring the delicious anticipation of the outcome, I was once again enthralled, and pulled into the Tudor era. But the climax—this time—was a real letdown.

In the novel, the outcome is stated in the introduction. As you read, the dread and curiosity increases. I describe it not as a mystery, but more of a “how-done-it”-- more Columbo than Sherlock.

In hindsight, I believe that in the intervening years we have seen numerous stories that use this plot twist, so we’ve become inured to the shock. Marla, on first reading, felt the same. By this time, we had already committed ourselves to the option and loved the book enough to keep going. We contented ourselves with the fact that the book had been a bestseller –for 6 months and recently re-released. One does not find bestsellers available for option every day, so we determined to forge ahead and “improve” the climax!

This is the best part of being a writer. We get to play with and hopefully improve a story!

Personally, I still love this book, climax notwithstanding. I think it’s special. We don’t have the ability to travel in time, but this book takes us right into the Tudor era. You can hear the cadence of the voices and almost smell the air. The characters truly live in the book and in the hearts and souls of its readers. Our goal is to extend that feeling to a movie audience.

Can you tell yet that this is a passionate journey for me? I hope that for every fan of the book it will be a reincarnation in a new media.

Have you ever thought about how you'd adapt a favorite novel?
Angela

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can Adaptation Be Completely Faithful To Character?

We are always more than happy to answer questions. One reader asked:

Q: When you write the characters, are you being faithful to the book?

A: Great question! Sometimes adaptations bear little resemblance to the original. Since GREEN DARKNESS is full of historical detail that is background information, which will have to be edited. We’re trying to be faithful to the core of the novel – especially the part of the book that deals with the past.

The “flavor” of the novel is very much dependant on Celia, the female character in the past. She is already a well-rounded and believable character, so we’ve pretty much left her alone. She is perfect for her time period.

On the other hand, her love interest, in the past, suffers from a one-dimensional portrayal. We’re beefing him up and fleshing him out (real beef-cake LOL-- he is portrayed as a hunk in the novel!).  Since he’s a monk and the religious turmoil of the times is a crucial aspect of the plot, he’s getting a larger, more pivotal role.

We’ve decided to bring the story right into the present because the 'present-day' in the novel is 1968 and just flipping the characters into modern day doesn’t work.  We have some updating to do to give our present-day characters more modern sensibilities. They were too stereo-typical, too clich├ęd for today’s sophisticated audiences.

Also, because of the reincarnation aspect, we want to make sure the present day characteristics reflect their past in some way--either as an enhancement or a complete opposite of a  past-life character trait.

We’ve had to combine several characters and eliminated one from the past altogether. No spoilers here! :)

I hope that answers your question!

We’ll be dealing with more questions in the next few blogs. Is there anything about the process that intrigues you? If so, let your fingers do the asking…

Angela

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Baby Steps --Pt. 2--The Real Work Begins

In Part 1, we covered the discussions we had concerning an approach to adapting GREEN DARKNESS. The novel is long and dense with outstanding historical research, but we learned that two previous attempts had been made to adapt this material. Third time’s the charm? We knew we had to get it right!

We also came to an agreement about who our protagonist would be in the present (not exactly straightforward, because there were at least three ways to go ) and started making a point-form listing of the beats we wanted to include. That became version 1.

As each of us approved/agreed/disagreed with the other's additions or changes, we entered our new additions in a contrasting color and changed approved points to black to eliminate any confusion.

The versions flew back and forth by email - we don't live in the same city - topped by several calls. By version 10 we both felt like we had a pretty solid base. Then it was time to let the outline settle for a few days. Never rush an outline - it needs to be sturdy and complete before you begin to flesh out the structure. Just like ensuring the framework for a house isn't missing a beam before you roof it or letting a driveway settle before you pave it—screenplays are built on solid structures.

True to form, Angela's strength, mentioned earlier, created several plot points that worked to enhance motivations and explain what drove one of our characters to the desperate actions we have planned for them. Thus versions 11 and 12 of the outline came into being.

Is the outline completed? At version 14, we're definitely closer than before.

What do you think step 5 is on our checklist?

Please keep following our process -
Marla



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baby Steps -- Part 1 -- Making a List

Read to the cadence of the woodchuck tongue twister: “How many outlines could two screenwriters write if two screenwriters could outline right?”

Alrightie then, we have accomplished step one on our path to adapting the novel GREEN DARKNESS - getting the option. We can mark that off our checklist.

Wait! We don't have a checklist. Let's start one -


Step 1 - option the rights. Check.
Step 2 - breathe as the realization of the accomplishment hits home. Check.
Step 3 - let the screenwriting and literary worlds online know about step 1. Check (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this blog).
Step 4 - outline our take on the novel.
We can't put a solid 'check' after that step. Not yet.

From the start, we agreed to modernize the setting for the novel's “present” happenings. That and keeping the time spent in the Tudor time period to a minimum, yet conveying all the passion of the star-crossed lovers would be a primary concern. This was just one way we wanted to eliminate any reasons a producer might come up with to say 'no' to considering our script adaptation. Both of us have been involved in screenwriting for a long enough to learn that producers can create roadblocks on a project to make it easier for them to 'pass' on the work.

