Let me take the time to elaborate on the competition and explain why this is such a big deal. Cinequest has been voted by many as the Best Film Festival, and is an event that brings screenwriters, film makers, and producers together.It is not only about the prize money and the possibility of getting your script / film sold for production, but also gets you exposure to some of the industry greats.
Speaking of which, the panel of judges usually consists of an area of professionals in the arena, such as film producers, internationally recognised screenwriters and directors. Last year’s festival included professionals from the likes of Lions Gate Films, Happy Madison Productions, First Light Films and XYZ Films, to name but a few. Those who know anything about the film industry will realise that this is not a small kettle of fish.
Am I bit ambitious entering a screenplay competition with my very first screenplay? Maybe, but I’m not known for doing things in small measure. This is a great opportunity to have my work read by industry professionals who may be able to guide me towards even greater screenwriting, more so than any textbook or video lecture could teach me. Here are film artists who know what the audience and film studios want, so what better way to get myself out there and start networking?
Besides being my first screenplay, it is also the first time I am using a female protagonist, as part of my personal challenge to change my mindset around heroes and main characters and ensure that I don’t stick to my own ideas of a protagonist stereotype in all my work. It is also very much in support of the HeforShe initiative of which I am a supporting member. And just like my protagonist in the screenplay, I’ve learnt just what I am capable of writing if I just let my creativity go without bounds.
So, what can I take away from my experience in this competition? Well, screenwriting is so very different from writing a novel. Besides the set word limit in order to keep film lengths standard, the ability to go on a descriptive essay spree is also thrown out the window. Tolkien used to use so many pages just to describe how a flower grew on the side of a mountain and how it effected the outcome of Frodo’s final decision (sarcasm: it wasn’t a flower), but I am sure Peter Jackson did not have to deal with a script that explained that same mountain for pages on end. As a matter of fact, it was probably just a sentence. Something like “PAN over mountain side.”
Even though I sort of understood it before (in theory), I know clearly see why not everything can be explained or done in a film, and why adaptations of books can never really cover all the key points. At best, you are sitting with up to about 6 major scenes that you need to plan around, mostly because of the page / time limitations of the film. You need to pick the best scenes that follows the main plot of the story very succinctly. In a novel, you can stray from the main plot for a moment if you wish to add some ambiance to the story, or maybe some realism. In a film script, you don’t have that luxury. Every scene needs to carry something that leads to the eventual resolution of the rising conflict. That’s it… nothing more, nothing less. If you still have time / space to delve into anything else other than what relates to the plot, then your story possibly lacks the depth it needs to become a great success. Even explaining your characters in great detail, unless it pertains to the plot, is a big no-no.
And of course, when adapting from a novel, when you can only select a max number of scenes, it can affect how you carry that story over. I remember when I watched the Harry Potter movies after having read the books, and thinking “man, there’s so many changes to what I remember in the book”, and “hey, that’s not what happened!”. But I’ve come to realise, when you center your script around several main themes that leads to the final showdown, you may need to change how things happen in the story. In the novel, you can expand on every little detail you want, which then leads to a resultant actions – cause and effect. When you bring it down to script level, many of the minor causes get eliminated to make way for the main, major causes which leads to the final effect. This inevitable results in becoming creative as to how you get there, which is why adaptations will never truly reflect the story of the novel, only the closest adaption to the truth that can be portrayed on film.
Having said that, I look forward to one day possibly adapting a film from a novel. It feels like such an exciting challenge. But first, I need to focus on this month ahead and writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, and also completing the debut Celenic Earth Newsletter. Watch this space for more details.
The Count of Celenic Earth