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.
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