Wednesday, June 16, 2021

GARY W. GOLDSTEIN - INTERVIEW PART 1

“If Hollywood were a meritocracy, you’d simply need to be the best at your craft to win! But the best talent doesn’t always get the gig; the best story isn’t necessarily the one funded, produced and celebrated. It often boils down to who has the best relationships. But the dirty secret most don’t know is how easy it is to form valuable, targeted relationships. Like most, they’re looking in the wrong direction. The name on the door. The ones who seem unattainable. But no one is unreachable. Nobody! You just need to know what most don’t. Where to look and how to make yourself welcomed.”

Rewind to the beginning of May and an email drops into my Inbox with an invitation… ‘let’s get together for a chat.’ The unexpected but very welcome email was from legendary Hollywood producer Gary W. Goldstein - Pretty Woman (1990), Under Siege (1992) and a couple of weeks later we managed to arrange a get together via Zoom for a wonderful and informative chat about the business of a successful writing career. 


I’ve always felt that as writers we fall short in how we conduct ourselves with regards to our careers. The business of a successful writing career is usually something that isn’t taught by screenwriting courses and a thing new writers very rarely give much thought to. I cringe every time I see a new writer declaring they’ve just finished their first screenplay in a screenwriting group and then asking their peers for contact details of producers to send it to. They expect it to be that easy to get their screenplay produced and then wonder why no one replies to their query letters.

As writers, we’re often too busy focusing on every minute detail of our screenplays that we forget or are ignorant of the need to work just as hard in other areas to create our successes. So the first thing I wanted to know from Gary was what he thought helped writers succeed and what they did that was different to writers that don’t?

“Well, to begin, successful writers don't hide themselves from the very people who are best positioned to help champion their future. It’s not that they're unafraid. It’s that their mission, commitment, mindset and self-promise to do whatever it takes to live their dream is bigger and stronger than the fears or stories that might otherwise stop them from taking action. The choice to take action in the face of modest or momentary discomfort not only quiets the fear, but delivers experiences and results that quickly replace fear with enthusiasm, surprise, and self-pride.”

What common mistakes did he think writers continually make that prevent them from succeeding?

The fundamental yet deeply flawed tool most every writer is taught and relies on is the blind query letter. By emailing loglines and project descriptions with a request to submit, the writer can check the box, feel good when they go to sleep that night, thinking ‘I've done my bit. I've handled the business side of my business.’ Yet the reality is the vast majority of queries go unanswered. Almost all. The constant refrain is, ‘I'm so frustrated! I've sent out hundreds of queries, only to be met with silence or, once in a while, a pass.’ Doing the same thing over and over without reward is deflating, exhausting and, over time, begins to create an unnecessary, unwanted, negative story.”

We’ve all been guilty of this, me included, sending out mass query letters/emails in the hope that someone will read our screenplay, see our obvious genius and sign us up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Why then, do we as writers place so much optimism and hope in those blind query letters/emails?

Writers can often be somewhat introverted and/or socially isolated and, like so many people, they're not innately entrepreneurial, nor have they been taught effective tactics or given the right toolkit. So they’re left to mimic what their teachers teach and peers practice. It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that prevents a writer from seeing over the hedgerow, seeing the bigger picture or opportunity right in front of them. And, truth be told, it feels safe. Sending out emails keeps them at arms length from the rejection they fear. Ironically, it’s that very distance - the length of your arm - that invites or causes that very rejection. It’s deceptively risky to insist on comfort; to quash your desires in an effort to avoid risk, awkwardness or growth. But since a writer’s only doing what everyone else does or advocates, it’s reasonable. Or is it?  What’s persistently proven itself a failed strategy is the very thing that can waste years and bury countless amazing stories and projects.

For most of my life, when I haven’t been writing, I’ve worked in various sales and service industry roles. You would think then, I’d be used to selling myself, to phoning up people and making connections as I did when I worked in telesales? But no, I’m still scared of picking up the phone and talking to a real, live person.


