From Prologue to Page One
by Mikie DeLong Pyle
Adapting writer Shawny Lou Miller’s novel, Unsung Lyrics, into a screenplay, that is.
When Shawny Lou and I talked about me writing a Blog post and including the first page of the screenplay to show the transformation of the book’s Prologue into page one of the film, I was excited to begin writing. I mean, it’s only one page, right? Piece of cake, easy-peezey-breezey, no prob.
In Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book on screenwriting, he says:
“The very first impression of what a movie is – its tone, its mood, the type and scope of the film – are all found in the opening image.”
(No pressure, Blake, thanks.)
So, naturally, I did the procrastinator’s polka.
When I stopped the dance of delay and prayed, and put my bottom to the ball (the core fitness one I sit on at my desk), my goal was to show ethereal imagery, setting the tone of the magical realism genre, and introduce the earthly human protagonist, Megan Calloway, all on page one. (Initially, Megan kept popping up over on page two, so I trimmed, deleted, rewrote, and she finally made her appearance on page one.)
Pablo Picasso said “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary”, and that is my mantra (plus, lots of prayer) as I take on this challenge of translating the richness of the book’s prose into the economy of a script’s words.
Even though I’ve written several feature-length scripts and a couple of shorts, those stories came out of my brain, my imagination. I saw the tale evolve as I created it. I liken the work of interpreting someone else’s narrative to being told a long, long, detailed saga by a friend, who then asks you to retell it in abbreviated form. In order to do so, and keep the audience’s interest, you must distill it down to the essential elements of what makes a dynamic visual screen story: a working plot, the internal and external journey of the main character, a universal-truth theme, good dialogue — all delivered in an attention-keeping, entertaining way!
What a daunting, yet, welcome, feat for me to undertake!
Fortunately, Shawny Lou writes in a vivid, cinematic style, because a screenplay consists only of what can be seen or heard. For example, unlike in a book, the movie audience is not privy to a character’s thoughts (unless the screenwriter chooses to use Voice Over). What a character is thinking is shown by what she does or does not do, says or does not say.
Shawny Lou heads for the home stretch of completing the book, and in a few months she’ll hand the final draft of the finished manuscript to me to adapt into a movie script. This first page posted is an early draft and will very likely change as I structure the story and rewrite my way to the final polish!
Some Screenplay Basics:
Each page of a screenplay equals approximately one minute of film time. A script for a two-hour movie is about 120 pages long.
A screenplay is written in 12-point Courier or Courier New font. It follows a very precise format, with specific margins. Numerous script-writing software is available to aid in the technical aspects of writing a script. I use Movie Magic Screenwriter, the one required when I took an online UCLA screenwriting course. I’m familiar and comfortable with it. I also have First Draft, a necessity when I co-wrote a comedy feature with another screenwriter. Previously, I’ve also used Scriptware.
To help answer my questions concerning correct script format and style, I reference Christopher Riley’s The Hollywood Standard guide. (I have the 2005 first edition. In 2009, a second edition came out.)
A short glossary for some abbreviations and terms, found on the first page of the Unsung Lyrics screenplay:
INT. – interior (location is indoors)
EXT. – exterior (location takes place outside)
b.g. – back ground.
WordPress won’t allow for changing the font within a blog, therefore the following script page is not in the proper font, nor correct format. Content is the same. See photo for how the page really looks.
EXT. HEAVENLY REALM – DAY
Planet Earth. Alive with movement. Ocean tides ebb and flow, waves crest and recede back and forth against its surface. Clouds drift across continents. Storm cells erupt in lightning, thunder, rain. A volcano spews fiery red lava.
PULL BACK ON PLANET EARTH, floating weightless, surrounded by a warm golden sky. Not the inky black of the galaxy.
Enormous hands, human-like, yet otherworldly, each with two eyeballs underneath transparent skin, open the top of “Earth”, a five-foot in diameter, dome-shaped replica of the planet.
A single leaf, a glistening, silvery maple, flutters out of the dome, dances, joyful, hovers, and waits. The huge hand points, and the leaf, as if blown by a gentle breath, floats up and away.
Hundreds of thousands of leaves representative of every earthly tree variety, burst forth from the globe and pause, suspended. They shimmer with metallic patinas of silver, gold, platinum, palladium, and tarnished copper.
Òne golden leaf, akin to a California oak, separates apart from the thousands. The immense hand places it in its huge palm and, for a moment, holds and touches it tenderly.
CELLO SOLO BEGINS. “Megan’s Refrain”. Haunting, melancholy.
The bright gold leaf perches on the large pointing finger. The tiny frond, blown off by an unseen breath, drifts down, down, down through the galaxies. In the b.g., thousands of shimmering leaves float through space, headed for Earth.
Breaking through Earth’s atmosphere, the golden shoot descends through sky and clouds and sheds it’s gold metallic covering, revealing the yellow-brown hue of Autumn’s dying foliage.
EXT. MEGAN’S HOME – DAY
The oak leaf swirls in blustery air toward a modest two-story California ranch home, lands against a house window, sweeping and tapping it symphonically.
CELLO SOLO “Megan’s Refrain” CRESCENDOS, then abruptly ENDS.
INT. MEGAN’S HOME – MASTER BEDROOM – DAY
A woman’s eyes pop open. Beautiful ones. They belong to MEGAN CALLOWAY, 40s.
The first page — the beginning! I’m so looking forward to the challenge of becoming adept at adapting my first adaptation — Shawny Lou’s novel.
Next week, we’ll be sharing our experience at The Piano Guys’ concert! Their music was the inspiration for a few of the story’s scenes so they are, unknowingly, an important part of our creation!