Friday, July 22, 2016

Hype, Hyper, Hooray: The Screenplay as Bare-Bones Reality

 Somehow the subject of screenplays and stage plays came up during a recent conversation with the notable result of one of those involved in the conversation remarking on the spareness of details relating to descriptions of setting and individual attitudes and responses.

You, being the you you are, were quick to respond.  "That is because plays are not meant to be read; they're meant to be performed so that they can be experienced."  You have enough experience with this form of writing to know how unlikely the chances of a screenplay being read all the way through if it is longer than a hundred or so pages in length, and how descriptions of characters and settings exceed one or two lines.  You might get away with:

Ext. Night. Battlements of a medieval castle.

A distant church bell chimes the midnight hour.

In a page or so, when the principal character enters, you might get away with the notation: ENTER Hamlet, a college-aged Danish prince.  Even were you to add such descriptions as moody or conspicuously grief-stricken, you'd be messing with the domain of he or she to be named director and, as a consequence, not a good bet to win you approval.

You know some of these things because you were taught by individuals who regularly produced and/or acted in such narratives, but also because you were still of an age where you failed to see some of the more glaring differences between a document intended to be performed and one meant to be read.

One significant event stands out in your mind, an assignment to adapt for the screen one of your favorite longer stories, "The Cut-Glass Bowl,: by one of your favored writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even at that early stage in your progress as a writer, you were aware of what you considered Fitzgerald's glaring weakness, the abundant presence in his text of -ly adverbs. Having an opinion about the glaring weakness of a favored author is a window into one's own weaknesses. 

Time spent considering the why and wherefore an author has become a favorite, then considering the most grating things about a number of favored authors helps develop the muscle memory to avoid pitfalls. By the same logic, authors do not become favorites without some consideration of their strengths.

When you turned in your first draft of your adaptation of " The Cut-Glass Bowl," the producer hefted it, then wondered out loud if your manuscript were longer than the original text. He also wondered why you found it necessary to include in the script Fitzgerald's opening lines to set the tone: "There was a rough stone age and a smooth stone age and a bronze age, and many years afterward a cut-glass age. In the cut-glass age, when young ladies had persuaded young men with long, curly mustaches to marry them, they sat down several months afterward and wrote thank-you notes for all sorts of cut-glass presents--punch-bowls, finger-bowls, dinner-glasses,wine-glasses, ice-cream dishes, bonbon dishes, decanters, and vases--for, though cut glass was nothing new in the nineties."

"You could start with story. You could let the director and actors convey the tone and personality, but no, you have to start with stuff that can't be filmed and won't be read." Then, as if reading your mind, which was a likely prospect because he knew you, "And I don't want any English major rationale for why such material is necessary. If I'm going to produce the film, I'm going to get people on board who know how to tell stories."

While you were on your way out of his office, your English major tail between your legs," the producer called out to you, "Good as he was, Fitzgerald never caught the difference between the screenplay and the novel."

There was and still is a great deal to learn. There is a rough and not direct equivalency between the motion picture or play director and the editor of a novel. There is also some equivalency between characters in novels and short stories and the actors who portray them. When you work as a short story or novel writer, you are in effect enhancing these equivalencies, bringing them to interpretation.

The same screen or stage play can be given differing interpretations by different casts of actors and a different directorial vision. To breathe added life into these thoughts, a screenplay is the equivalent of Reality. A screenplay that has been cast and assigned to a director is transformed into a hyper reality, an interpreted one, moved with some deliberation away from a sense of randomness, allowed to convey feelings.

A novel is ever so much greater a hypertext, meant to interpret rather than convey reality.

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