We have also taken comprehensive courses online from ScreenwritingU and studied Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT books. So... we both speak the same language when it comes to outlining. However, our brains work in different, but complementary ways: I tend to be more logical, more detail-oriented; Angela adds the emotion and mood essential to the tone of this material.

End of pt 1--more to come--
Marla


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Kingbird Principle (Or How To Let Your Subconscious Do Some Work)


I’ve heard it called other names, but since I invented it, and can't remember the other names, my title reigns.

Basically, the Kingbird Principle relates to the fact that once you start to focus on something, it’s everywhere. I used to be an avid bird watcher, and I had spotted all the larger birds that inhabit our area of Ontario, but I had never seen a Kingbird -- until the day I specifically started looking for them. To my amazement, I saw three the first day! The area is full of them -- hence the Kingbird Principle.

I can hear you asking: "How can this relate to a blog about screenwriting?" Believe me it does! Once we started working on the outline of GREEN DARKNESS, it began to flow. Suddenly so much of what we saw and heard related to what we are working on.

For example: an episode of a British mystery series mentions the Tudor era and causes a rethink of an aspect of the story; a documentary about the Secret Service men who were protecting JFK the day of the assassination yields dramatic dialogue possibilities to strengthen the romance -- from Jacqueline Kennedy of all people; a conversation about flowers results in a stronger opportunity for the antagonist at the climax -- and on it goes.

Since I discovered the Kingbird Principle, I've had numerous examples of its truth. It’s astounding what you find when you’re not even looking. Once you set your focus and commit to an idea, the Universe steps in to help you on your way! You may call it serendipity, or God, but whatever it is, it's real. Isn’t the sub-conscious wonderful--and a pain in the a** at times too?

Can you see what’s right in front of you this very minute? Are you...sure? 'Kingbirds' are everywhere~~
Angela

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting Historical

We were jubilant when we obtained the rights to GREEN DARKNESS. Since it had been on the NY Times Bestseller List for 6 months, it was sure to have a large fan base. That was back in 1972, a long time ago -- but --  it had also been reprinted more recently.
Once we'd signed on the dotted line, we realized the full horror of what we’d undertaken. GREEN DARKNESS is a period piece. Everyone “in the know” will tell you that period pieces don’t sell, despite the fact that every year period films are nominated for Academy Awards.  In fact, three-quarters of GREEN DARKNESS takes place in the past. The past is what gives it its unique flavor and texture. Fans of the book always remark on how well it evokes the Tudor era and draws you right in. Recreating the past means $$$. Big budgets go hand-in-hand with big name talent.

After some conflab, we decided that our first hurdle would be to minimize the use of the past without compromising the story. Since the “present” of the book is 1968, that’s already the near distant past and costs money to recreate, so we’re modernizing the “present”. We’re going to try to ensure that it carries the flavor of the original. But in 42 years a lot has changed.

Really, the book could even become a mini-series, along the lines of THE TUDORS, since it flashes back to the era immediately after King Henry VIII's death and deals with the turbulent years of his succession. Religious upheaval, death and destruction, witchcraft, stake burnings are all part of this story--what fun!! It's a screenwriter's dream! But a mini-series is not what conventional wisdom recommends for two relative unknown writers. We’ll stick with a feature-length script -- at least for now…

As we mentioned in our past blog, screenplays average about 20,000 words. I’m guessing that GREEN DARKNESS is close to double the average 250,000 word count for a novel. All we have to do is condense 591 novel pages into 110 – 120 (max) screenplay pages. If you’re familiar with scripts you will quickly realize the extent of this challenge.

Have you read the book? Do you have a favorite part that you’d hate to see left out?

Stay tuned~~the plot thickens~~
Angela

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Go The Adaptation Route?

I had a conversation with my sister yesterday- - she had a number of questions about this whole adaptation route that Angela and I are undertaking. Perhaps you are wondering the same things...

Novelists are free to use as many words as they want or need. The average novel is 250,000 words. The author of a novel can describe people, places, and events in detail that goes on for pages, allowing the reader to revel in the flowery phrases and grow to feel like they're actually there. Novelists should still show more than tell, but can indulge somewhat more in telling the reader what they want them to experience. Dialogue can be sparser and the plot's progression as slow as a melting glacier with subplots aplenty. That's how some novels end up being over 600 pages.

The difference between a screenplay and a novel is about 230,000 words!

Screenwriters don't have the same luxury. We only have 110 pages to paint a world and draw the viewing audience in, to cheer for our hero/heroine and boo the bad guys. We have to show not tell - show the plot's progress, show the personality of our characters and convey inner thoughts in increasingly unique ways.

In adapting a novel to the silver screen, our main job is to find the heart of the story, the deepest core. To do that, we may have to make decisions that might infuriate fans of the story's earlier form - the original novel. But that is what adaptation is all about -- bringing our vision of the novel to a wider audience in the form of a feature film.

Film producers have been remaking old TV series, even old movies for a long time now. They like nothing better than to adapt a comic book with a huge fan base into either a live-action film or an animated movie.

