Is Your Film Treatment Ready?
In the run-up to Writer’s Digest’s Annual Conference at the Manhattan Hilton in New York (August 10-12), it’s been interesting to note the presence of some screenwriting sessions on the schedule. On the Thursday pre-show day of standalone events, for example, there’s a daylong seminar on “Screenwriting for Newbies and Novelists” with Jacob Krueger–who runs a studio series of training programs year-’round.
And on the Saturday of the conference, Jeanne Bowerman, longtime editor of Script Magazine (and a vivacious personality whose energy may be running half of Los Angeles’ power grid), is giving a session called “Introduction to Screenwriting,” one of the types of sessions she has frequently offered in California iterations of Writers Digest’s conferences.
While elements of screenwriting programming aren’t entirely new to writers’ conferences, they tend to stand out a bit more in “the age of Netflix.” A new emphasis on storytelling in fine television work and cinema has been part of many discussions recently, something I touched on in April here at Writer Unboxed.
One of the most compelling exercises arrived about 10 days ago, when the Publishers Association–the UK counterpart to the Association of American Publishers in the States–released a major study (PDF) it had commissioned, the big message being that film, TV, and stage productions likely to do best on the market are the ones that start with a book.
As we’ve reported at Publishing Perspectives, when compared to original scripts and screenplays, the Publishers Association is announcing that book adaptations attract, on average:
- 44 percent more in UK film box office revenue (and 53 percent more globally)
- 58 percent higher viewership of “high-end” television productions
- Nearly three times more ticket sales for theater productions
A point of interest to those following the Brexit saga in the UK: the Publishers Association’s report is both clever and important to the British publishing industry, which is working very hard this year to display its importance among the “creative industries” (entertainment) in the country’s economy as the break with Europe approaches. Those industries are going to need robust support in the development of trade treaties for export and other arrangements that for decades have been covered by European Union rules.
So the impetus for the association is a wise one, but it also gives us a chance to look at a rarely quantified view of the industry.
Whether you subscribe to the idea that the “storytelling imprimatur” may be shifting somewhat from books to screen (meaning not as many film and TV works are based on them), we’re clearly in a “golden age,” as some are calling it, with film and television gaining traction in the attention economy. Production is booming at Amazon Studios, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, and the ubiquitous Netflix, which now originates many of its finest shows in non-English markets first before bringing them into the US system.
I can recommend, for example, the system’s first French-produced outing, Dan Franck’s political thriller Marseille with Gerard Depardieu, an impeccable production from a French company called Federation Entertainment.) I’ll give you a break from my palaver: check out the trailer here.
Here’s a little secret: When I was on a three-city tour of German publishing houses in June with 15 publishers and editors from the UK and the US, some of us got into what might be called a “guilty” discussion. Several of the group admitted–to lots of sympathetic nods–that they’re not reading as much as they used to, because, as one put it, “TV is getting so good.”
This is unnerving to many in the group. They’re worried because they’re the pros in the business and they expect themselves to be utterly dedicated reader. And yet they, too, feel the siren call of the Roku box, right?
So here’s my provocation for you, and I’m sure I’ll need Don Maass’ help on one factor I’m going to toss in. I’d seriously like to have your responses, when you can tear yourself away from Jill Soloway’s I Love Dick:
- Do you do film treatments of your books?
- If not, are you learning screenwriting?
- Do you think it would make sense? The rationale here would be that you know best what your book needs in terms of at least initial film development and making it shoppable in Century City can’t hurt.
- Is it unthinkable because it would only distract you from your usual writing?
- Don, this is where I need your input, and James Scott Bell, are you here? Is it possible that working on a screenplay of, let’s say, your third draft of that latest novel could open up new ways of seeing and understanding your book? If, for example, you bring the filmmaker’s eye to your story, does it give you a better look at where to cut, tighten, refine, and hone the impact of your story?
- So could it be a good move for your craft as a novelist to learn some elements of screenwriting and apply them to your work in progress (or regress, as the case may be)?
- Or does this whole line of questioning just make you fat on popcorn?