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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Category: ADAPTATION (page 1 of 2)

Writer and Director Dee Rees Discusses “Mudbound” and Talks to Susan about the Adaptation Process

Writer and Director Dee Rees Discusses Mudbound

At the New York Film Festival press conference, film critic Amy Taubin interviewed Dee Rees and her Mudboundensemble cast.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell is a screenwriting professor at Purchase College, SUNY, and presents international seminars.  Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1991 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide. Twitter: @SKouguell

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Mudbound Cast

At the New York Film Festival press conference, film critic Amy Taubin interviewed Dee Rees and her ‘Mudbound ensemble cast Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Jason Clarke in a thought-provoking discussion. Dee Rees previous projects include the critically acclaimed Pariah in 2011 and HBO’s Bessie in 2015.

Mudbound poignantly incorporates poetic voiceovers, shifting between the characters’ internal monologues as the story unfolds. Although set in Mississippi of the 1940s, this is not a typical period drama; the themes of oppression and violence powerfully reflect contemporary issues and a history repeating itself.

About Mudbound

An historical epic drama based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound details the daily hardships and vicissitudes of farm life in Mississippi during the post–World War II era. Two families, one white (the landlords) and one black (the sharecroppers), work the same miserable piece of farmland. Out of need and empathy, the mothers of the two families bond as their younger male relatives go off to war and learn that there is a world beyond racial hatred and fear.

REES:  “I wanted this to be good old-fashioned film. I wanted this to be the kind of film they don’t make anymore. I wanted to break out of the 90-minute artificial construct and just let the voices ring out, let the story live and have the audience become invested in the characters.”

Adaptation

For this publication, I recently wrote about writer and director Lucrecia Martel adapting Zama from a novel to a screenplay as well as other articles about adaptation, including Adapting Novels, Memoirs and Short Stories:  What to Keep and What to Cut.

I asked Dee Rees about the process of adapting the book to the screenplay.

REES: “Virgil Williams wrote the first adaptation of the script in 2015. Reading the script prompted me to read the book to see what else was there, and then I rewrote the script before we shot it.”

Rees went on to describe how the acting ensemble found other passages in the book they had questions about, which Rees then included into the script.

REES: “Carey Mulligan asked about a passage how Jamie would see her, and I put that in, then Jason found a passage about Henry on the land, so I put that in there. The whole sequence about Hap breaking his leg; I thought that should be included, and Hap’s occupation as a preacher because I thought it was important to show his faith, and the half-built church – in the book it’s fully built, but I wanted it more incomplete so it’s more symbolic.

I wrote a lot of individual monologues for the characters, like Hap’s monologue. I wrote, what good is a deed, and the play on words “deed” and “deed” and the fact that no matter how much he is invested in this land, he’ll never be vested. And Florence going to care for Lauren’s children, I wrote the meditation because it’s important to hear that chord of dissonance of her doing the very things she said she would never do. Then Ronsel leaving for war, I wrote that scene because it was important to establish Ronsel not just as the son of Hap and Florence, but a son of the community.

There were a lot of details I also included like when Hap and Florence slow dance, to show them as a loving sexual couple who talk about other things not just white people.  I wrote the candy bar scene between Florence and Ronsel to establish their special connection. We see Florence as this self-sacrificing person who will eat only one square, and wants to share.  I wanted to give dimension to the Jackson family, they didn’t just come with the house, it’s not just about the circumstances of their existence, they have agency, they have ideas about who they are.”

Character Parallels

REES: “The fathers. Henry and Hap both have a sense of disinheritance. Hap literally has his blood and sweat in the land; he can never take title to it.

What it means to be a mother. Florence has to come to terms with love and love can be a tool; by loving Laura’s children she can keep her own family intact. Florence and Laura are also linked by economic empowerment; they both have husbands who try to tell them what to do, and they have their small rebellions.

The brothers: Rosel and Jamie are linked by the trauma of war, shell-shock. They’re both not understood. They both are expected to step back into this context in which they no longer fit. In a way, they become more brothers than Henry and Jamie. It was interesting to have those parallels, and to ask: what is brotherhood?”

Final Words

REES: “I hope people take away from this film the fact that we can’t begin to tackle our collective history until we tear down our personal histories. More expansively, I think it’s about inheritance. It’s just not about race. It’s about what ideas we have inherited, what attitudes we have inherited, and what we are unconsciously passing on.”

