Screenwriting : This all seems very confusing... by Larry Garner

Larry Garner

This all seems very confusing...

I am an author, with two published novels and a third in the works. I'm getting kind of long in the tooth for a new skill development process, but have decided that a film adaptation of one or more of my books is my next goal.

I have read some of the posts about screenwriting here and elsewhere, trying to decide if it is something I think I might be able to do, and do well. At first blush, the whole process looks very confusing, and I am having a difficult time deciding if this is something I want to tackle learning at the age of 67.

I guess my question is this; Is an obviously first try at a screenplay going to even have a chance of getting read and considered?

I would like to thank in advance all those who have constructive comments to make.

Royce Allen Dudley

What's stopping you from optioning or selling film rights to the novels and letting the producers hire a screenwriter? In that way you still may leverage input as part of the deal. If the stories are film worthy, the scripts will follow. In any case a film adaptation will be different than the book in many ways in many instances. How the story best gets to screen may not be what made a publisher take on the novel. And a filmmaker may be interested in the novel but have their own specific take on the movie. One of thousands of examples, Peter Jackson's film of the novel The Lovely Bones ( not to say it's a good film or not that's debatable; just that the filmmaker made the novel his own).

Brenda LeGeral Gafford

Hi Larry... First of all congrats on all your success with your novels. As for your post, I am a firm believer that you are never too "long in the tooth" to do new things. If you have the desire and the talent... it will speak for you. As for your first try at a screenplay, you never can guess if it will get read the first time or not. However, if your work is good, people will take notice. Sometimes they may want to see the synopsis or a Treatment first. Also, having a great screenwriting program is so helpful, I use Final Draft. Finally, you may want to seek a screenwriter that can help you with your adaptation. Well, hopefully my 2 cents worth will help... LOL. I wish you the very best!

Larry Garner

Royce, I truly feel that option would be the best fit for me. I do realize that the film could be quite different from the book. My favorite examples are the treatments of many of Stephen King's novels, especially Christine. It was nearly unrecognizable. LOL I just want to share the stories, and fully expect them to be changed and massaged to fit the film-maker's vision. This is part of the confusion I'm experiencing...When I try to contact people about looking at the books with rights sales or options in mind, they all want a screenplay. Finding a screenwriter that believes in the story seems to be the only option, but with a budget of nearly zero, hiring a screenwriter is out of the question. It, to me, comes down to finding the right person, in the right frame of mind, with the right resources to take my books to the next stage. Thankfully, I never approached writing as a way to make money or find fame, so the minute chance of finding the right person or persons is a subject for hope, not despair.

Larry Garner

Brenda, Thanks for the positive words! A synopsis is well within my skill range, and a treatment sounds, from my research, like something I could handle as well. The formatting and other special skills needed to write a credible screenplay are daunting for a total newbie. I may tackle it, as I'm not much of a quitter, but I'd much rather sell someone on the "idea" of the book and let them film it in their style.

Larry Garner

I saw this post from Dan Guardino in another thread, and it seems to voice just what I fear would happen if I were to try writing a one-off screenplay as a one time shot at getting one of my books made into film.

"I wouldn't even start looking for representation until you have a few screenplays under your belt because they know finding a first script that is marketable would be like finding a needle in a haystack. So the more you have under your belt the better your chances of landing one." Dan Guardino

Larry Garner

Kay, I would never presume to be the on-set writer, and am not sure that writing a screenplay is something I want to tackle. The subject matter is something I'm very well-acquainted with, and I feel the story is compelling. The characters are, according to my readers, believable. I was thinking thoughts similar to your last advice...I'd need to pare down the superfluous and concentrate on the meat of the story. Thanks for your input!

Joleene DesRosiers

My humble suggestion is that if you're only in it to sell a script, then screenwriting isn't for you. It can be a long, arduous process. Every screenwriter wants to sell their first script. Hell, they want to sell ANY script. And it's rare when that happens on first blush. Honing the art of screenwriting takes more than just putting pen to paper; it takes patience and perseverance. And a lot of support from a strong community.

