writing a successful screenplay: consider the source

My very quickie notes for yesterday’s SXSW panel on adapting a book for film. I took these notes for me, fast, during the panel, but figured I’d share.

It’s not always about adapting a book scene for scene; it’s about adapting the spirit of the book. Not losing that. Approach: take your favorite book and try to write a script from it. That’s how you learn. You learn by doing. There’s a black book of favorite scripts, well-written, but will never be made. Write with passion. Write with your voice. But you need a mission statement. You need a sales package. It’s not just about it being well-written.

If your goal is to make the transition to screenwriter, you have to get your foot in the door. If you’re going the spec route, find source material that has commercial value. To get in, you want to stand out. Something they’ll remember you for. Alex Tse says, I was a temp at Disney, and I heard them speaking about what they were looking for. So he did that, took a good idea, but it was written like crap. "Yeah, the story is good, but the writing is crap."

Don’t chase the market! You’ll always be chasing it. Focus on following your passions. You have to keep true to your original stuff, keep with your voice. Chasing the market is a sucker’s game.

A spec-script, or your own book, is a calling card.Take your passion project and gear it toward an audience. Originality is important.

People tend to dismiss adaptations, thinking it’s "less than," thinking it’s just translation. But translating that material can be tougher than when your limitations are boundless. Another obstacle can be that studio and producers get attached to source material you weren’t planning on using, and you have to figure out a way to keep it.

The real reason a lot of movies are based off books is fear. Movies are expensive to promote, to make, now more than ever. And a book at least shows that it has worked.

Sarah Bird suggests doing what Shauna Cross did. She couldn’t sell the script, so she wrote a YA Novel, and then could get hired to write the script she’d already wrote.

Lots of talk about graphic novels. If you can’t get your script sold, get someone to make it into a comic book, to prove how it will look.

Live in LA. You have to put yourself in a position to be read. You need an agent, someone hooked into the system, who knows what the studios want.

Want to know how to write a screenplay? Read Save The Cat!