For my project I decided to explore the business of adapting a novel into a script. I investigated the idea, researched the field through contact with industry professionals, books and websites, plotted the stages of this process and executed the plan. Throughout the project I kept a diary documenting the ups and downs of my progress. Through this course I could decide if this was a suitable industry for me in the future.
The planning stages of my project went on for the duration, however to begin I needed to plan out my progress, this involved creating a schedule that incorporated all elements of the process from research and training planning to networking, writing and editing. Whilst making this schedule I needed to allow for other module deadlines that could monopolise my calendar, plan for any possible obstacles that may arise during the project and give myself a sufficient safeguard of time to overcome them.
Once I had estimated the time it would take for each individual section of my project I then needed to determine which book I would be adapting. This process is documented in detail within my journal – one specific point that I mention is ensuring the potential books followed certain conditions. I chose The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton as it checked all of my criteria as well as having intricately written characters, multiple themes and an underlying feminist moral to the narrative.
After selecting the text that I wanted to adapt I needed to understand the novel, its characters, its themes and the narrative to an in depth extent. To achieve this I initially read the novel numerous times so that I knew the plot in detail. I then researched the different characters and themes by reading educational analysis websites such as Spark Notes and Schmoop and studied different thesis papers on the novel. After undertaking my secondary research I then compiled my own report on the aspects of the book to establish a personal understanding of the text.
Once I had researched the novel comprehensively I needed to articulate what my specific angle would be for the film. To do this I first had to analyse my own film aesthetic by looking into a few of my favourites. I then examined my preferred types of adaptation – whether faithful, loose or literal and decided what type my script should be. Whilst making this decision I also checked the previous adaptations of the novel to avoid creating something similar.
When this was determined I needed to find an adaptation method that worked with the themes of the original text. Some of my ideas were to change the character perspective (I could write the story from a minor character’s point of view), to change the setting but keep true to everything else (a different time/era with the same characters and plot) or a story loosely based on the novel with nods to the original. I decided to set my script in Manchester in the 90s as I liked the parallels between the club scene and the high society of the original text. I also needed to give my script an original title, after creating some vital criteria I came up with a list of ideas based on theme, setting and the main character. These were then narrowed down to two final choices: Dead Sound and In Motion, I decided on In Motion for its links to the setting, theme and narrative as well as its subtlety.
After I determined the type, theme and setting of my adaptation I then needed to find out exactly what production teams would want to look at when a new writer attempts to sell a script, this was especially important as my end user was a production team or script reader. To do this I compiled a list of industry professionals that I thought would be available to help and sent them an enquiry email. Of these professionals three replied and assisted me in my research: Jeremy Strong, Paul Holbrook and Tim Massey. From their answers I concluded that I would be expected to send a package of a treatment, synopsis and the first act of my script.
An additional aspect of my industry research was through networking. I met a production assistant for the BBC called Benjamin Spiro Hughes and arranged a Skype interview with him to talk over the details of adapting a script and acquire a few tips. Before the interview I planned a list of questions to use as a starting off point for the conversation. The chat went well; he answered all of questions with some incredibly useful advice as well as giving me more information than I had anticipated. Through this interview he also agreed to read over my finished work and give me some feedback.
Once I had heard back from the industry professionals it was time to start my training research. For this I needed to learn the industry standards for script formats, study the traditional and modern trends in scriptwriting and understand what it takes to write an engaging script. To do this I conducted a vast amount of research into the aspects of scriptwriting and the specifics of historical writing. I accomplished this through the use of books and websites as well as reading through scripts of previously produced films.
For guidance with a more personal perspective I also emailed three of the top Creative Writing tutors at university to ask for their input. Robin Mukherjee was invaluable in his response as he helped me discover a process for writing realistic dialogue. Another person whose advice has been integral to the success of my project is Lucy Hay and her website Bang2Write. I turned to her articles for answers to more modern approaches to screenwriting and emailed her when I couldn’t find what I specifically needed.
Throughout the writing stage I found Adrian Mead’s guide to adapting a novel influential. He advised certain analytical questions to ask myself whilst re-reading the novel which helped me advance my own analysis of the book. His guide also instructed me to go through the book and separate it into sections to then synopsise into one sentence summaries which aided me in my scene selection process.
Whilst researching different structures used within the screenwriting trade I decided to follow the three act structure, I created a beat sheet that adhered to the advice that I found. I then used this and my scene selections to create an enhanced beat sheet of integral scenes from the book for the script. This then became a guide for my film’s narrative through the treatment, synopsis and script writing course.
During the planning stages of my writing process I used my book analysis and scene summaries to select which characters were vital to the script’s plot, from this list I then created character profiles to help give myself an in depth understanding of the original characters. I also created a synopsis for the original text which was then used as a basis for my script’s narrative.
At the start of my writing process I encountered a few problems. One of these was the unclear definition of a treatment and a synopsis, these are documented within my literature review and my journal. To overcome this problem I decided to write my synopsis as the marketing document, which is defined in Lucy Hay’s guide, and publish the writing tool treatment.
After finishing the preliminary drafts of my synopsis and treatments I moved on to my script, this is when I came across my second problem. I originally attempted to format the script within Microsoft Word but found this too difficult and after turning to Bang2Write for help I discovered that many scriptwriters recommended using software. The first draft came out surprisingly quickly and I sent it and the synopsis over to Benjamin Spiro Hughes for feedback.
The editing process had been ongoing throughout the development of all of the documents and I had previously edited my treatment before beginning my script writing. However the last stage of my project was a final edit of my script and synopsis.
I tackled my third obstacle in this project when my industry insider took a while to get back to me with feedback on the script. I worried that I wouldn’t receive his feedback in time and would be unable to use his insights in my project. However, I still continued to edit the script to properly hone the writing style and cut out any unnecessary details regardless of a lack of constructive criticism. Once the feedback came through I altered the synopsis and the script again to incorporate his advice and created my final draft. One specific point he made about my synopsis was the lack of a tagline to draw in my end user. From this I then researched taglines as well as loglines and created an appropriate logline for my script.
Although overall my project was a success I feel that I was too optimistic in my planning stages. More specifically the schedule I created at the beginning allowed too much time for editing without taking into account the realistic possibility of running late on my writing. Another part of my original planning portfolio that I had trouble following through with was the idea to join a writing support group, though I did follow quite a few online support discussion boards and blogs I did not find the confidence to attend one in person.
Regardless of not strictly following my original estimations I still believe that in general this project has been a successful one as I have planned and completed the process of adapting a novel. As well as discovering that I am capable of writing a script that follows industry formats and includes authentic dialogue. Although stressful at first I found the task to be highly enjoyable. This project has also helped me to communicate with professionals within the film industry and acquire a contact in Benjamin Spiro Hughes whose feedback on my first draft was beneficial to my final product. If I were to make improvements on my execution of this course I would have made more contact with my guiding tutor, I feel that their feedback would have helped me to push past some of my initial obstacles. I would also have planned to write the whole script instead of just the first act required by production companies, as I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process and I intend to continue with this script in my own time.