I can’t speak to why other writers are scared of putting themselves out there, but the reason I find it so hard is I’m terrified of rejection. To me, it always feels personal even though logically I know it isn’t. The funny thing is though, if I don’t make that call I will have already failed anyway, so what do I have to lose by taking a chance? Fear is a stupid thing and it’s ridiculous how much of a hold over me it has at times.

If this is you too, the best advice I can give is to accept the fear and do it anyway. It’s only by doing something repeatedly that we become used to it. If you hide from it you are going nowhere fast and your fear will prevent you from moving forward.

Your significant investment of soul equity and years of honing your craft - a formidable and admirable commitment - deserves to be supported with effort designed to make you stand out, be known, welcomed, acknowledged, appreciated… and read! A reluctance to engage with the world, to announce yourself as artist, writer, creator, in favor of avoiding the very people who desire and need to know you (not just your latest script) is not a recipe for success. What most writers fail to recognize is their essential value, which is a perfect blend of their personal story (aka personality and history) and their stories (scripts). The writer and his or her fresh stories - the stuff everyone’s in search of, the very job definition of most who work in film or tv. What a writer has to offer is a unique perspective and projects that are desperately needed. The artist matters. Their stories matter. The irony is that, most often, the one who doesn’t recognize this reality is the writer.”

And Gary’s right. It’s not enough to have a great screenplay, you also have to put yourself out there, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you feel. The groundwork you lay will determine the level of success you reach and getting to know others, and more importantly, letting them get to know you, is how you’re going to succeed.


I understand and empathise because sending a quick email is the far easier option, less terrifying but ultimately also the laziest way of connecting with people there is. And it isn’t an effective tool as I’ve only had minimal success from this tactic. My greater successes have been from direct contact with people, building relationships with them and letting them come to me rather than me begging them to read/make my work. It’s worth noting that all but one of my commissions are a direct result of my networking. And if I’m really honest, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.


So how do you put yourself out there? How do you get yourself noticed in a scrum of competing writers from around the world?

“Taking small actions on a consistent basis, intentionally targeting the very people you most want to know you and your body of work, building bridges and creating rapport, being curious and other-focused - these are the anchors of success. It’s about you, the writer. And despite stories to the contrary, most are extremely welcoming. Especially when not asked in a first exchange by a total stranger to spend a couple of hours reading a script. But rather being genuinely greeted. It’s the simple math of our humanity. And after a handful or two of initial awkward introductions, you discover it’s shockingly easy. It’s ok to be vulnerable and truthful (even if that means admitting to another that you’re nervous). This is an entirely different level of play than an agent submitting your projects on your behalf. One is about a short-term result that is decidedly unpredictable; the other is building rapport-turned-friendship that endures for the whole of your career - where results inevitably follow. This is an order of magnitude more personal and thus powerful than, say, being active on social media."

So get out there and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be nice! Be kind! Be generous! Don’t push! Don’t pester! Show genuine enthusiasm for your contact’s work and only get in touch with them if you have something to say, an update on how you are progressing as a writer for example.


The Zoom chat with Gary zoomed by (excuse the pun) and he had plenty more insightful things to say about making your writing career successful, so stay tuned for further blogs as, for now, we’ve only just scratched the surface.


Happy writing!


Gary W. Goldstein has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest box-office hits, generating well over a billion dollars in worldwide revenue, receiving multiple Academy Award nominations, People’s Choice Awards, a Golden Globe and various other awards.


Gary’s novel, Conquering Hollywood; The Screenwriter’s Blueprint For Career Success, is available from all good booksellers.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

MARE OF EASTTOWN - THE FIRST EPISODE

NOTE - this blog is about the 1st episode only of MARE OF EASTTOWN and not the series as a whole.

While most were raving about how good the series was I couldn't dredge up even a tiny amount of enthusiasm to watch the second episode, let alone the entire series.

I disliked the opening episode, found it to be laborious to watch, the characters ordinary and unappealing and the plot directionless and dull. Where was the crime/mystery drama I was promised? Why did I have to wait until the end of the episode for things to finally begin to look interesting? But I persevered for the full sixty minutes, willing the episode to improve while my wife urged me to change the channel and save us both. I eventually lost her to her mobile about a third of the way through and despite my perseverance, I still felt the same as the episode came to an end. 

