Saturday, February 14, 2015

Thinking about writing for screens, big and small

Screenwriting is never something I've considered seriously as a way to tell my stories. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because it seems to require such a firm commitment to forms and structures, like a sonnet almost. I look at a published screenplay and I think: whoa, I could never write one of those.

I think my hesitation also might come from the fact that I see screenwriting as a short-story art: even feature film scripts are closer in length to Alice Munro than to Charles Dickens. And I've never been very good at writing short stories, at least not short stories for adults.

Then a colleague at work told me that she had taken a scrip-writing course out of UCLA and had really enjoyed it. We got to talking about writing and our own projects and she asked me if I would be willing to read one of her scripts and giving her my thoughts on it.

"Sure," I said, all the while wondering why my stomach clenched almost the moment she asked the question.

I took her script and gave it a good read. Two immediate responses: wow, it is good (I could actually see many of the scenes playing themselves out visually in my mind); and thank goodness it's a romantic comedy. I'm a huge fan of rom-coms and felt I was at least somewhat on safer ground. I might not know screen-writing but I do love my rom-coms.

In order to ground myself even more firmly, I did a quick web search on screen plays. To my amazement, up popped an IMDB website that is dedicated to making the scripts for Hollywood films available to the reading public. Awesome.

I soon got lost in the site. I read the script for my all-time favourite romantic comedy, Notting Hill, then went on to read Shakespeare in Love, Pretty Woman and finally When Harry Met Sally. It was a real education, both in the form and in the strategic approach to writing a good screenplay.

And it proved to me just how good my friend's script really is. It also clarified in my mind exactly what I felt worked in the screenplay and what could be improved.

She and I sat down to discuss the script and had a really good talk. She was pleased that I had enjoyed her work so much but also open to some of the suggestions I made as to how she could go about making it even better. The fact that I could refer back to some of the best romantic comedies of the past 30 years as we spoke only made my comments carry that much more weight.

All of this got me thinking: could I write a screenplay? I'm still not sure but I think I'd like to try.

I've been working on my Abigail Christmas novella, trying to turn it into a stage play and I realized, but for the formatting issues and questions of length, the two forms -- stage plays and screen plays -- are not that different.

And then my friend, as if reading my mind, suggested that I start adapting the original 12 Abigail short stories into tele-plays so that we can create a web-series from them. Interesting idea.

I have so many projects I'd like to get to but this one intrigues me strongly. I'm still not sure I have what it takes to write screenplays but I won't really know until I try.