SCREENPLAY OR NOVEL?

It’s seven PM and the street in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater is thronged with movie fans.  Your limo, now third in line, is inching toward the main entrance as you mentally rehearse “the walk,” that casual attitude that you will adopt as you stroll, full cargo of butterflies on board, between the double line of people flanking the walkway leading into the building.

Your movie is having its premier.  That novel you so lovingly crafted three years ago had been picked up by a major Hollywood studio and is now ready to be presented to an eager public.

In the darkened theater you sit enthralled as the words, the dialogue you imagined into being, pours forth from the lips of several Hollywood icons.  When the final scene plays out you telepathically will everyone to remain in their seats until the final credits roll so that they can all see your name following the words “screenplay by…. you.”

My book “Time of the Preacher,” currently being promoted by Jason Cushman, began life as a screen treatment.

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In fact, all of my early writing was done in screenplay format.  There is a certain ease to writing in a form that allows you to focus on dialogue while merely sketching in the details of the scene.

A soldier coming home to the family farm might take several pages of exposition to fully describe.  In a screenplay it would be something like: EXT.  Country road.  Day.  A Greyhound bus stops by the side of the road.  A young man in uniform gets off, hefts a duffel bag and walks away.  TRACKING SHOT follows the man as he reaches a narrow lane, pauses and gazes at a farmhouse in the distance.

The screenplay provides the framework, the director fleshes it out.

For those accustomed to writing novels a transition to screenplays can be very demanding.  You will no longer have long passages in which to set your scenes but they must still convey to the producer and then the director the full scope of your vision.

I once signed up for a seminar on screenwriting that was being sponsored by a local university and scheduled to cover three days.  I only attended the first day.  The person conducting the seminar lectured on the importance of registering your work with the Writer’s Guild in order to protect the property.  The figures I will cite come from that long ago experience and are presented only to make a point.

He said that approximately 10,000 screenplays were registered in any given year although several times that many were being written.  I asked how many motion pictures were being filmed in an average year and his answer, “between 90 and 100, or so.”  I questioned the chances of actually selling a screenplay, given those odds and was told, “you don’t have to worry about that, no screenplay worthy of being filmed will ever go unnoticed.”

Instead of attending seminar day two, I went to the library (pre-computer era) and did some research.  What I learned was that many successful screen writers did not want to have their scripts made into films, the money was in options.  The writer’s agent would shop the screenplay to several studios or producers, sell an option for 6 months or a year.  When the option expired without a film having been made it was actually easier to option the same script to another studio, citing the interest shown (and lack of vision) by the first studio.

A prolific writer with a good agent could have several screenplays circulating the options roundabout at any given time, providing a steady source of income.

I had an agent and she actually did generate some interest at two well known Hollywood studios.  One of them asked for a major rewrite along lines they suggested but they were not willing to purchase an option from an “unknown” writer, it had to be done on spec.

Things might have been entirely different today had I not let ego override common sense but I walked away from the opportunity.

I spent a few years collecting rejection slips from major publishers and then settled down to establishing a career with the camera.  Today, with the advent of digital on demand publishing, I have 13 novels in print and full responsibility for letting the world know that they exist.

One further thought on screenwriting, it is a very useful tool for getting past writer’s block.  Writing a screen treatment, 30 plus pages, with a few sample scenes, can be an excellent way to clear up snags in your novel’s plot development.

If you have never used the screenplay format, why not download a few sample pages, readily available online from several sources, and give it a try?

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About rixlibris

Retired from child care photography after thirty years of coaxing smiles and wiping noses. Currently venting years of repressed fictional story lines via self-published novels. Married and still alive in a remote corner of Waller County, Texas.
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4 Responses to SCREENPLAY OR NOVEL?

  1. Thank you for this introduction to the world of screenplays. Do have any recommendations for books on how to write one?

    • rixlibris says:

      Thanks for your comment. Recommendations? Nope. As with any form of writing, the process is far too subjective for anyone to say that there is one correct way to do it. There are guidelines for acceptable forms and they are pretty much all you need to get started. The simplest way is to obtain a couple of shooting scripts, available from many sources online, and practice setting your words down in that format. Choose a couple, one from the modern era and one all-time classic such as “Casablanca.” Follow the format in your sample script by presetting your tabs and then go with the flow. Rule of thumb, plan for 30 or more pages in your treatment, sort of a synopsis on steroids, and one page per minute of running time for the story. If you are submitting the script then, once it has been completed your first submission will be the treatment and three sample scenes, first, middle and last. I hope this answers your question.

  2. Thanks. That is helpful.

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