Saturday, August 30, 2008

If it’s good enough for Pixar...

Hey everybody,

I was listening to a podcast on a local show called The Treatment by host Elvis Mitchell. He interviews people in the film industry. So it’s not publishing per se, but his show is sometimes it’s really amazing in terms of the art of storytelling. In his interview with Andrew Stanton, one of the creators of Wall-E, one of the most inspiring things Andrew said was that it was four years of failures and creative mistakes. So if making mistakes and moving on to the artistic successes is part of the process for an outfit like Pixar, that’s pretty inspiring. Check out the link above to listen to the entire interview.

Another inspiring story is John Favreau’s adaptation of “Zathura” from picture book to film. The original story is a sequel by Chris Van Allsburg’s “Jumanji” also a picture book that became a film. The bare bones suggested by Chris’ story are brilliantly fleshed out in a script by David Koepp. Capitalizing on an antagonistic sibling rivalry set against a fantastical background, what is simple on the page becomes complex in the script story. It just goes to show you that if you pull on the yarn of a story, you can weave it into some great stuff.

Last on my list of inspiring adaptations is screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s novel-to-film work on Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. King has said it’s one of his favorite adaptations. Though the film did not do well critically or commercially, it is one of King’s most somber, realistic, moving, and frightening stories. From its trappings of a family melt-down on an island in Maine, the book is told in first person by the titular protagonist, the battle ax Dolores Claiborne herself. But the script takes a spare two paragraphs that mention Dolores’ daughter and uses that as a springboard for one of the thriller genre’s most complex mother-daughter relationships. While Taylor Hackford’s masterful direction, and the haunting cinematography Gabriel Beristain illuminate the darkest corners of a family implosion (during an eclipse no less), it is Gilroy’s genius that is the vaulting point from which all that creativity followed.

I was living in New York when I first saw the film (3 times at the then World Wide Plaza’s dollar theater). So obsessed with the film’s effect, I called Gilroy after finding his number in the phone book. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a few minutes and told me that he credits a background in journalism with his spare, economical style. Much like the Michelangelo analogy you hear a lot (‘chip away everything that is NOT the sculpture’) he wrote to emphasize what would work on screen. A line-by-line study of the script that two friends and I undertook one afternoon in LA a few years later showed that almost every line of dialogue overturns, contradicts, or illuminates the one before (not a wasted line in the script).

The story also has the most seamless set of flashbacks (one flashback within another) I have ever seen. While I’m sure I’m a little gaga over this particular story and adaptation, I’m sure that even if you don’t become a cultist like me, you’ll appreciate a rich script borne of two simple paragraphs of a novel in which the main character had no foil to help her tell her story. Stephen King said of the final product that he wished he’d thought of the angle himself.

The examples above are all fiction-to-film adaptations, which is not what we’re writing. But the revision process often involves re-examining your original position, finding a new one, and proceeding with a better version than your first (or 2nd, or 3rd!) draft. So take inspiration from some of the most entertaining stories I’ve seen that weren’t afraid to fail miserably, or radically expand a story, or radically depart from a story. Writing is re-writing.

Now get back to writing!


Christy Raedeke said...

Damn, ever thought of a career in film criticism? Fantastic analysis!
I'm going to go rent Dolores Claiborne right now...haven't seen it in years but you've piqued my interest.

Graeme Stone said...

Well I did go to film school, and I'm kind of a movie-holic. It's good to know that it's good for something. I hope you like Dolores Claiborne. It is one of my all-time favs. and the DVD has NO extras. A crime!!

Hardygirl said...

Great post!

I want to read the Dolores Claiborne screenplay. Any idea where I can find it?


Katie said...

Genius Graeme!!!!! What an interesting post!

I can't wait to rent this movie

Graeme Stone said...

SF, that script is hard to come by. I'll poke around LA for you. You may have some luck on line but I didn't find a thing. If you find it, I recommend a screen to script comparison to get the full effect.

Graeme Stone said...

Katie, let me know what you think of the movie.