Posted by: steveonfilm | November 30, 2009

Family Matters

This past holiday weekend I had a really good chance to pick my uncle’s brain. We talked about a lot of things that went down in and around 1972. We talked track. We talked music. We talked college. Athletics. Cars. TV. Technology. A bunch of stuff. It was a refreshing series of conversations that were both educational, and a chance for my uncle and I to bond a bit.

He also brought with him an old shoe box full of pictures. Most of them were from his days competing. But a lot of them, probably a third, were candid pictures of my extended family growing up, some pictures of vacations my family and his would go on, and just miscellaneous pictures of various other things he’d done through his life (fishing, golfing, travel). With so many family members at the beach house this Thanksgiving, the pictures offered some really fun family memories and laughs.

I talked to him about wanting to write a screenplay about the first time he made the Olympic Team. Interestingly enough he told me that he’d been approached about writing a book on coaching, and his life in general, and a lot of it would include his collegiate running and Olympic races. Almost immediately he started to tell me what he wanted to see in the movie. He wanted it to start while he was in high school, and then go through all of these events, and other such details.

I tried to explain to him that writing a screenplay has a specific flow. The story is written for the screen, not for your mind. So what reads fine in a book reads horribly in a screenplay. My idea for the screenplay wasn’t a biography about his life. It was about him making the Olympic Team for the first time. A very specific time frame. A very specific series of events.

I wouldn’t say we got into an argument, but I don’t think I ever really got across to him that books and screenplays are different. Then I remembered that he was a big Steven King fan. So I asked him, was “Carrie” the book and “Carrie” the movie the same? He said no, the movie was shorter and left a lot of things out. I told him that’s because you only have two hours in a movie, not an infinite amount of pages and time for the reader to read the book. You write for the screen. And you write for the time frame allotted.

He countered that “The Stand” miniseries was very close to the book. I had to remind him “The Stand” was a miniseries, and had ten hours of screen time to tell the story. That’s not the same as a movie. If it was a movie it would have left out a bunch of what happened in the book. After going over this some of it started to sync in, but I still don’t think he got the total concept of what I was trying to get across.

This whole experience really let me take stock of just how far I’ve come in my understanding of screenwriting. When I started out I thought it was just writing a linear narrative with weird margins and an odd font. I thought it was just like writing a novel or short story. I didn’t understand, or have any idea, about how much effort went into timing and pacing of story events. How each scene is boiled down to it’s most basic components. How you don’t tell the reader, you show them. In other words, when I started out I was just like my Uncle.

Some more news coming up tomorrow, and some notes on how I’m going to go about writing “Pride is Forever.”

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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