Larry Garner

I never set out to be a screenwriter. I would like to get my books noticed and turned into film, and some people will only look at a screenplay. As I am unable to hire a screenwriter, I was considering trying it myself. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that my efforts might be better spent in a different direction. I think I could eventually be a good screenwriter with enough experience, but I also think the time and effort required to get to that point is more than I want to tackle at this point in my life. I do appreciate all the good advice and your comments have definitely made me think. Thanks to all who have responded!

Stephen Floyd

As far as being long in the tooth, I just completed an advanced screenwriting class with a woman in her 70s and she didn’t have any more trouble with the learning curve than the rest of us. You’re right that it’s an entirely new and different discipline, but learning the format isn’t nearly as difficult as finding your voice, killing your darlings and working with an editor/collaborator. If you already have a handle on the last three in your current writing career, you would have a leg up as a beginning screenwriter.

Larry Garner

Thanks for that input, Stephen! I have received more encouragement to try the screenwriting gig than encouragement not to, so I may yet decide to jump into the pool.I have a couple other commitments to take care of first in my "real" job, but I think I'll start collecting information, contacts, and other pertinent components of a new venture. I do believe I have the three things you mentioned, so maybe it's time to put the fear away and try something new. Thanks again!

Howard Allen

At my ScriptDoctor.com we have folks who are professional and have done adaptations in the past, myself included. If you send a pdf of the book I can check for you.

Holly Jurbergs

If your books have been successful, then you already have a built-in audience that will be excited about seeing the movies, and it lowers the risk for a producer who will be considering your screenplays. Go for it!

Jason Mirch

Hey Larry! I am the Director of Script Services at Stage 32. We have a ton of resources to help out! I don't think you are too late in the game to start a career in screenwriting. You're obviously an accomplished storyteller. The only thing that is changing is the medium. Email me at j.mirch@stage32.com I would be happy to talk you through a lot of your concerns.

Howard Allen

Larry, not trying to compete with Stage 32's own sales or anything. Just know the contract and the working relationship on adaptations of books requires someone who has worked with authors and knows how to keep the essence and spirit of the book fully alive in the screenplay. Lots of choices have to be made. Good luck to you either way.

Dan MaxXx

antwone fisher wrote 41 screenplay drafts adapting his biography. Do it yourself. Nobody's gonna care more than you and it's gonna show on the page.

Larry Garner

Dan, that is damned good advice. Now, if I can just convince myself to follow it...

Patricia Zell

I started the process of learning how to write a producible script at age 62--five and a half years later, I have a franchise of five romantic scripts plus a bonus musical. I've lived with the characters for many years because I am not a novelist (I hate writing descriptions). It took me about two years to get a grasp on the structure of a producible script.

I would recommend that you read two books--Save the Cat and Save the Cat for Novelists. Not all novels are easily adapted into screenplays, especially those that focus on emotions rather than on actions.

Understanding the beat sheet has helped me divide my scripts into 4 chunks--Act 1, Act 2 through the midpoint, Act 2 after the midpoint, and Act 3--and then writing a chunk at a time. My last two scripts each took about 4 weeks to write the first draft which only needed light editing.

If you can figure out how to write a producible script, you would be the logical one to adapt your novels because the stories are yours to tell.

Howard Allen

I could not agree with Patricia Zell more. Blake Snyder was a friend of mine, rest his soul, and Save The Cat is the textbook when I teach screenwriting. Most important thing she said: if you can get at the format in screenplays on your own, then you are the Best person to adapt your novel.

Larry Garner

Thanks, Howard. I have actually committed to buying Save the Cat, based on the many recommendations from credible writers. It appears as though I am going to start a very steep learning curve. Here;s hoping I'm up to the task.

Doug Nelson

Larry; my advice is that you stay away from 'Save the Cat' at all cost. Blake (yes I knew him) has done more damage to the film writers in America than any other individual, dead or alive. When I teach screenwriting, it is certainly not the class textbook.

Larry Garner

Well, there is certainly a difference of opinion at this, to say the least. This is another one of the things that makes it hard for a newbie...who to trust, to believe, and to rely on for honest, credible advice? I have no idea what to think, what advice to heed, and which to ignore.

Patricia Zell

I base my encouragement to read Save the Cat on the fact that it saved my scripts. One of the consistent feedback comments on my scripts before I read the book was that the stories didn't start until about the midpoints of the scripts. What the book did for me was to help me with pacing of the conflict which created the tension needed to keep the story moving.