Look, I get it... I get that the show is an aching examination of loss. I get that it's written with the murder as a backdrop to the in-focus impact it has on Mare and her community. What I don't get is why I had to sit through 59 minutes of setup and backstory to reach the heart of the idea? I don't believe for one moment that I'm the only person on the planet who gave up on the series after the disappointing first episode. Comments like, "It's worth giving another go," "It's a slow burn" and "It did start a little slow," all tell me others DID feel the same but didn't want to be seen being negative about a show so critically well-received.

After reading articles on the show it's clear to me the creator wanted the theme of loss front and centre and the murder mystery playing quietly in the background. But for me, without the murder mystery in the first episode, you are left with nothing strong enough to compare the theme of loss to. Is the writing in the first episode new and innovative as some people claim..? Not in my opinion, because without the murder mystery running parallel to the theme from the outset, all you are really watching is setup and exposition, regardless of how well it's disguised with clever and often brilliant dialogue.

The show doesn't 'hit the ground running', rather it drags itself across the tarmac for fifty-nine minutes in a stumbling attempt to get to its feet. If a show doesn't capture my attention and make me care about the characters all within the first sixty minutes, then it's lost me.

In the light of others' glowing testimony there's a part of me tempted to go back and rewatch the first episode and continue with the series, but in all honesty, why should I? In the world of downloadable content and on-demand binge-watching, there are other shows more deserving of my time and attention, so why waste more of it when I wasn't enthralled the first time around? Entertain me, don't make me work for it!

I tried to do something similar with the pilot of a recent spec, taking my time to set up the rich universe I had created, where the main character only accepts the call to arms halfway through the episode. Quite rightly my agent informed me the first half of my screenplay was slow, dull and although it set up the world brilliantly, I could have done exactly the same job weaving bits of information in amongst the action.

That's why MARE OF EASTTOWN didn't ignite my imagination because while being massively unmoved by the whole first episode, I was also struggling to decide if the show was a thriller or a drama. A murder/mystery, the chase to catch a killer naturally lends itself to the thriller genre, so being forced to wade through sixty minutes of setup before the show got up off the floor and started to find its momentum, felt like a lifetime.

There will always be exceptions and for some of you MARE OF EASTTOWN is it. However, for me, it failed to entertain or capture my attention. But that's okay, we're allowed to have a difference of opinion, it would be a dull world if we all agreed on everything.

If you think I'm wrong, please... try and convince me otherwise, I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

PREWRITE - UPDATED REVIEW

Just over a year ago I reviewed the online plotting software PREWRITE. Since then PREWRITE has evolved and added several new features, so I thought it was time to update the review and let you know what those features are.

PREWRITE.COM allows you to work on one project for free and has a monthly subscription service for those people who want to work on more than one project at a time. Premium membership is a reasonable $9.99 a month and offers you 20% off if you pay annually, so it's very affordable and won't put a dent in your pocket.

The first big change is that PREWRITE is no longer just for screenwriters but for other creatives as well. There are now added templates for branded content, viral videos, web series, podcasts, tutorials and one for novelists due to be introduced soon. So whatever your written project PREWRITE can help you create it. For now though, let's focus on the screenwriting aspect of the software.

Once you've named your screenplay file you can then set your initial structure to help you get started. Here you can choose from a three act structure, a four act structure, half-hour sitcom, one hour drama, Freytag's Pyramid, Turn & Burn - CJ Walley, Save The Cat, Story Maps - Daniel Calvisi, Story Circle - Dan Harman and The Hero's Journey - Joseph Campbell. The great thing about this is that once you have created your file you are not restricted to the initial template you have chosen and are free to swap and change to your heart's content. You even have the option to chose a template of a well known movie from the database, like SKYFALL for example.

Another feature that was introduced quite early on, not long after my initial review, was the ability to import FINAL DRAFT files into PREWRITE enabling you to rework old projects, iron out their flaws and reinvigorate them. I found this a very handy tool with a feature project I wanted to rewrite and it gave me the opportunity to see where the structure needed changing and what story elements were working and which ones weren't.

