I knew the path to seeing my debut novel, The Magician's Horses, become a feature film would be a murky trail that might just as easily lead to a bottomless chasm of rejection. But when I stood at the brink of the epic journey, it was perfectly clear that there were no shortcuts, no safe routes, and no alternatives. I could turn away or take one step forward.
That First Step
Not all authors yearn to see their novels adapted into feature presentations, but I happen to be one who can't imagine a more gratifying experience than seeing one of my stories played out on the big screen. As I mentioned in a prior article, I feel that a reader experiences a certain closeness to a story that comes only with soaking up a good book. That intimacy can't be produced on the big screen, but film has a special magic of its own. And when the two mediums come together, it can be a wonderful experience.
I understood that not every novel is well-suited to film adaptation, but my gut told me I had a serious contender in The Magician's Horses. I also knew I wouldn't one day get a surprise knock on the door from a film producer offering to make my novel into the next blockbuster. To bring the project into reality, I would have to make it happen. So I took a bold step onto the murky trail to Hollywood.
Immediately, I encountered the first fork in the road. One direction meant the struggle to convince an established screenwriter to adapt the screenplay for me. I saw this as a dark, dismal path of endless rejection.
The other direction meant writing the screenplay myself, a treacherous path filled with obstacles and hidden pitfalls. But I saw it as an exciting challenge, like wading into a tropical forest. So I ventured into the world of learning to be a screenwriter.
Research, Research, Research
I read books on writing marketable screenplays. I read blogs. I read screenplays, good ones, bad ones, whatever I could get my hands on. I even watched movies, lots of them. Yep, those countless hours spent parked in front of the big-screen TV with surround-sound blasting were actually research.
When I finally felt confident enough to begin writing, I started hacking into my story like a man with a machete. The Magician's Horses is a relatively short novel, but condensing 200 pages of prose into a 110 page script meant cutting a lot of content. I felt an obligation to preserve the integrity of the story, not to cramming in every scene, so I didn't hold back. Whack, Whack, Whack.
I finally emerged with a 120 page screenplay tucked under my belt. Okay, I didn't hack out everything I could have. 120 pages is a little on the thick side, but I told myself I was leaving room for trimming.
Before forging onward, I had the wisdom to seek professional advice in the form of a script analysis. That's when the ground fell out from under my feet and I plunged into a deep pit, complete with sharpened spikes at the bottom. Ouch!
I had anticipated some trimming. I had even expected some rewriting. But I hadn't been prepared for the script to be chopped in half.
I was dumbfounded.
As I sat at the bottom of the pit, nursing my wounds, my script analyst dropped me a rope, offering two solutions to salvage the screenplay. I could expand the first half of the story and cut the second half, or I could cut the first half and expand the second. She saw no cohesive way to make the two halves fit together. It made sense. There were merits to each approach, and either probably would have worked. But neither was my story. And more importantly, neither was true to the novel. So I kindly refused the lifeline.
Call it desperation. Call it inspiration. But after a period of feeling trapped, I was struck with a revelation. There were parts of the story that had gone untold in the book. There were implied events that carried the story to completion. By including these unwritten scenes, I could bring the two halves seamlessly together. I knew adding more content would mean I'd have to do serious trimming at both ends, but the essence of the full story would remain intact and true to the novel.
With renewed zeal, I dug into the walls of the pit and clawed my way out.
Path of Uncertainty
I've now emerged from the jungle, cut and bruised, clutching my revised screenplay. Ahead stretches an equally challenging trail, beset with rocky mountains and abysmal valleys. I have no way of knowing where I'd be if I'd taken another route, but, for now, I continue the journey, one step at a time.
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