Scripts vs Novels

Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional, and nothing found on this site should be taken as legal advice.  Always consult an attorney.

I’ve already written about the differences of Screenwriting vs Prose from a writer’s perspective.  Now I’d like to touch a little on the differences between the finished products: Scripts (screenplays) and Novels (books).  Physically, here you go:

The Script: Three-hole-punched 8 1/2″ x 11″ computer printed paper, bound with two brads.
A Book: Bound pages, professionally printed, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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As for the format?  There’s plenty of nuts and bolts books written on formatting screenplays and you can google manuscript specifications for agents or publishers (or ebook format), so if you’re looking for that, keep looking.

What I’d really like to talk about in this post is what the rights a writer keeps if they sell a script versus selling a novel.

Here’s what it boils down to: when you sell a screenplay, you are (generally) selling the whole thing.  It’s no longer yours.  Other writers can (and probably will) make changes to your story without your permission.  When you sell a novel, you’re still the copyright holder and it’s still your writing, you’ve just given the publishing house the rights to print and sell it.

As a writer in the US, you have far more rights as a novelist than as a screenwriter.  In Europe, screenwriters have more rights, but for this purpose–I’m talking only about American writers making deals with American production companies.

There are ways to keep certain rights to a screenplay, such as the extremely complicated Theatrical Separated Rights.  On the flipside, there’s also terrifying loopholes like Hollywood Accounting, where you might never even get paid.  For the most part, though, screenwriters aren’t even allowed to distribute the very scripts they wrote once they’re sold.

But as a novelist, you keep your copyright.  Even if your book is getting adapted to film–in which case you only license the material to the studio, allowing them to make the film, much like you allowed a publisher to print the book.

Really, we can chase this rabbit down the hole as far as we want, but I think if we go much further we’ll need a pack of lawyers to read the map.  So… that’s it for now.

Lesson learned: write the book first.  Sell it twice, keep the rights!

Film Review: THE HUNTER (2011)

Disclaimer: I don’t plan on making film reviews the norm on this site but because I already wrote about this movie, I’m willing to make an exception.  I also don’t like giving negative reviews, especially for independently financed projects, as I respect the difficulties of moviemaking and I don’t want to steer revenue away from these hard working artists.  However, my audience is intelligent enough to know that this is only my opinion and that their own millage may vary.  So we shall proceed.

Please be aware that SPOILERS will follow, so if you don’t want to ruin your Monet Experience then go watch the movie now (it’s currently playing VOD) and then come back and share your thoughts.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

The Hunter (2011) – Official Trailer HD

The trailer would have you believe it’s a tense thriller, right?  About a man with a rifle, put in jeopardy by a conspiracy of those all around him–plenty of intrigue and suspense, right?  Wrong.  This 1:38 might be the most exciting of the whole 100 minute movie.

Okay, so maybe the problem was with marketing.  Maybe if I knew I was getting into a slow, plodding drama more about unemployed loggers than a Tasmanian tiger hunt, I’d have enjoyed the experience more.  But probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie has its redeeming aspects.  The cast was stellar!  Defoe and O’Conner brought grace and strength.  Sam Neil perfectly blended as a native (IMDB tells me he grew up down-under, so it’s no surprise).  And what a beautiful film; the cinematographer expertly captured the breathtaking scenery.

I actually wish I liked this movie more.  The topic is obviously one that interests me.  But I just couldn’t get behind it.  It strikes me as another in a painfully long line of films that tries to be profound by having nothing happen.  It’s like someone who wants to write a great work of literature, so they decide step one is “don’t have a plot”.

A fellow friend and filmmaker once shared a bit of wisdom with me he learned while making a documentary on the Air Force Academy.  He said, you can’t show the audience that an event is boring by boring them for ninety minutes.  By the same token, I find that if you spend too much time building the atmosphere, you’re left with nothing but that.

So did I miss something?  Or did the filmmakers?

In defense of the werewolf

Another installment of “Underworld” is coming out, and I’m obligated to hope it does well.  Not as a fan of the series, but as a fan of werewolves.  Why?  Because Hollywood won’t see its success or failure as Here’s what people think about Underworld.  Instead, it will be viewed as Here’s what people think about werewolves.  So, if I want to see more lycanthropy up on screen, I must hope for the success of this film.

I’ve written a novel which will redefine the werewolf from its origins, that I’ve only begun to show to agents.  But a constant question I receive from friends, family and colleagues  is “Why werewolves?”


Werewolf Comments & Graphics
~Magickal Graphics~

Allow me to explain.

As a writer, the concept of the werewolf fascinates me.  It is man’s feral nature, bursting forth and coming to a clash with the civilized world.  In short, the werewolf is the id.  The concept is nearly limitless, and still has much room for exploration.