The export feature has also changed slightly with any  notes you've made now showing in FINAL DRAFT where they didn't before. This means you can open your FINAL DRAFT file and focus on getting the writing done without having to refer back to PREWRITE to check your notes.

All in all the new features enhance an already brilliant piece of software, making it more accessible and flexible than before, allowing you to be at your creative best.

Below, for those that need reminding, is the initial review from April 2020.

When you own a writing blog you get a lot of random people sending you writing based stuff to read or use asking, sometimes begging you to review them in your next blog. I ignore most requests - unless they're of immediate interest - and I've always only reviewed those books/services/resources I have thoroughly tested, enjoyed and found to be informative and helpful so that my readers know if I recommend something then it's worth getting/using.

A couple of months ago I received an email asking me to review an online resource - PREWRITE.COM - for outlining and plotting screenplays, utilising online cloud storage for projects at a reasonable monthly payment, all completely downloadable to FINAL DRAFT once your projects are created. I have to admit I was dubious, after all why pay a monthly subscription for something when the good old faithful index cards and a pen will do?

In the past, I admit I've used the SAVE THE CAT software but found it to be restrictive, formulaic and frustrating to use, which is why I eventually dumped it. What writer wants to follow rigid rules when they're trying to be creative? Not me! I want to be able to write what I want, where I want and when I want and freely explore my ideas without any confinement or restriction. It was for that reason I casually dismissed PREWRITE.

Three weeks later I remembered the email and as I was about to start plotting a new feature film I thought I might as well give it a go. I'm very glad I did. PREWRITE has all of the functionality of SAVE THE CAT and much more besides, with none of the restrictions and frustrating little niggles that plagued the SAVE THE CAT software. PREWRITE is actually better than having index cards and a pen, giving you the unrestricted freedom to be creative while providing valuable extras that actually enhance your creativity rather than stifle it. PREWRITE gives you unlimited freedom of choice.

PROJECT CREATION

No faffing about here - choose a picture that represents your story, give your project a title, jot down your logline, choose your genre and theme and add your name as the author... it's that simple and quick to get started.

CHARACTER CREATION

I had a lot of fun with this section. You can create your characters with complete freedom, exploring their wants and needs in the story and how they're going to find/get to them. You can even search the movie database to find a picture of the perfect actor to play any of your characters and if they won't do you are also given the freedom to upload your own pictures. The only limit here, as with the rest of this online software, is your imagination.

PLOTTING

Again you have the freedom to choose how to view your story as you create it. Timeline, cards or page view... yes, please! Add cards to your Act One, Act Two and Act Three, move them around and delete them if you need to. Add a heading, write out your scene action in the action box, add notes below, add characters to each scene so you can see at a quick glance who appears in each scene, tag how your theme is explored, rate the emotional value of your scene, keep track of plot threads over several scenes and even add an image to sum up each scene... it's so glorious and helpful it made running away with your idea and getting it down on the page fun and as easy as breathing.

STORY STATS

If the above isn't enough for you then you can explore every aspect of your characters and your plot in the story stats section, analysing the heck out of it.

LIBRARY and HELP

There are even examples of well know films to explore and a help menu that will walk you through getting the most out of using this software.


ISSUES

I only have two and they're minor. The first is that this is an online resource only at the moment. I would love to see a software version you can download to a computer or tablet. The second issue is that your projects are stored online and like most writers who are obsessive with backing up their work every few minutes will know, there's a worry that as it's stored online you could lose all your hard work in the blink of an eye. If PREWRITE could find a solution to both of these issues then the program would be perfect.

PREWRITE is so usable you can go into as little or as much detail as you need to match your creativity. It is a blindingly brilliant bit of kit that not only helps you be creative but actively encourages you to be so and I heartily recommend all writers give it a go and see for themselves.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

EXPECTATION

***WARNING, SPOILERS FOR LINE OF DUTY SERIES SIX FINALE***

Like most of the country, I had high expectations for the final episode of series six of LINE OF DUTY. I would like to say it delivered, some would argue that it did, but I suspect most viewers felt the same as I did, that while it entertained, the ending lacked the punch we were expecting.

