Monday, 20 February 2012
An interesting thing happened this week! I was approached by the publisher of the first edition of my novel and asked if I would be interested in writing film screenplays and treatments based on books which they had published for other authors. My first thought was: would that be something that I would want to do?
As a trained screenwriter (I have an MA in Screenwriting from the Northern Film School), writing a screenplay based on another person’s novel, or biography, or whatever, is something I am quite capable of doing. And I have done it on a couple of occasions in the past, once using a lengthy taped interview with the person whose story formed the basis of the screenplay which then became my third feature film (the one that got into cinemas across the country). The second time was when I was asked to consider making a fiction film based on an actor’s published autobiography. I used his autobiography as my source material and wrote a feature length screenplay based on it. That screenplay has not yet been made into a film as we are still waiting for the budget to be raised but that’s another story.
So, a question occurs: did I enjoy the process of creating a screenplay based on something written by someone else or told to me by someone else? Answer: yes, I did. So what’s the problem, I hear you ask! And I agree. If they’re offering me a reasonable fee for doing this, and they are, why don’t I just say YES! I would be getting paid for doing something I enjoy doing.
Well, of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, is it? And the reason why is because I’m wondering whether it is perhaps a little less satisfying from a creative point of view to write a screenplay based on something written by someone else – the ideas that form the main basis of what you are writing have come from someone else’s creative mind, not yours. In a sense, in translating the story into another format, you are simply doing a technical job.
And if that was all there was to it, then I would probably say no. But actually, there is quite a big difference between a novel and a screenplay in terms of what works and what doesn’t, it’s not just a matter of format. The conversion of a novel into a screenplay, and vice-versa, requires more than some technical know how about formats. It requires an understanding of what makes stories work when they are in printed format and what makes them work when they are in what is primarily a visual format, and that requires the application of creativity.
There’s even a sense in which more creativity is required because you have fixed bounds within which you have to work. Yes, you can stray away from the original story a bit, even add and remove things, but the essence of the story must be the same and that’s a limiting factor. Having thought about this and now having articulated those thoughts, I think that, on purely creative grounds, I don’t have a problem with saying yes to the proposal.
But there is another consideration which might get in the way because, if I agree to do this, it will probably take up all of my free time over an elapsed period of around two to three months, i.e. I wouldn’t be able to do anything else, other than the day job (which is what keeps me afloat financially) and maybe a few other unavoidable things connected with my activities as an author and a film maker, which would effectively mean that, whilst working on the commissioned screenplay, I would not be able to work on my next novel or spend any time trying to get my next film into production.
So, what to do? I want to get on with writing my next novel and I also want to try and get Rough Cut into production as my fourth feature film, both of which will have to go on the back burner for two or three months if I take a commission to write a screenplay for someone else.
As I write this, I have made no final decision on the matter and the good thing is that I don’t have to until I actually get offered a specific screenwriting commission. Hopefully, when that happens, I’ll have a clearer view of what I want to do. Maybe!
Saturday, 11 February 2012
I was thinking this week, when we create something, why do we do that? Is there a purpose behind it or are we just doing it because we can and we want to? It seems to me that the answer to this question is quite important as it will determine what is driving us to be creative and thus, to a degree, it will affect what we create.
So, if the driving force behind our creative urges is no more than the inbuilt urge to create which we all have, in one form or another, doesn’t that give us the purest motive which comes from within us to create something with which we can be pleased. But then, why would we be pleased with what we create? Because it is beautiful, or useful, or tastes delicious or maybe it just makes our hearts soar to hold in our hands something we have created, on our own without anyone’s help.
If, on the other hand, we are being creative because we want to please people other than ourselves, does that in some way sully our creation? Not necessarily because the motive to please others is a perfectly acceptable one if all that is involved is giving pleasure to one’s fellow human beings.
But what if it’s a bit of both, i.e. a desire to create something that pleases us, but for reasons other than that the thing created is pleasing to us? What if, the driving force behind our expressing our creativeness is a desire to be well thought of or admired for what we have created? Or worse still, if our motivation has little to do with what we are creating and comes pureley, or largely, from a desire for something else, e.g. fame or money? What then?
The downside of having a motive that is other than to create something that is purely and simply something in which we ourselves can take pleasure, is that our creativity very quickly becomes corrupted. Now, instead of making the most beautiful, useful or delicious thing we can imagine, we make things which are intended to please other people regardless of how we might feel about them.
The advice given to creative people by those who are involved in making money out of the creations of creative people, particularly in the arts, often follows the following formula: research the market for the type of thing you are creating and then create what your market wants, i.e. what a lot of people will pay to own or enjoy.
At this point, you become enslaved to market economics and what you create is no longer the pure outpouring of your creativity. In the world today, everything is measured in terms of money. A good book is one that sells millions of copies or a good film is one that packs in audiences at the cinema. Which is not to say that what you have created can’t be both your creativity at its purest and also hit the spot from a market perspective.
No, what I am saying is that creative people, and that’s all of us, should try to make the things we really want to make, the things we feel driven to make, that we should not try to satisfy market demand but our own creative genius. Then, whatever the outcome is in terms of fame or money, it won’t matter because what we have made is exactly what we wanted to make, or as near to it as we could, given our imperfect abilities.
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
I finally bit the bullet and sacked New Generation Publishing as the publisher of Rough Cut this week and signed up with Matador (part of Troubador Publishing). It was a tough decision to make but in the end I didn't feel I had any choice as NGP were consistently failing to do what they said they would do. I got a call as soon as my email terminating the agreement landed and for half an hour they tried to persuade me to change my mind, telling me that they had made a decision last week to invest heavily in promoting my book. Rightly or wrongly, I stuck to my decision and Matador will be launching the second edition of Rough Cut at the beginning of March. The financial deal with Matador is better and will make the book signings I am organising with Waterstone's bookshops more profitable than before. But the main thing is that the people at Matador communicate better and they listen to what I say - at least they are doing at the moment, and hopefully that will continue as we get further down the line. As I said in an earlier post, having to deal with this sort of thing does take the edge off doing anything creative but I still think it's worth it! Especially when you get a reader writing to you to say: "I read Rough Cut this weekend, it spoilt my weekend, I couldn't put the damn thing down! Really enjoyed it, when's the next one?" :-))))