So I have come to believe that to first write out your movie as a novel or short story is nothing but beneficial to the quality of the finished project – and that is the goal, right? To have the best finished project?
Five films ago I adapted my first script from an already written short story (“Ragman”). I thought I would not like the process, but I ended up enjoying it better that working from scratch. By limiting myself (and my story), it was actually freeing in that I had to force myself to become more creative in working with what had already been written. Does that make sense? It freed me to think about telling the “Ragman” story visually instead of worrying about storytelling. Heck, the story was already told – I just needed to get the vision onto the screen. Having a free reign allows me to do anything and thus, I can get sloppy. If there is already a written plan, I have to interpret it and the final ideas are more focused, and thus more polished.
Another benefit I found with this first short story – especially since it was written in the first person – is that I could really get into the mind and motivation of the character. When I wrote the short story for my next film (“Delayed Reactions“), I really knew the main character because I had been inside his head for the entire process of writing the short story. It is also nice to have this document to give to my actors – not only the one who was portraying the character that is telling the story, but also the other characters – so they know this main character that much better. (Not to mention that you now have a piece of work to shop around for publishing possibilities.)
Give it a shot for your next short film. A short story can be written in one sitting, so it can’t hurt too bad to try. I think you’ll find the same advantages I did when you go to shoot the film.
That said – I am developing my next project – a zero budget feature film, of course. So I want to write the novel first, but that is not an easy undertaking, and cannot be done in one sitting! Enter the month of November and the National Novel Writing Month. Since I’ve  been having problems with procrastination, I have signed up in hopes of better motivation (and all of you encouraging me if I fall behind.) I totally intend to get this novel written in November, which will allow me to adapt it into a script during December/January, and then get into preproduction in early 2013 – which has always been the plan. Will you all keep me honest and motivated with this undertaking? Have any of you ever done this event? Do any of you want to join me?
And back to the question at hand: any thoughts on writing the short story or novel first? What about any of your experiences in adapting a previously written work? We’d love to hear about it.

  1. Dorian Cole says:

    Dale, I think writing the novel first is an excellent method, for the reasons you gave. Everyone has to find their own method. If I write a novel, I like to write the screenplay first, then expand on it. Everyone needs to find a method that gets them immersed in the characters and plot. Screenplays are too quick.

  2. Yeah, Dorian has a good point.

    Also, you should consider to keep you motivated (for writing in general). Also, unless you have deadlines that you must meet, does your timetable need to be so rushed? Or is that plenty of time?

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