Is The Book Or Film Better?

Book vs. FilmThe number of scripts I receive for consideration or review every year is astounding. Each of the major studios receive about 100 scripts a day and 99% of them are not worth reading. The biggest dilemma I face comes from the author. Most of the scripts I receive are from talented literary authors trying to write a screenplay, which seldom goes well.

The first problem that I typically encounter is the author using detailed and flowery words in long-winded descriptions, as if it were lifted right out of a novel. Few authors understand that the screenplay is written in a specific manner for budgeting and creative purposes, and obviously, for the screen. Here is a scene example that I’ll use to discuss the differences:

NOVEL

“Adrenaline pumped through David’s veins as his pace quickened toward the lone grave hidden beneath the canopy of large oak trees deep within the forest. His soiled gym shoes stopped in front of the fresh pile of dirt rounded over like a grave before rain settles the soil. David’s face aged 10 years in that moment and his legs weakened. He dropped to his knees with sorrowful eyes, knowing that he might be facing his daughter’s burial site. His hands looked like gnarled creature paws as he stroked away at the soil, digging deeper and faster with a weak hope of finding an animal in her place.

But he knew the truth. His hands would soon find his kidnapped daughter. He readied himself for the sight, as he plotted a new vision for revenge. His hand snagged a piece of material. The same as the dress his daughter wore at her seventh birthday party, the night she was kidnapped. David’s face flushed and turned stone cold. A fiery revenge welled within his soul forcing him to his feet. “I’m com’n for yah,” he groaned. With more energy than he thought possible, David bolted through the woods focused on his target.”

SCREENPLAY

EXT. FORREST – DAY
Exhausted, David scrambles through the forest. He stops at a fresh grave. Grimacing, David drops to his knees. He paws through the soil. David stops, hardens himself and glances off in the distance.

DAVID
I’m com’n for yah.

David runs from the grave, letting a streak of sunlight hit the floral cloth protruding from the soil.

PRODUCTION TOOL

The same overall action occurs in both depictions of the scene. The screenplay version is measured at 2/8 of a page, which tells the production manager how long the segment will take to film and how much it will cost. The word choices within the screenplay suggest the needed shot list to capture the story. The list includes:

  • XLS: David running in forest
  • MS: David panting as he runs
  • CU: David’s gym shoes stop at the grave
  • MS: David drops to his knees
  • MLS: David kneels at daughter’s grave
  • CU: David
  • CU: Hands digging
  • MS: David’s dialogue
  • LS: David running away from grave
  • XCU: Dress protruding from grave

With the scene being 2/8 of a page, the DP and 1st AD know they have to capture the full shot list in an hour to stay on budget. If, however, the scene were written like the novel, it would take 4-6/8 of a page and the team would allow 3-4 hours for the shoot. Unfortunately, the scene will still only take 15-20 seconds on screen, making the novel version far more costly to shoot—forcing the project over budget.

When properly written, a screenplay reveals the shooting schedule, budget, and camera shots.. It also hints at the character arcs and the emotional tonality the actor must consider when developing his character. There are also hints sewn into the script about the editorial pacing and tempo.

A person who knows how to read a professional screenplay can easily spot the above. But the novelist has no clue what information must be laced into the scene or how to concisely interweave it. Most don’t understand how this scene is likely to be shot handheld because of the story’s emotional turmoil and shooting schedule.

Beginning screenplay writers find themselves writing something halfway between the novel and professional screenplay, which inaccurately reflects the shoot requirements with information that cannot be seen on screen. A screenplay improperly written becomes a useless tool for the producer and production team. The better the screenplay writer, the more accurate the budget.

BOOKS ARE NOT FILMS

A second factor I face with authors is their misguided understanding of what makes for a good film versus a book. The original story allows the reader to get inside of the protagonist’s head, while the film can only show what happens, unless you like a lot of narration, which slows a film down and pulls the viewer out of the film story.

Books are about thought and films are about action. They are two different mediums and must be treated according to its own form. While most authors feel disgruntled about having their story altered to better fit the medium, they hate with a greater magnitude films that try to follow the book and end up destroying the story as a result.

The vast majority of great authors have to get used to seeing their “A” plotline become a “B” plotline in a movie, and their “B” plot become the “A” plotline. This inverted plotline structure makes for a far greater motion picture, and opens the story up to a wider audience than what the book was aimed at. Since movies cost a lot more than a book to create, this distinction is significant.

While there are additional factors that authors face when transitioning their work to the screen, I’ve run out of room to mention them in this post. The key is to understand that film and books are very different and require opposing skills to pull off. Flexibility is paramount for the author desiring a shot at the silver screen.