We had a similar situation with the final season of GAME OF THRONES in 2019. Fans expectation had been high but again, bar one or two moments, it failed to deliver. So why did two of the biggest shows on British TV get it so wrong?

When it was announced the final two seasons of GAME OF THRONES would be seven and six episodes respectively, rather than the usual ten episodes we had had for previous series, fans expressed their concern that they were being cheated. Indeed, the final season felt rushed, lacking the great moments of drama and tension that had made the show so loved by so many. Those final six episodes churned through the plot at a high rate, barely pausing for breath, and what was missing were those quiet, concentrated, intimate moments of character and high drama and tension we enjoyed in those ten-episode series. That is where, I believe, GAME OF THRONES got it wrong.

If there had been ten episodes each for series seven and eight as in the previous six series, the writers would have had more time to focus on those great moments of character and spent time building tension and delivering those heart-wrenching shocks the show was known for. The battle with the Night King's army was far too brief when we were expecting it to be epic and with a ten-episode final series, it would have had more time to play out. As it was, the sense of danger, the sense that any of the main characters could be killed off at any moment wasn't there as it had been previously and the Night King and his army were defeated far too easily in a rush to get to King's Landing and have Daenerys confront Cersei.

The same can be said of Daenerys' conquering of King's Landing and the defeat of Cersei, it was all over in one episode. Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing and its people didn't ring true or have the impact I think the writers wanted. Again this moment suffered as a result of trying to cram too much into too short a time and Daenerys' fall from grace would have been so much more convincing if there had been time to explore it in greater detail.

The problem with the ending of LINE OF DUTY is a different one. The problem there lies in the difficulty of maintaining the momentum of the successive climaxes/revelations over so many series, of having to ensure you top what has come before again and again. But when you have such jaw-dropping moments of high drama as we've seen in LINE OF DUTY, it's increasingly difficult to find new ways to exceed your audience's expectation and deliver something that shocks or surprises.

After four series of LINE OF DUTY, the audience was beginning to become familiar with how Jed Mercurio played with their expectations and to a certain extent, this made it harder to deliver great moments of drama they weren't expecting. By series six we had been hit by so many jaw-dropping moments that Jed was going to have to deliver something spectacular to top what he had delivered before. It didn't come. Whether that was deliberate or not, I'll discuss later.

We were expecting the fourth man/woman to be someone conniving and wickedly clever, someone who would run rings around AC-12 and push them to their limits and beyond. Buckells wasn't that man! He didn't even come close! He wasn't the arch-nemesis we demanded but a comically inept officer who just happened to pass on information to the OCG. His character lacked impact and so did his interview. Why? Because he was already in custody when they rumbled him and consequently there wasn't that anticipated, tense last-minute dash to hunt him down and bring him to justice. They just went to pick him up from the prison and interviewed him. Even good old Ted mocked him for his ineptitude as a police officer.

However, I'm thinking this might be deliberate, a ploy by Jed to take us into a seventh series where the battle to uncover the real fourth man/woman really takes place as he or she works against the team to tear them apart and shut down their investigation. There, for me, is the tension missing from the final episode of series six, the sense of urgency that the fourth man/woman needs to be found and brought to justice before he or she can disband the heroic AC-12 team and defeat them... only time will tell, but if I were you, I wouldn't be too surprised when series seven is announced.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

UPCYCLING

My new TV drama spec was finally finished and I happily emailed it to my agent. Job done, I thought... but what next?

I had planned to start a feature as my next project when I decided to have a quick flick through my old script files first. I have no idea why I chose to skim through my old screenplays, what prompted me or what the aim was, but I'm glad I took the time to do so.

It wasn't long before I came across a comedy TV pilot I had written several years ago. I found myself laughing out loud at its premise, its boldness and its sheer stupidity. What had I been thinking back then? But something about it struck a chord with me. Something about it cried out for attention. Something about it said, 'this story needs telling and the time is NOW!"

The creative juices started flowing; how I could update it, how I could change it to reflect a post-Covid world, how could I alter the characters to make them more relevant? It was like an explosion went off in my head and after months of little creativity, my brain decided it was time to make up for it. And it did a flipping good job.