A Netflix release: November 17, 2017

HBO’s “Getting On” Will Scheffer talks collaboration, adaptation, the characters’ evolution & more (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Susan Kouguell Interviews HBO'S 'GETTING ON' Creator, Executive Producer and Writer Will Scheffer by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine

Mark V. Olsen (L) Will Scheffer (R) (Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO)

I spoke with series creator, executive producer and writer Will Scheffer about the third and final season of his Emmy-nominated HBO series GETTING ON.  We talked about his collaboration with his husband Mark V. Olson on this series, adaptation, the characters’ evolution, and more.

Based on the BBC series of the same name, GETTING ON is created for American television by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer (co-creators of the acclaimed HBO series Big Love), the show follows the daily lives of overworked nurses and doctors as they struggle with the darkly comic realities of tending compassionately to their aging charges in a rundown, red-tape-filled hospital extended-care wing, blending outrageous humor with unexpected moments of tenderness.
Susan Kouguell Interviews HBO'S 'GETTING ON' Creator, Executive Producer and Writer Will Scheffer by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine

KOUGUELL: What did you learn as a writer and producer during these three seasons?

SCHEFFER: I think I always learn the same thing: “It’s about the people, stupid.” I learn it different ways, dealing with different problems and crisis and joys — but it’s about the people you collaborate with in all aspects of the production and also the people you’re doing it for. I also learned you can shoot a TV show in three days and it can still be excellent if you’re working with the right people.

KOUGUELL: Do you feel that your writing and/or collaboration with Mark has changed since Big Love and if so, how has it evolved?

SCHEFFER: It has. A lot. I used to be the first draft guy (and I still am on some or our projects) and then we’d trade drafts from there — but Mark really ran with the drafts of GETTING ON. And I felt more like I was connected to him at the hip, channeling. We talk a lot more now — before and during the drafting and we solve problems together like in a “dialogue” and then he’ll execute that in the writing.

GETTING ON developed in a special way because of time factors and other things, but I did less actual typing and more talking and feeding answers to Mark’s questions. It really felt like a good process for this show. We’ve already written three other “shows” where I did the first draft and Mark is the closer. And then I’ll get it back for some light polish. But GETTING ON was the show where I think I’d say we became a real writing team. With Mark I/we become better. We trust each other. I’ve had almost the same amount of time as a solo act and a duo 15 years and 10 years, respectively — and I know I’d have a body of work and a career without Mark, but I doubt very much I’d have this career. I’m grateful he finally pushed me into collaborating because he made me a better writer and thinker and luckily it’s made our marriage richer, too. We still write some things solo and we help each other on those. I’m a producer on some scripts of Mark’s that I never could have written and I’m just as proud of those as of our work together.

KOUGUELL: How much input, if any, do the actors have on the scripts?

SCHEFFER: I’d say they contribute. They make it better. But we hold the keys to that particular kingdom.

KOUGUELL: On the show’s trailer you mentioned that you are “digging deeper into the characters this season by introducing their family members.”

SCHEFFER: I think the whole season is about allowing the characters to become the patients, in a way. Their stories are what we’d usually call “the patient” stories.” Sure, we have a few great “guest patient” turns — but the show really comes together this year. It takes off like a plane.

KOUGUELL: How have the characters evolved from the first to your final season?

SCHEFFER: Well, like all good TV characters they haven’t evolved too much. I’d say they’ve become more themselves, if anything. Have they grown and learned why they were so f***ed up? No. But maybe they’ve admitted they were a little screwy to begin with. And they all so surprise us this year in ways you’ll have to watch to see. They’ve become more sure of who they are. They have to me, never been more of a joy to behold.

 

In a January 2014 article for this publication, I spoke with Will Scheffer about Season 1of this series in which he also offered insightful tips on pitching projects.

Learn more about GETTING ON:  http://www.hbo.com/getting-on

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‘Suffragette Screenwriter’ Abi Morgan and ‘The Assassin’ Writer/Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Adapting Historical Events (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

‘Suffragette’ Screenwriter Abi Morgan and ‘The Assassin’ Writer/Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Adapting Historical Events

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The Assassin and Suffragette are films inspired by true historical events.  While these two films could not be more different in genre and style, they do share a strong and determined female protagonist, whose unwavering actions drive the story forward.

Screenwriters Morgan and Hsaio-Hsien, also shared a similar writing process; they relied on extensive archival research to find the core of the story.

