Screenwriting : Terminology and transparency by Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones

Terminology and transparency

Hi guys, I need to pick your minds. I've just finished a script that started out as a modern day interpretation of a classic. All the character traits, places, situations, names, locations etc are different, but the basics of the plot remain. How do I refer to it? Is it a re-imagining? Inspired by? What should I call it? Or does it need to be referred to at all?

Eric Christopherson

How about "based on"?

Adam Harper

My initial thought was to only use the comparison in a pitching situation such as Jaws in space (Alien) or, Hamlet but with lions (The Lion King).... maybe your story can be pitched in a similar fashion?

Beth Fox Heisinger

I’d go with “inspired by” not “reimagining.” Or refer to nothing extra on the title page. Maybe that “inspired by” aspect is best given in a pitch or in a one-pager, or in other supporting materials, etc. By industry terms and labeling, a “reimagining” is a type of remake with a fancy new hat—something’s been added, like new animation technology or live action. Disney is doing a lot of remakes as “reimaginings” of their classic properties. That’s not what you are doing with a spec script. Just make sure whatever it is you are writing has its own unique take. ;)

Wendy Jones

It was written over a hundred years ago.

Karen Stark

Classics generally are ok to use. Titanic is basically Romeo and Juliet re-imagined. I wouldn't worry about it. If your asked to pitch you can use a comparison and I personally like the term re-imaged. Until then it's not really important.

Beth Fox Heisinger

You’re probably fine, then. But should double check. Make sure it is in the public domain. It could be owned by an estate, family perhaps? ;) Good luck and best to you!

Karen Stark

Beth, is right There's also two different things you have to look at. One is of course copyright but there's something else and I just can't recall what it is. I was looking at it the other day but It just escapes me at the moment. Free use or something.

Karen Stark

Ah no sorry I am thinking about photos not books, I think!

Wendy Jones

Thanks, Karen Stark . It is in the public domain, so hopefully it is just something I can use in a pitch.

Wendy Jones

Now I just have to think up a title.

Beth Fox Heisinger

If it is in the public domain, then, yes, it is free to use. However, let’s say some other version is out there, then just make sure you are using the original source material, what’s in the public domain. Not some element from someone else’s interpretation or adaptation, nor use any of their additions that are unique to their project. That specific version would be under its own copyright protections, even if it too is based off of the same work from the public domain.

Bill Albert

Can you use the original title or were you thinking of some more modern version?

Wendy Jones

Beth Fox Heisinger I read the book to start with. Same one I studied at school! Much easier reading than I remember.

Wendy Jones

Bill Albert It is an old book with an old title, so I was trying to think of something more fitting.

Craig D Griffiths

The Lion King is Hamlet

You’re fine. Let it stand on its own two feet.

Stephen Floyd

I agree with Craig. Every story has connections to predecessors. Just let your tale be itself.

Wendy Jones

Thanks guys.

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services

Depends how specific you are. If this is Macbeth but the guy's name is Mike and he still has a wife who convinces him to kill his boss to he can take over the company or the kingdom or whatever, and then he starts seeing ghosts and going mad before getting killed by someone who completes a prophecy then you should probably put "Based on Macbeth, by William Shakespeare." You said just the basics of the plot are the same, so I wouldn't worry about it. It comes down to how much you feel you owe to the previous story, and it's not going to hurt you to credit them or not because it's public domain. In fact, if it's a popular public domain story, then you may want to include that to raise your chances of reads :)

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