© 2018 by CJ Powers
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Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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Great Directors use Adjectives and Verbs

AdjectivesI was asked today what the difference in skill or techniques were between a good director and a great one. There is a lot of commonality in how both directors get started in filmmaking, but once they’ve gained experience the great director works specifically on developing his adjectives and verbs.

The adjectives are the tools the director uses to convey key information to his cinematographer and production designer. He also uses it to communicate with publicity, studios and producers. The words make the difference between a good pitch and a great one—a higher budget versus a smaller one.

Adjectives give color to a conversation and ignite emotions. Since film is an emotional medium, adjectives play a major roll in determining what films get made. Films explained without adjectives fall flat and fail to give the audience an emotional ride that films are known to do.

Verbs are the tools needed to adjust the efforts of the actors. Saying, “give me a little bit more,” tells the actor nothing and frustrates her. But, changing up the verb within the direction gives the actor something to play.

For instance, let’s say the director told the actor to “urge” the other character to take a sip from the glass and it didn’t play well. The director would explore a more intense version of the same action. He might tell the actor to “exhort,” “push” or “force” the character to take a sip. Each word brings another level of intensity to the scene.

The opposite is also true. When the director wants the actor to back off of the intensity of the scene, he merely gives direction with gentler verb choices. By choosing various levels of verbs, the actor is able to picture the exact action their character might undertake.

The best news is that verbs are actions that can be played without the actor having to translate what “more” or “less” might equate to. By giving an actor a specific verb to play she can immediately determine what actions her character might take in accomplishing the verb. This frees the actor up from the acting process and allows her to stay in character while playing through a few creative choices.

More and more directors have become writers in recent years because they’ve learned a lot about words in promoting their films and directing their actors. They understand the emotional tone of the film and had to learn the words required to describe it to others. They also know what it takes for an actor to play a roll; so learning numerous levels of verbs became second nature to them.

Once you’ve learned how to use adjectives and verbs, the distance from being a director to becoming a writer/director is very short. The same is true for a good director becoming a great director.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Scrappy Storyteller

IMG_0172bI’ve met hundreds of storytellers in my life and found that few understand how to conform their abilities to a marketable style. I’m not talking about a niche genre, but an actual style that incorporates the core essence of who a person is that includes their creative methods and delivery.

The Scrappy Storyteller is a great example. Lisa is a storyteller, artist, and Steampunker. Everything she does demonstrates those core elements regularly. In fact, her love for using her hands to patch things together seems to be integral to her projects.

Yesterday I received a presale copy of her new comic book. It’s a mystery that features Alethia Grey from Milwaukee during the late 1890s. This sci-fi steampunk novella is fun and a quick read. But Lisa’s entertainment value goes beyond the story. The graphic novel is published on high quality paper with a durable glossy cover in keeping with the era’s desire for things to last.

To support her super fans, she offered special gifts for all who purchased the book during her presale period. Appropriate for her style, Lisa patched the items together by hand. The pieces were clearly in true steampunk fashion and reflected a creative heart and loving spirit that was befitting of the artist’s core essence.

IMG_0171bMy gifts came in a handmade bag. A personal handwritten thank you card was included. The cover of the card proudly displayed her DIY artwork. Inside the bag was the comic book, a decorative pin, art made on a stretched canvas, and a small card reminding me of her other product. Her slogan read: handmade tales told a piece at a time.

For anyone who has followed Lisa or gotten to know her in person, it’s clear that she lives story. But, not from a glitzy Hollywood type mentality. Instead she takes personal care in creating homespun stories that she pieces together as she shares it.

Aurelia was one such project. She was the creator and showrunner for an elaborate live production where fans played characters in her Internet story. Lisa was able to carefully craft her story to include all the elements fans added. The nationwide team created entries that were written, recorded as audio only and produced on video.

Lisa has a rare talent that allows her first impressions to ring true in the souls of her fans. She is gifted with words, has a great eye for style, and the ability to turn discarded items into art. But what makes her really unique is that everything she does easily fits the expressions pouring from her heart. I call that unique combination integrity of art.

Artists no longer need to find themselves or their style. Instead, they need to look inward and learn who they are. Once they understand their core self, they can filter all their art through the style that rises from within. Lisa has accomplished this very thing and helps others to follow in creating continuity within their businesses and super hobbies.

Lisa can be found through her steampunk blog at ScrappyStoryteller.com or for those wanting to create integrity within their art can find her business at LisaEngland.com.

© 2016 by CJ Powers