I only subscribe to a handful of writing and filmmaking newsletters. In today’s day and age anyone can have a newsletter, but what it really comes down to is content. Many years ago my former business partner recommended that I subscribe to C. Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters. The amount of useful and insightful information about the world and industry of freelance writing is nearly unlimited. For me, I always enjoy Hope’s “EDITOR’S THOUGHTS” and the featured article. I was honored when Hope asked me to write the featured article for this week’s newsletter. Titled “From Bookstore to Theater, Turning Your Book into a Movie”, you can read my article at this link.
Writing an original story is not easy by any stretch and we all approach our stories differently. But in each and every case, there is that one moment when we are inspired to write that one word or phrase that will ultimately result in a book a movie or both. When I wrote a screenplay for a friend last year based on his book, there was a road map of sorts, a foundation in which to build off the primary story. The book was the original idea, the screenplay was the adaptation. A couple of weeks ago at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, a friend of mine was passionately telling me about an original story that they want to turn into a movie.
And therein lies that one word that drives us creatives – passion. I can only speak for myself when it comes to writing an original story, but passion is the number one driving force for me. When you are “world building” an original story, if you aren’t excited about the concept why should anyone else be? I was having dinner with a friend last night who mentioned the complexities of the Justice Is Mind story and how it compared to a particular author and the movies that followed. The comment was very flattering.
For me, I like a complex story. A story that isn’t paint by number, but one that you need to watch more than once. I like characters that are multi-dimensional or suddenly change their tone. Take for example Margaret Miller in Justice Is Mind. In the beginning we see a concerned wife who happens to be a novelist. Suddenly in her desperate attempt to save her husband she goes against type by retaining a dubious private investigator to steal what she wants.
Having spent over three decades in the sport of figure skating in a variety of capacities, I suppose it had to be inevitable that I would conceive of a story around the sport. When talking about the concept a couple of weeks ago, I referenced the political thriller Marathon Man that starred Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. But there is another movie, a bit obscure, that is having another influence on this story—the conspiracy thriller Executive Action that starred Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. I say obscure, because when you look up the film you’ll see what happened when it was initially released.
In the end the goal, of course, is to write a story that audiences will enjoy. For me films are a living legacy. Long after their creatives are gone, a film lives on. One of my favorite thrillers is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938).
But before I vanish into this new world I’m writing, I’ll leave you with a sample piece of dialogue from an FBI supervisor, “If I know this much you can bet that someone else sure as hell does. Because suddenly, there’s a concerted effort to get Wilson’s daughter to the World Championships in a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.”
Last night I watched the classic Murder on the Orient Express. I have always been a fan of movies that center on a train with one of my particular favorites being The Lady Vanishes. I suppose it’s no surprise that each of these classics were directed by two of my favorites, Sidney Lumet and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. Needless to say I thought Murder on the Orient Express was just brilliant.
When I first started to write screenplays and then produce and direct, perhaps the best advice I was ever given was to simply watch well made films and read their associated screenplays. In all honesty, doesn’t that make the most sense?
One of the compliments I’ve received by the actors in Justice Is Mind and the audiences that have seen it is on the dialogue itself. Scary, I was actually at an industry mixer last year where some “expert” stated to attendees to only write dialogue at a max of 140 characters. Um, people don’t speak Twitter. Just watch one episode of the hit TV show Scandal. The editing is quick, but the character interactions always have a great arc of dialogue.
On Friday my email newsletter and press release went out announcing our next three screenings – April 28 at Carnegie Mellon University, May 4 at Peguicon and May 19 at the Elm Draught House Cinema. The Justice Is Mind tour continues across the United States at three different venues with three distinct audiences. This is what I call the road show before we go public – video on demand (VOD). But to be clear, our theatrical and special event screenings will continue as live screenings and VOD complement each other.
A few days ago an up and coming actor said to me, “I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes trying to steer the ship.” As I mentioned to a variety of people during the production of Justice Is Mind, my prior experience running a publishing company helped enormously when it came to organization and execution. In today’s world, a filmmaker really does have to be on the bridge navigating all the changing waters of this industry. Someday I suspect this actor will be on his own bridge after some years of experience watching others – it’s what I did and continue to do.
Speaking of being on the bridge, the poster concept art for SOS United States is coming along nicely. It’s very exciting when a new project is being developed. For me, after the screenplay and business plan, having a concept poster created really starts to bring a project to life.
It was a producer who I met when I was living in Los Angeles that talked to me about balancing multiple projects. That while one was moving along you should have others in development. But the key was not to get overloaded so that you never leave port with either. It’s really only the last couple of months that I’ve been able to cast an eye onto SOS United States while Justice Is Mind is riding along the tracks of distribution on its way to new audiences.
Next stop. Pittsburgh.