Today we are pleased to welcome guest contributor Connie Corcoran Wilson, author of It Came from the 70s (linked to Elizabeth’s review and luggage-tag giveaway) and many more.
I once attended a lecture at the Chicago Public Library that involved Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Lethem talking about their books and what should, would or could happen if and when film rights were sold to their books.
Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude and Chronic City, winner of a National Books Critics Circle Award in 1999 and a New York Times best-selling author shrugged when asked about how he viewed the prospect of his books becoming films and said, “I view it a bit like selling a house. Once you sell the house you built to a new owner, you really shouldn’t drive by and complain if they change the color of the drapes.”
In 2007, I decided that, in keeping with my Bucket List concept of “writing one of everything,” I would write a screenplay. I decided to adapt the first novel I had written (from the plot of another), Out of Time (www.OutofTimetheNovel.com). AFI film school graduate Dan Decker, founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School and the Las Vegas Players led me through the process of writing “log lines” and only being allowed 23 words for my characters. It was a rude awakening. I never wanted to repeat the process after writing just one screenplay. I ultimately had a suicidal major character jump into the Hudson River, which was more-or-less what I felt like doing myself by that point in time.
Later that year, I was placed on a screenwriting panel in Chicago with James Strauss (“House,” “Deadwood,” “John from Cincinnati”) and asked about my illustrious career (i.e., one screenplay). The conversation went something like this:
Me: “I don’t even know what I’m doing up here with this guy. I only wrote one screenplay, even if it did win a ‘Writer’s Digest’ award.”
James: “Why did you write it?”
Me: “I wanted to learn how to be brief, how to be succinct.”
James: “It didn’t work, did it?
(Laughter all around)
Jim and I are now fast friends and frequently run across one another at writing conferences, where I remind him of his remark. Screenwriting is not for the faint of heart. My own heart grows faint at the prospect of having to write another. I’m better suited to short story writing or novel writing, methinks.
Although I was the author of Out of Time, I soon learned that I had to “kill my babies” to create a good screenplay and that screenwriters frequently have to change the order and/or actions of a book in order to provide an opportunity for the onscreen characters that will help telegraph the interior state of the characters to the screen. The people onscreen have to be able to externalize internal emotions somehow. They’re always smashing things or symbolically doing something to telegraph to the audience their interior states. And they have to have “a window character.” And on and on and on. Still, my screenplay treatment of Out of Time, a sci-fi, romantic thriller with time travel and a love triangle, won an award in a “Writer’s Digest” competition that year. (2007).
For me, one of the best adaptations of a book to film was 1975’s “Jaws.” I had read the novel by Peter Benchley. To this day, I think the ending of the film (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss), where the shark is fed the explosive metal canister in the final moments of the film and blows up, is one of the best revised adaptations of a novel-to-screen that I can remember. I’m sure there are others, but that’s a seventies film and one of the best endings that did not resemble the book’s ending, but improved upon it.