The Suffragette Panel

SUFFRAGETTE TEAM 3

(From L-R: Ward, Owen, Morgan, and Gavron)

Following a private screening at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in New York City, of Suffragette, Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morgan spoke on a panel with members of the Suffragette team, including Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), and BAFTA Award winner director Sarah Gavron.  After working together on the 2007 film Brick Lane, the four women began discussing making a film on the suffragette movement and the women’s fight to win the right to vote in Britain a century ago.

The panel discussed how the subject of the film was less fashionable when they started out with the project six years ago, stating:

“As we were preparing during the past year for the release of Suffragette, suddenly Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and others were saying, ‘I’m a feminist’ and they were making it a sexy subject — which is great.”

The Suffragette Story
The story centers on Maud, a working wife and mother, who is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing Suffragette movement. Inspired by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst, Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her fellow Suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.

Highlights from Screenwriter Abi Morgan

SUFFRAGETTE MORGAN

“Maud was a composite character based on three women we read accounts on.  I had done a number of biopics before and it’s so hard to squeeze in a whole life and it’s so difficult; you’re trying to find a prism.

It took us a long time to find the story.  I wrote too many drafts to admit to. But throwing away a draft is liberating.  Most of the work is a process of failure and then improving on that failure.

In this film, we’re seeing the suffragette movement after they already had years of peaceful protests.  We wanted to capture the moment when they move from pacifism to activism, and as a result there were four of five amazing historical events, such as the Night of Broken Panes. Then we started reading about the testimonies of the working women and that’s when it profoundly changed for me.

You can’t ignore the world around you when you write.

We found in the archives information about the police surveillance operation and the police violence, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace. Issues that echoed today.  It seemed very relevant. At the core of this film, we are hoping to empower all women to fight for equality and to use your vote. In the UK we have a very complacent and very ambivalent voting public and we have a dwindling youth vote.”

Inspector Arthur Steed warns Maud about her activities with the suffragettes:

MAUD
(to Inspector Arthur Steed)
What are you going to do? We’re half the population.

The Assassin

At the New York Film Festival press screening, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien spoke about his new film The Assassin for which he won Best Director at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

The Story

The Assassin: Abducted at age 10, Yinniang is now a Tang Dynasty assassin dedicated to the art of killing until memory transforms her course of action.

Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Hou Hsiao-Hsien: “The story is based on historical facts and then I fleshed out the characters. There is a lot of information from the Tang Dynasty — tales, legends and novels. I first came across this story in college. I wanted to bring this realism into the film.  I wanted to do this film in the wuxia genre. I wanted to draw inspiration from Samurai movies from Japan as a long tradition of this martial arts practice that would be more in line of how I see the wuxia genre; it should be based on the realistic depiction of human capacity.”

When Jiaxin, the princess-turned-nun and Yinniang’s abductor, admonishes Yinniang for not following through with an assassination she states:

“Your skill is matchless, but your mind is hostage to human sentiments.”

Tips on Adapting a Screenplay Inspired from True Events

You have 120 pages or less to tell your compelling story. Your goal is to make every word on the page count.

‘Suffragette’ Screenwriter Abi Morgan and ‘The Assassin’ Writer/Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Adapting Historical Events

 

– See more at: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/suffragette-screenwriter-abi-morgan-assassin-writerdirector-hou-hsiao-hsien-adapting-historical-events#sthash.nLh6RlkK.dpuf

read more here

A Conversation with the SUFFRAGETTE team (INDIEWIRE/SYDNEYSBUZZ)

A Conversation
with the ‘Suffragette’ Team

by Susan Kouguell

Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), BAFTA Award winning director Sarah Gavron and Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morgan spoke about their new film “Suffragette.”
Faye Ward (producer), Alison Owen (producer), Abi Morgan (screenwriter), Sarah Gavron (director)

 

At a private screening at the Director Guild of America Theatre in New York City on October 10, Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), BAFTA Award winning director Sarah Gavron and Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morganspoke, following the screening of their new film “Suffragette.”

The four women met when working together on the 2007 film “Brick Lane,” and soon after began discussing making a film on the suffragette movement and the women’s fight to win the right to vote in Britain a century ago.

“Suffragette” centers on Maud, a working wife and mother, who is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing Suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst, Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her dedicated fellow Suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.

MORGAN: “ I had done a number of biopics before and it’s so hard to squeeze in a whole life –it’s so difficult; you’re trying to find a prism.”