We decided producers couldn't be aware of every bestselling novel, so we took the proverbial bull by the horns and optioned the rights to adapt GREEN DARKNESS into a screenplay. When it comes time to market it to producers, and they read our script, we want them to be asking themselves how they possibly missed snatching up this great story.

We thought outside the box...and we were very lucky.

Do you believe enough in your writing ability to take the same leap?

Until next time -
Marla

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Title By Any Other Name

When it sank in that we actually HAD the rights to the novel GREEN DARKNESS, I thought 'oh no'. Why? Because I was not a fan of the title.

A title is supposed to sum up the theme of the material, reveal its essence. GREEN DARKNESS just didn't do that for me.

I discussed my concerns with my writing partner and she agreed BUT...she argued people who were fans of the book wouldn’t know that it was a favorite if it had a different name. Sigh.

After all, haven't films gone through different titles before showing in theatres. And even then, the 'final' title is translated into different languages appropriate for the country screening it. Whenever I go to see a movie, I read the credits on the poster outside the theatre. Many adaptations have been retitled, with credit given to the original name of the material on said poster.

 I looked up some examples of changes....
HOLLYWOODLAND was once titled TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY (but we know how much better shorter titles fare at the box office).
ALMOST FAMOUS was originally just UNTITLED.
FINAL DESTINATION - originally FLIGHT 181.
AIRPLANE - originally FLYING HIGH (it screened under that name in Australia).

But I swallowed my objections --- for a while. When you’re collaborating, it’s give and take.

Then Angela came up with THIS TIME as a title. Guess she'd been mulling over my dislike of the GREEN DARKNESS wording. I checked her suggestion on imdb. Sorry, that title had been used many times for past productions.

I added one word to her two and looked that up on imdb. Three cheers! Nobody else had used it.

Our working title has become NOT THIS TIME - adapted from the novel GREEN DARKNESS. I know, it's more than one word longer than the original, but our version hooks anybody who reads or hears it. It's a title taken to the extreme; a title made high concept.


What would you have done in this situation?

Stay tuned -
Marla

Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting the Option

Finding a great novel that hasn't been made into a film -- yet --  seems like child's play for two screenwriters. Negotiating the twist and turns of making that deal can be intimidating.

Nothing ever goes smoothly. It's Murphy's Law and I think he hated writers--female writers especially! Keep that in mind. If you prepare for something, it's guaranteed not to happen, right? Well, maybe... But it's usually something completely unexpected that makes you wonder how you'd displeased the gods.

Our first agreed upon (and celebrated) price turned out to be too little.

We counter-offered. Here's where it gets tricky. How much should we offer? I wanted to make a much higher offer, but Marla was the voice of reason. She argued that we should offer just a bit less than what we thought we could afford. They came back with a slightly bunped-up figure, so we quickly agreed. We asked for an extrar 6 months and a later starting date, which would give us time to finish off pending projects. They were very amenable. It may have been to our advantage that we were working with the estate of the author and that there had been previous negotiations for the book.

By the way, most of this was accomplished by e-mail, with the exception of the contract which was mailed to me. I signed it and mailed it on to Marla who mailed  the money order and signed contract off to the publisher.

Remember what I said about things never going smoothly? Dear Mr. Murphy, he came back for round two! We had a short period of hair-pulling to go before the money order cleared! It was a typical case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing!

I hope that Murphy character is done with us--oops--dare I even write that??

Stay tuned...
Angela

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making a Big Deal for GREEN DARKNESS

"Screenwriters Angela Falkowska and Marla Hayes optioned the rights to the NY Times best-selling novel Green Darkness by Anya Seton.  First printed in 1972, the book has picked up a large fan-base over the years, and was reprinted in 2000.
Angela and Marla secured the rights from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and will adapt this tale of undying love, suspense and reincarnation into an equally memorable and haunting screenplay.
Having the rights to an underlying property makes a script more desirable and credible to major production companies and Studios." From http://www.screenwritingu.com/buzz/?p=281


Finding an available best seller is almost as difficult as booking passage on the space shuttle. In our case it wasn't a first try, it was our second. As screenwriters who have yet to have a feature produced, it's desirable to have a novel with a great track record to base a spec script on. That's particularly true these days when every movie in your local theater is either an adaptation...or an adaptation.

It all started when I went searching for Anya Seton (it's time to re-read one of my favorite authors) and came across a blog that followed the trail of GREEN DARKNESS:  I was amazed to discover that some of the major sites in the book were still in existence. My screenwriter's imagination went berserk! I immediately called my screenwriter friend, Marla and began telling her about the novel. By the time I was finished we'd both ordered copies of the book! Right after that I shot off an e-mail to the publisher and received a response a week later to say they weren't the holders of the rights-- but they were kind enough to forward that info.

The publisher replied quickly and informed us that the rights were indeed available. She would contact the late author's estate and find out more. We were on our way. Meanwhile the book arrived and we both started reading. It's a thick book, and a rich but not quick read. We quickly discovered that my memory was not what it used to be and nostalgia had woven a sheet of rose-colored glass over the whole story. Looking at it through "adaptation" spectacles was an entirely new experience. But that's not enough to daunt two experienced and determined screenwriters...