I have to be honest, it surprised me. Firstly, I hadn't expected the screenplay to be as good as it was, after all, it's almost a decade old. Secondly, I hadn't expected to have so many new ideas bombarding me from all angles, enabling me to take the project forward in a new direction. Lastly, I can't believe the level of excitement it has generated in me.

So a project I thought dead, not only has new life but is also now a story of hope, something so desperately needed after a difficult year for everyone.

Take a chance and every now and then go back over your old ideas and look at them with distance and fresh eyes, and maybe, just maybe they might spark a new idea that will take you forward as a writer.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

LOCKDOWN & CREATIVITY

It's been an awful year and not just because of Covid-19 and successive lockdowns.

Speaking purely from a writing perspective, it's been the worst twelve-months of my career. Even the commissioning of my seventh feature in July did little to lift me out of an extended creative slump. I barely wrote a word in 2020 and what I did write, I'm still agonising over months later, bogged down in the detail of the first ten pages of a TV drama spec I can't push myself to complete. I'm still rewriting/deleting/rewriting those same ten pages over and over again, never managing to get any closer to something I can conjure any pride in. None of my ideas have clicked, none have added to the original idea and in most cases, they've made the overall tone of the screenplay considerably worse.

I'd like to think the lack of creativity is down to my private writing space being invaded by a work from home wife and two homeschooling kids, all four of us competing for the same workspace and wi-fi bandwidth, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month...

Unfortunately, months of lockdowns have sapped all creativity from my little grey cells. I even hit Netflix, Disney + and Sky Box Sets hard, binge-watching my way through a series or two a week in an attempt to jumpstart my creative drive, and I still find my creativity is a pale, lifeless corpse. I can barely muster the enthusiasm to sit at a keyboard for an hour a day. That blinking cursor taunts me and my impotent creativity as I witness other's achievements posted on social media with a sense of resignation and envy and not the pleasure, pride and camaraderie I used to. This is what I have become, a shadow of who I was before anyone first mentioned lockdown and isolation, a creative and emotional cripple with no drive, limping from one day to the next like a directionless zombie.

I know others are experiencing the same sense of hopelessness and demotivation but it's of little comfort because it still feels as if I'm the only one. I can't help but wonder how honest people are when posting their successes on Facebook and what the real struggles are behind those celebratory headlines. I also know this isn't forever, that it's just a temporary, insignificant blip in a lifetime of dedication and that I shouldn't punish myself during an unprecedented global situation where over a million people haven't been as lucky.

Now and again there are a few hours of frantic focus that may or may not result in a page of something half decent and I try to hold to those moments of encouragement amongst the hopelessness I feel for any future, personal or career-focused.

You are not the only one. Hang in there. Stay safe.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

THE WATCH: THE DIFFICULTIES OF ADAPTATION

The trailer for THE WATCH, the much anticipated BBC America adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett's novel GUARDS GUARDS, landed three weeks ago to heavy criticism from fans. With the likes of sci-fi and fantasy author Aliette de Bodard stating it made her feel like, "someone took my teenage years and just repeatedly trampled them while setting them on fire," and Sir Terry's daughter Rhianna Pratchett Tweeting that the show shared no DNA with her father's Watch, the criticism highlights just how difficult it is to adapt a much-loved piece of work.

GUARDS GUARDS is my second favourite book of all time and I have to be honest I was dreading any adaptation as the last adaptation of books I loved from my teens, THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES based on the SHANNARA series by Terry Brooks, sucked massive bum chunks. I hated it, mainly for the writing but also for the poor casting and the dicking around with the lore of the books, so I can empathise with the Sir Terry fans who dread the launch of THE WATCH. However, I have to say I do like the look of the trailer and I'm intrigued to see what they've done with the series. I'll decide whether it sucks massive bum chunks or not when the series launches, but for now I'm happy to keep an open mind.

The reason I'm happy to keep an open mind is that I've written three feature novel adaptations in the past and know how difficult it is to write one to please the author, the fans and the producer. I accept that an adaptation can't be exactly the same as the source novel because they are two very different mediums, one formed of words and the other pictures. It's easy to get into a character's head when you're writing a novel, exploring their thoughts, fears and working through their thought process but it's almost impossible to translate that to the screen.