GAVRON: “Maud, a fictional character, played by Carey Mulligan, was a composite character based on three women we read accounts on.”

MORGAN: “We wanted to capture the moment when the suffragettes move from pacifism to activism and as a result there were four of five amazing historical events, such as the Night of Broken Panes. Then we started reading about the testimonies of the working women and that’s when it profoundly changed for me.”

OWEN: “The subject of the film was less fashionable when we started out with the project six years ago. It’s a sexy subject now. As we were preparing during the past year for the release of “Suffragette,” suddenly Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and others were and saying, ‘I’m a feminist’ and they were making it a sexy subject — which is great.”

Family Connections

Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, a key target for the suffragettes, was the great-grandfather of star Helena Bonham Carter. The team commented on
Bonham Carter’s serious yet light-hearted remarking on having posthumous arguments with him about his negative stance on the suffragette movement.

The Look of the Film

GAVRON:
“We felt the film should feel visceral and connected to today. We talked with the production designer to create a 360 set and we had two cameras rolling
all the time. The clothes were actual stock; we used clothes of the time. That was the aesthetic of the piece. We shot in 16mm in the daytime to give it
that gritty grain. We developed a reel of film from the archives and saw the close-ups of those women in the funeral; the faces at the end of our film.”

One Message of the Film

MORGAN:
“At the core of this film: Hoping to empower all women to fight for equality and to use our vote. In the UK we have a very complacent and very ambivalent
voting public and we have a dwindling youth vote. We want this film to encourage people to please use your vote.”

The Team Addresses the Suffragette Protests and How Media Attention Can Make Or Break a Movement

“We found in the archives the police surveillance operation and the police violence as well. Sexual abuse in the workplace. Issues that echoed today. It
seemed very relevant.”

OWEN:
“After 50 years of peaceful protests, the media ridiculed the women in the press for being ignored — erased. One of the things that was very poignant, was
that the suffragettes were all about getting attention; their emphasis was non loss of life. When Emily Wilding Davison throws herself in front of horse,
she did so in front of Pathé newsreels and cameras. It was a strategic move.”

(Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby in June of 1913, suffering fatal injuries. Her funeral, organized by the
Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was attended by thousands of suffragettes and thousands of others, marking a turning point for the Suffragette
movement.)

Media Attention Today

For their cover, Time Out London invited the film’s stars Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Anne Marie-Duff to wear t-shirts with the slogan: ‘I’d
rather be a rebel than a slave’ – a partial quote taken from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst. This quote has sparked outrage in the U.S.

Pankhurst’s entire quote was: ‘I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter
what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a
slave.’

THE SUFFRAGETTE TEAM: 
“The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression — it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticize those who
have no choice but to submit to oppression or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.”

OWEN:
“We all acknowledge and are aware of how acutely sensitive that slogan was in the U.S. We need to keep having the conversation. I hope it’s about diversity
in front of and behind the camera. If it becomes a narrative about a film that is so sincerely meant to promote all women all over the world, then it’s a
misstep and unfortunate.”

WARD: “
We need more diversity in every respect in filmmaking. We need an industry that’s going to want to make that work.”

THE SUFFRAGETTE TEAM: 
“Meryl Streep recently said at a press conference about the film, how female voices are hard to be heard: ‘People read ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ and less than a
fifth who rate the movies are women.’ The quartet of women chuckle: “We thought about doing ‘Equal Tomatoes.” Their tone more serious now: “Something that
reflects the diversity of our society equally and properly.”

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Aaron Sorkin on Adapting STEVE JOBS (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Aaron Sorkin on Adapting the Film ‘Steve Jobs’

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Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Seth Rogan

 

Director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Walter Issacson, (writer of the authorized Jobs’ biography), along with actors  Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, and Michael Stuhlbarg took to the stage after the New York Film Festival press screening of Steve Jobs.  The conversation centered on creating the characters of this film based on the actual people and making them their own and not a caricature.  The cast spent time with their real-life counterparts to learn more about them.

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet

Danny Boyle:  “It wasn’t about the actors being a look alike or imitating physical mannerisms of the real people. Jobs was a historical figure.  His life was really Shakespearean.”

Adapting a book into a screenplay can be challenging in and of itself, but it can be further challenging when the book is a biography. Examples of book to screen adaptations based on a real person include The Aviator, Schindler’s List, Ray,The King’s Speech, Lincoln, Raging Bull, 12 Years a Slave, American Sniper, Frida, Wild, and Straight Outa Compton.