As a fan, the werewolf story is essentially a superhero tale.  It’s the same story as Spiderman.  Bitten by an otherworldly force, a nobody is suddenly thrust to find if they are either gifted or cursed.  It’s the story of someone who has something missing within them, suddenly being given more than they can handle.  Indeed, in one timeline of Spiderman, he even begins turning into a werespider, if you will.

Man Spider, source: cdn.obsidianport.com

The werewolf has yet to have its day.  Vampires are in vogue and idealized, but I think the comparison is an irrelevant invention of pop culture.  It’d be like if Frankenstein vs The Mummy had taken off, and now all mentions of Frankenstein’s Monster must be held up against King Tut.


Werewolf Comments & Graphics
~Magickal Graphics~

Having said that, I think I’ve written something that will do for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires.

I hope to share it with you soon.

Hollywood Imperialism: Make the World Britain!

This is the first actual “weekend” I’ve had in a long time. I write every day, or at least edit/proofread. For those of you who may have missed it on Twitter, I finished editing my novel and sent it off for review yesterday.  So this weekend is completely off!  Except for this blog…enjoy.

The subject of the blog entry, is something I’ve noticed for a long time:

To Americans, all foreigners are British.

This is specifically true, if the movie is highlighting an ancient civilization.  Go watch any movie or TV show made in the last 15 years, and if the foreigners are speaking English, I guarantee it’s the King’s.

Now onto the “why”:

-Sometimes the actors actually are British.  Sometimes.  People cite the HBO show “Rome” as an example of this.  You point out that all the Romans have British accents, and they’ll inform you it’s simply because that’s how they speak.  Not exactly.  Many of the actors on that show were Irish, and needed voice coaches to become posh-sounding Imperialists.  Which leads us to the next point….

The English were Imperialist.  That’s why it makes sense to us as a modern audience.  The hoity-toighty English accent makes more sense to our American minds for the portrayal of members of a grand empire, than a cheese-ball Italian accent would (even if it’s more accurate).  You wouldn’t want Mario and Luigi giving epic speeches, would you?  Even Star Wars recognizes this effect, as almost all their Imperial officers have a British accent.

-It makes distinguishing class easier.  Perhaps the most subconscious-based reason.  As many people don’t know much about ancient political structure, giving the nobility an “educated” accent (mmmmmyes, quite right) and giving the footsoldiers a “common” accent (‘ello govna!) allows us to easily distinguish social hierarchy without having it explained to us.

These all make a certain amount of sense, to me at least.  But sometimes it goes a bit far.  I recently watched the movie “Hugo”, which takes place in 1930s France.  All the books, menus, signs, etc were in French.  They even went so far as to shoot it in Paris.  Yet the actors all had British accents!  Perhaps English-speaking actors with French accents are hard to find, while Britains are abundant.  Or perhaps…

-That’s just the way we do it.  Because of actor availability on foreign locations, classical films used English actors.  So the tradition continues.  That, and we don’t want to start confusing the audience this late in the game.

Can you imagine a Roman General with a Tennessee accent? But it’s just as realistic as British tones.

Screenwriting vs Prose

As a writer who finds himself at home in both forms, I’m often asked what it’s like transitioning between the two.

Personally, I love it.  They’re both very different, and switching from one to the other is like taking a break, but without the lost productivity.  And my number one goal?  Be prolific.  So if nothing else, it helps me accomplish that.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me outline the fundamental differences between the two.  As most people are familiar with prose (you’re reading prose right now!), I’ll just speak to how screenwriting differs.

In prose, the writing is the finished product. In a screenplay, the movie is it’s final form.  So there’s no thoughts, no emotions, no asides–just action and dialogue. In a script, you’re only writing what will be SEEN or HEARD by the eventual audience.  And guess what?  No description either.  You want your lead in a blue dress?  Oh well.  UNLESS it directly influences the plot, but if you just envisioned her that way–too bad.  Why?  Because at this point you’re doing someone else’s job.  A movie is a collaboration.  There’s someone whose entire job is picking out what color dress your lead will be in.

The result leaves you the bare minimum of words with which to tell the story.  But that’s expected, because there’s one other very important job as a screenwriter: you dictate the pacing.  The general rule, is that one page in a script is equal to one minute of film time.  So much hinges on this (budget, blah blah blah) that a minute goes by quicker than you think.

So in a nutshell:  Writing a novel, your goal is to completely immerse your reader into your story, by whatever means possible.  There are almost no rules.  Writing a screenplay, your goal is to not get in the way of everyone else on the project, so they can immerse the audience into your story.  And there are lots of rules (I’m not going to touch on formatting), but they can be broken if you know what you’re doing and have a good reason.

Now to cover the initial question: what’s it like to switch?  It makes my writing, in both forms, that much richer.  I’ve learned to make my words count, to use subtext, to let a moment speak for itself.

As an exercise, I re-wrote a story that was originally a short script, The Tunnel, as a short story.  You can read the script here and the short story here.

Want more on the differences?  Check out the next post in the series, Scripts vs Novels.