Who remembers the original BLADE RUNNER with it's clunky, distracting and often intrusive voiceover? That there is the problem summed up in one film. If you use voiceover to portray a character's thoughts on screen it seems artificial, often patronising to an audience and don't get me started on characters breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the camera. Both options rarely work with adaptations or add anything to the finished product. They are just a cheat, a simple way to get around the problem of adaptation without actually solving it.

When adapting a novel you need to come at it from a fresh perspective, from an angle that will keep the essence of the original story but give the audience something new. If you give them exactly what they're expecting the audience will be satisfied but the bigger impact will come from giving them something new, something more evolved and unexpected. The way I approach writing an adaptation is to look for the core of the story, the heart of the tale being told and start from there. 

Let's examine THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, adapted into the 2009 film of the same name. It is probably the best adaptation of a novel I have ever seen, focussing on the core love story between the protagonist and his wife, which is complicated by his unpredictable time travelling. Yet, the author, Audrey Niffenegger, hated the adaptation and swore that none of her future novels would ever be adapted. Without knowing what she was expecting from the film, I can't really comment on why she was so disappointed with the result, although an unhappy author is a problem I too have faced.

When I was called upon to adapt Ken Smith's coming-of-age novel COWBOYS CAN FLY I decided to focus on the friendship of the two boys and the companionship they found in each other's company. When I passed on the first draft to Ken he wasn't entirely happy and complained I had taken a lot of the humour out of the story. We sat down (via the internet) and talked it over. I discover that by 'humour' he meant the rude bits and I explained why the protagonist couldn't be seen to have erections or disappear behind a bush for a quick wank if we wanted to keep the story PG, making it accessible to a wider audience. Ken eventually understood this and I then went back and layered some of Ken's less blue humour back into the screenplay making it a more fun and appealing read.

Some scenes from the book made it into the screenplay and some did not. I also added scenes I thought would work well with the story and characters and when Ken read the second draft he was happy with it. However, I don't think as an author you can ever be entirely happy with an adaptation of your novel unless you write the screenplay yourself, simply because so much of it does get lost in the translation to a visual medium.

I remember a similar cry last year over Sarah Phelp's adaptation of the Poirot tale THE ABC MURDERS. Fans were horrified that Sarah had dared to change the lore of Poirot, making him an older now forgotten detective past his prime and revealing in flashback that he was once a priest. What did the audience expect? Another carbon copy of all the other versions of this story? It really would have been very boring and pointless to copy what has come before and more interesting and entertaining to reinvent Poirot, adding new layers and depth to a character who has now become so familiar it's very difficult to make a version of the novels without the audience knowing what's coming. If Sarah had not refreshed an old, familiar character and added more flesh to his bones, the adaptation would have largely passed unnoticed. As it was, it was a brilliant piece of TV drama and I for one can't wait until her next.

Last month I finished my third adaptation, a feature version of Douglas Hill's 80s sci-fi novel YOUNG LEGIONARY for Plenitude Productions. I was a little nervous taking this adaptation on as, like fantasy fans, sci-fi lovers can be very protective of their favourite works.

The problem with adapting YOUNG LEGIONARY was that the original source novel was a collection of four short stories which didn't work as one feature, and choosing what to include and what to leave out proved a big headache. In the end, the producers asked me to concentrate on the first two stories with the greatest part of the screenplay focussing on the struggles and teen angst of the second tale. As the second story was quite short I've had to expand the plot while keeping the essence of the original story and characters intact. Douglas Hill's core story is still there, it's just my interpretation, exploration and expansion of it that will make it to the big screen and when it does, I hope the fans of the original will love it.

What you the audience needs to bear in mind is that an adaptation is not a direct retelling of a familiar story, and because of the differences in the mediums as explained above, it can never be so. An adaptation is the producer, director and writer's vision of the original story, a retelling with new insights and twists that are true to the core plot and characters but which examine closely and expand on the source material. So if you're unsure or nervous about THE WATCH give it a chance, as will I, and make your mind up when you've seen the producer's full vision for Sir Terry's much-loved novel.

Happy writing!