Jeff Daniels and Walter Walter Issacson

Jeff Daniels and Walter Issacson

Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network (for which he received the Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay) shares similarities to the script for Steve Jobs; The Social Network is about the behind-the-scenes of the founding of Facebook and Steve Jobs is a behind the scenes look at the founder of Apple.

The structure of the Steve Jobs screenplay is literally set in three distinct acts — each taking place backstage at a major iconic product launch — the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the unveiling of the iMac in 1998.

Sorkin: “It started from Walter’s book. I know what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do and that was a biopic. That was a cradle-to-grave structure that audiences are so familiar with and I didn’t want to land on all the greatest hits.”

“I like claustrophobic spaces. I like compressed periods of time. I like the ticking clock.  I like things that are behind the scenes, in this case literally behind the scenes. I wondered if I could take all of the work Walter had done (in his biography) and if there was a way to dramatize the points of friction in Steve’s life and dramatize it in this way.  I identified five or six conflicts in Steve’s life and have those conflicts play themselves out in these scenes backstage—in places where they didn’t take place.”

When adapting a book into a screenplay, find the shape of the story and the story arc. One major plot element in this film that drives the engine of the narrative forward is Steve Jobs’ initial denial of paternity of his daughter, Lisa. The story arc is Steve finding his way to being a father to her by the end.

Unless you are writing a documentary, there are liberties to be taken.  Fictionalizing events, combining several characters into one, and reorganizing the time lines are just some of the elements that can be employed in the adapting process. Consider what makes the main character in the biography interesting to you and what elements of the story you find engaging. Use the answers to these questions as your jumping off point. Find the essence of the story you are adapting and bring your characters to their new lives in your screenplay.

From Steve Jobs:

STEVE JOBS
Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.

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Director Robert Zemeckis Talks ‘The Walk’ and Adaptation (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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Director Robert Zemeckis Talks 'The Walk' and Adaptation by Susan Kouguell | Script MagazineDirector Robert Zemeckis at THE WALK New York Film Festival Press Screening

At the recent New York Film Festival press screening of The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis spoke about adapting his film for the screen.  Based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit (the tightrope walker), The Walk is written by Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne.

Zemeckis:  “I came upon the children’s book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers; it had eight pages of illustrations.”

Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein in 2003, the book recounts Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the top of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Zemeckis: “I started developing this project and Philippe’s story, almost 10 years ago, way before the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ was made. It was a great documentary; it lets you in to see what all the real characters were thinking and how they did this, but the thing I always wanted to do was Philippe’s story. I wanted to present the walk itself, and of course it couldn’t be done in the documentary because there were no moving pictures of the walk ever recorded.”

In researching Petit’s true life story, Zemeckis found a passionate and driven character who performed the walk because he had to, purely for self-expression.

Zemeckis: “Petit is an anarchist who pulled off an artistic coup.”

Finding the dramatic elements of the story

There were all the elements in this real life story and in the children’s book already built-in for a compelling screenplay: a unique protagonist and his unlikely gang of international recruits to help make the actual walk a reality.  It’s a caper film, except there is no theft.  The adventurous goal that drives the narrative forward is for the protagonist and his gang, to plan, execute, and to survive the walk between the Twin Towers.

What to Keep and What to Cut

There were some elements from the actual coup that that were condensed, such as in real life, Petit made eight crossings, but in the film he does six.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

In the film, Petit’s character, speaking from a perch on the Statue of Liberty, talks directly to the screen, a choice Zemeckis says he made to keep the audience emotionally connected to Petit in order to convey how his character is feeling.

Zemeckis: “All artists are anarchists in some ways, some more extreme than others.”

Screenwriting is — and forgive the metaphor — like walking a tightrope. There are only so pages you have to convey your compelling story and characters, as you make every word count.  It is always a balancing act, deciding what to include and what to cut from the original source material, while conveying the strongest elements of the story onto the page in an engaging and unique way.

Go forth on the screenwriting tightrope and bring out your inner artistic anarchist!

More articles by Susan Kouguell

READ MORE HERE

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Tips on Adaptation and Divisive Voice-over Devices (THE SCRIPT LAB)

Tips on Adaptation and Divisive

Voice-over Devices

 by Susan Kouguell

 

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens with protagonist Greg’s line:

GREG GAINES (V.O.)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Greg Gaines is an awkward high school senior whose mother forces him to spend time with Rachel — his classmate with whom he hasn’t spoken to since kindergarten– who was just diagnosed with cancer.