I think what Doug has seen has been writers using the beat sheet without understanding the why and the how-to-use-this-effectively. I had to practice quite a bit before I caught the rhythm of the beats. At the point that I read the book, I had drafted four of the franchise scripts, and I rewrote the scripts until I was able to hit all the beats.

With the last two scripts, I broke them into the chunks that were defined by the page numbers of the beat sheet. I hit each beat on the exact page listed. I was amazed at how much easier that made the script writing. I didn't have to do more than a light editing of both scripts; it took me about 20 days for each script. (I don't start writing until I know the opening image, the mid-point, and the closing image of the story and until I visualize the story in my head.) Both scripts turned out exactly how I wanted them to--one is a updated musical adaptation of a Shakespeare play and the other is the last romantic script.

Another important thing about the beat sheet is that it assumes writers know how to keep each individual action and each individual dialogue in the scenes to the minimum. The beat sheet may not work if a writer uses long actions and dialogues. When those two elements are lengthy, they slow the story down. I never write actions that are longer than 3 lines--usually they are 1 or 2--and most of my dialogues are 3 lines or less. This brevity keeps the story moving at a strong pace and enables me to include a lot of visual images.

I hope this helps.

Larry Garner

Patricia,That is helpful information, to be sure. Any and all suggestions and advice about how to proceed will help me decide my plan of attack when I finally sit down to write my first screenplay. Thank you for sharing!

Diana Saenz

First you'll need a screenwriting program to transform your book. Get FADEIN, less expensive than other script writing programs. This will save you hours of trying to understand how to shape your script and will also explain the various stage and camera directions as well as placement. Second, cut out most of your dialog, and turn description into action. Read Syd Field's "Screenplay." I've written 15 plays and found the transition very easy, but you have a much bigger learning curve because books are a lesurely effort while screenplays are all about timing.

Larry Garner

Thanks, Sand, for your input! I appreciate all the help I can get.

Doug Nelson

Patricia - I agree with you, or you agree with me. If you're determined to read 'Save the Cat', then i suggest you read Blake's other two books; 'Save the Cat Goes to the Movies' and 'Save the Cat Strikes Back". I knew Blake pretty well but he unfortunately passed away in Aug/2009 so his final book was completed by some students who worked at the old Writer's Store. Blake was coming to see the error of his ways but the students didn't catch on. Beware what you read.

Patricia Zell

Doug, I think one reason the beat sheet worked for me is the type of stories that my scripts tell. The romantic plots work really well with that structure. I'm neither a natural-born story-teller nor a natural-born writer. I've had to work diligently to learn what I needed to know and to practice and practice and practice. It's been worth everything I've put into the process.

Howard Allen

Without joining the name calling, just want to say Blake's book written by him, Save The Cat, has a Beat Sheet that has been abused by literal-minded folks who try to use it as a Specific Formula instead of a suggested only blueprint that Blake intended.

Larry Garner

R.D Francis, I agree. I agree with Joleene Moody, I agree with you, I agree with most of the people who have taken time to encourage me. I started out thinking that I may have to write a screenplay because I can't afford to hire one and very few folks will talk about a book; they want a screenplay. I know that if I just sat down and wrote a screenplay because I thought I had to that it would be crap. If I decide to do this, at least now I know some of the pitfalls, the potential for disaster. I know where to look for help. I also know that I may never find anyone interested in it when it's done. But the seed has been planted. I'm thinking in terms of what is needed to do this right. And if I'm not going to do it right, there's no point. I'd like to find someone to option or buy the rights to one ar all of my novels, but even if that happens, I may well try screenwriting as a challenge. I thank you all for your time and patience with a total outsider. I'm humbled by your generosity.

Shawn Speake

SAVE THE CAT is a pro resource. Blake didn't make up anything. Gurus spot trends and provide insight. That's it. The examples are the proof and he breaks down movie after movie. I call the STC Beat sheet 'Hollywood Structure'. Hollywood has geared the public for a certain experience and STC is how they do it. Knowing STC, or Hollywood Structure, also helps storytellers articulate story craft on a higher level. Use it or not, you'll have a better understanding of how screen stories are built. I strongly recommend the read.

Patricia Zell

Well articulated, Shawn!

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