The beginning of Greg and Rachel’s friendship finds Greg standing at the foot of the stairs in Rachel’s house, and Rachel at the top of the stairs.

RACHEL: Look, I don’t want you hanging out with me. I don’t need your stupid pity. It’s fine. You can just go.

GREG: No, no, hey. You got it all wrong. I’m not here ’cause I pity you. I’m actually here just ’cause my mom is making me.

RACHEL: That’s actually worse.

GREG: Yeah, I know.

RACHEL: Look, it’s OK. Honestly, I’m fine. Just go.

GREG: OK. Rachel, just listen to me for a second. My mom is going to turn my life into a living hell if I don’t hang out with you. OK, I can’t overstate how annoying she’s being about this. She’s basically like the Lebron James of nagging. Lebron James plays basketball.

RACHEL: I know who Lebron James is.

GREG: OK.

Greg tries to blend in as anonymously as possible, avoiding deeper relationships as a survival strategy for navigating the social minefield that is teenage life.  He describes his constant companion Earl, with whom he makes short film parodies of classic movies, such as Sockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Butt, as more of a “co-worker” than a childhood best friend.

This coming-of-age film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, screenplay by Jesse Andrews was adapted by the book of the same title written by Andrew.

Adapting for the Screen

The book Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is just over 300 pages – the film just under two hours.  There are many challenges adapting novels to the screen, including what should stay and what should go.  Generally, one script page equals one minute of screen time, which means that you must focus on the basic plot points of the material, thus often resulting in cutting subplots and characters in order to keep the script less than 120 pages.

 

When writing a screenplay, you don’t have the luxury to get inside your characters’ minds with pages and pages of internal thoughts as you do when writing a novel.  Characters’ motivations, agendas, goals, and so on, must be conveyed in dialogue and through visually storytelling.  Always remember the screenwriting adage: Show Don’t Tell.

Devices

The film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl contains many storytelling devices, that for many film executives, are BIG RED FLAGS. These devices include voice-overs, flashbacks, superimposed titles, such as “Day 7 of Doomed Friendship” and Claymation sequences often featuring a moose.  For many Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s filmgoers and critics, these devices only enhance the film but for some they deter from it.  Let’s look at some of these devices and how they can and should work, and if they’re working (or not) in your screenplay.

In the following excerpts from my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I talk about devices found in screenplays:  

Many aspiring screenwriters share something in common with their screenplay characters—they have bad habits or rely on things that highlight their insecurities.  The word “vice” is defined as a bad habit; and many screenwriters’ bad habits—more specifically—their writing weaknesses and insecurities, are underscored when they overuse or mistakenly use screenplay devices.  So, when developing your characters, do not rely on vices to convey essential information, or misuse or overuse them.

VOICE-OVERS

Use voice-overs only to provide information and insight about the story and/or character(s) that you absolutely cannot express in dialogue or in action. Do not convey the same information in voice-over that will soon be revealed in dialogue, visuals, or action. If you choose to use the voice-over device, know that story analysts and film executives will regard this as a red flag—a lazy device—and they will examine each word.

In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Greg is a self-conscious and unreliable narrator.  He’s self-effacing and uses irony to his full advantage.  Here he talks about his relationship with Rachel.

GREG (V.O.)

So if this was a touching, romantic story, suddenly our eyes would meet and suddenly we would be making out with the fire of a thousand suns. But this isn’t a touching romantic story.

Translating internal thoughts of a character without overusing voiceovers and other devices can be challenging. One way to see if you are overusing voiceovers is to remove the voiceovers from your script (temporarily) and place them on a separate page and in the order they appear in your script. By reading them on their own it is easier to see what must stay and what must go, and if you’re repeating information that is already stated in dialogue, or is too long, and not advancing the narrative.

The opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens continues:

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

At the end of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  Greg concludes a montage with:

GREG (V.O.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was life.

 

Official Web site:  http://meandearlmovie.com/

READ MORE HERE

 

 

Adapting Novels, Memoirs and Short Stories: What to Keep and What to Cut (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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Adapting Novels, Memoirs and Short Stories:

What to Keep and What to Cut

by Susan Kouguell

 

Many successful novels, memoirs, and short stories have been adapted for the screen and made into equally popular and often award-winning movies, including the most recent American Sniper, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.

Over the years, I have been assigned, as a writer-for-hire, to adapt several novels into feature-length screenplays. It can be a daunting task particularly when the novel is long – very long — like 500 pages or more! This page-length challenge presents the inevitable next step and question:

adaptationWhat to keep and what to cut?

As opposed to a novel, screenwriters just don’t have the page length to explore characters’ extensive backgrounds, elaborate settings — nor do they have the luxury to include a cast of thousands (or hundreds – or less) all of whom have a penchant for endless verbosity. There just isn’t the time in a two-hour film and it’s up to you, the screenwriter, to make the right choices. So, it’s time to let go.

  1. TOP TIPS FOR ADAPTING A NOVEL INTO A SCREENPLAY
    1. What is the novel about? Write down the answer to this question and use this as your guidepost to determine the major storyline of your plot.
    2. Determine who your protagonist is, and his or her wants, needs and goals and determine who the antagonist is, and why he or she is in opposition to the protagonist.
    3. For your subplot ask yourself: How does the protagonist with the help of alliances (friends, family, and so on) achieve goals despite the antagonist’s opposition?
    4. Write an outline or beat sheet that follows the key plot points and your protagonist’s journey.
    5. Decide whose voice the plot will follow. Since most novels are written in the first person voice avoid using voice-overs unless absolutely necessary.
    6. Avoid flashbacks. In screenplays they are often overused, unnecessary, slow down the pacing, and can take the reader out of the story. If you choose this device, then consider incorporating this device as an interesting structural choice.
    7. Show don’t tell. Critical plot information and back story should be revealed in dialogue or through visual storytelling. Convey characters’ feelings and conflicts through dialogue and actions. Remember — the viewing audience will not know what the character is thinking, as opposed to a novel where there are pages upon pages to describe the internal worlds of each character.
    8. Cut all extraneous subplots, characters’ inner thoughts, and lengthy set descriptions. Then cut some more. And then cut even more.
    9. Consider cutting down the number of characters in your novel by first briefly describing the purpose they are serving. This will enable you to decide if each character is necessary to include in the script and if several characters can be compiled into one character.
    10. Make every word of your screenplay count; this applies to both dialogue and action paragraphs.

    Your mantra: Film is a visual medium. Unlike a novel, you don’t have the luxury to get inside your characters’ minds with pages and pages of internal thoughts. Your characters’ motivations, agendas, goals, and so on, must be revealed in dialogue and through visually storytelling.

READ MORE:

ADPTATING NOVELS, MEMOIRS, SHORT STOIRES

Rob Marshall Speaks Into the Woods

Susan’s The Script Lab article 

Director Rob Marshall Speaks about Into the Woods,

Themes and Adapting to the Screen

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 DIRECTOR ROB MARSHALL (Photo credit Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell)

At the Jacob Burns Film Center on December 4, Edie Demas, Executive Director of the JBFC, spoke with director Rob Marshall after the screening of his new film Into the Woods, which was adapted from the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, screenplay by James Lapine. “Film is a different pace than theater,” Marshall stated. “The song is the scene.

The 16-minute long opening song establishes the language of how the story will be told.” (Advice for screenwriters: Whatever genre you are writing in, your opening pages not only need to grab the reader’s attention, but it needs to set the tone of the script.) Reimagining the Original Play and Cutting Adapting a beloved theatrical musical to a film musical meant making some challenging choices for Marshall, who praised Lapine and Sondheim for being so open and flexible about making some changes for the film adaptation from the staged musical. “We needed to reimagine the play for the film.” Knowing that they had to get the film down to about two hours, Marshall stated, “The three of us, Sondheim, Lapine, and I, knew we needed to eliminate the musical reprises.” Citing the example of the Cinderella number in the theatrical version with Cinderella’s shoe stuck on stage, “In the play, the action happens off screen.” Marshall humbly continued, “I asked Sondheim, could you adjust the lyrics so it takes place in the moment, like an internal monologue. And he did.” Emphasizing the importance of making the difficult decisions to cut some numbers from the original musical, Marshall underscored the mantra: Serve the film. This is the mantra screenwriters should always keep in the back of their minds as they write: serve your story. Cutting scenes for the greater good — will, in the end, benefit the project. Themes Marshall stated that the central theme of the film is ‘No one is alone.’ “Sondheim said the first half of the piece is about the individual; getting your wish at any cost. The second half is about a community coming together. There are also parent/child themes. You see how the baker is concerned with being a good father, because he didn’t have a good father, he had a father who abandoned him. He’s dealing with that issue; you see that he becomes a good father with Jack. He has to comfort him and help him. With the Witch and Rapunzel relationship — the witch’s mother punished her with ugliness and the witch thinks she’s protecting her child by keeping her in the tower. It says a lot about parent/child relations. The last song reflects this: ‘Children will listen, children will see and learn;’ there are so many layers to the piece.” The Fairy Tale Examined Marshall described Into the Woods as “a fairy tale for the 21st century; it raises important issues for today.” Discussing an example of this, Marshall referred to the character of Cinderella: “She chooses to go back home.cBack to the abuse. You go back to what you know. So that’s what was used.” Further discussing the original version of the Grimm Fairy Tale, Marshall continued: Grimm is a very cautionary tale, not just a happily ever after. We see what follows happily ever after.cThere are consequences to your actions. In the end, we see how the face of the classic family has changed so much. We see this lovely family that you never imagined would be together.”   READ MORE     Photo: Disney #intothewoods #robmarshall

Susan’s: Jon Stewart Speaks About Rosewater and Adapting for the Screen

Jon Stewart Speaks About Rosewater and Adapting for the Screen

 

Photo credit: Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell

Adapting for the Screen

Adapting a book into a screenplay can be regarded as all about the choices you make while bringing forth the essence of the story. Translating internal thoughts of a character without overusing voiceover or another device, and/or making choices to fictionalize certain events and restructuring time frames, are just some of the elements that screenwriters must consider when adapting material for the screen.

Screenplays are generally 120 pages or less, and many novels, for example, are often double or triple that length. Generally speaking, one script page equals one minute of screen time, which means that you must focus on the basic plot points of the material, thus often resulting in cutting subplots and characters. Unlike a novel or memoir, you don’t have the luxury to get inside your characters’ minds with pages and pages of internal thoughts. Characters’ motivations, agendas, goals, and so on, must be conveyed in dialogue and through visual storytelling. Keep in mind the screenwriting adage: Show Don’t Tell. The bottom line: Film is a visual medium.

Jon Stewart Speaks about Rosewater with Janet Maslin at the Jacob Burns Film Center

As part of the Global Watch: Crisis Culture & Human Rights film series (November 6-26) at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, film critic and JBFC president Janet Maslin interviewed Jon Stewart, following the screening of his directorial debut of Rosewater. Stewart’s screenplay, adapted from Maziar Bahari’s memoirThen They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, centers on Bahari’s family history and his arrest, torture and 107-day solitary confinement imprisonment, following the 2009 presidential election in Iran.

A few days before his arrest, Bahari, a contributor to Newsweek, appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in a taped interview with the show’s correspondent Jason Jones. Mr. Bahari does not believe that this interview was responsible for his arrest; he was already being monitored.

Stewart on Rosewater

The title ‘Rosewater’ is inspired from the rosewater scent of Maziar’s interrogator. That’s all Maziar knows (in solitary confinement and blindfolded); that’s how Maziar can identify him.

(Stewart emphasized that what drew him to this material and to direct this film, as opposed to another project, was how Maziar kept both his spirit intact during solitary confinement, and his humanity through his memories of his family. This optimism and sense of hope is what Stewart would like the audience to come away with after seeing this film.)

The Decision to Direct

If I didn’t do anything I wasn’t nervous about I would just sit in a room. I was nervous about directing.

I want my work to be about things I believe in. As a comedian I’m drawn to commentary of events around the world. I’m fascinated by human stupidity. But I’m optimistic, too. We forget that there’s some six million people living in New York City. How is New York not just some Mad Max? It’s kind of incredible.

I like my work to be about context. I want this film to be seen as relevant. Journalists are in a terrible position right now. These people are out on their own. Bloggers and active social media people are being arrested and imprisoned.

The best move I did was hiring the people I did to make this film. I showed the script and film to every director that came on The Daily Show. Paul Thomas Anderson? Sure let’s have him on! Ron Howard read it and thought, this will be a wonderful –play–add visuals if you want to make this a film. I’m thinking: How do you visualize the scenes in solitary confinement with the hallucinations in the cell and make it effective and emotional.

READ MORE HERE:

http://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/2987-jon-stewart-speaks-about-rosewater-and-adapting-for-the-screen

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