A Blog on Cinema

Adapting a book for the screen


Normally we don’t hear a lot from script writers on how they convert a story into a screenplay. So we were fascinated when we heard Akiva Goldsman talking about the craft. He won an Oscar for his script for the movie A Beautiful Mind, which was based on a book by Sylvia Nasar. Now he has adapted the best selling The Da Vinci code for the screen and he talks about the technique behind the adaptation.

He follows what seems to be the classic rule book on how to become a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He swears by screenwriting guru Robert McKee, eschews writing original scripts, and worships at the altar of the three-act structure.

“The screenplays I write are formally very predictable,” Goldsman says. “They’re essentially the one-page version of a clothing dummy. They have two legs, a middle, two arms and a head. I can dress them up pretty on a good day, but the structure is simple, and I like that.”

Of course, these screenwriting dictums work only if you have talent both for words and people. [Akiva Goldsman: Decoding Da Vinci]

Other writers talk about the secrets behind the writing.

“Ruthlessness,” said the novelist Diane Johnson, who has written screenplays herself, including that of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.” “In a movie, you’re working with 120 scenes, so the first thing is to throw out half of the novel. Novelists who follow their screen versions too closely are in for a lot of agony.”

That’s the most difficult part,” said Ms. Johnson, whose best-selling novel “Le Divorce,” written in the first person, was later adapted to the screen. “As a writer, you have the power to render the subjective experience of the character — and that, in fact, is what’s interesting. But since cinema is an objective medium, it’s very hard to capture this. Very often you don’t get it at all.” [Mystery of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ Film: Will we love it?]

We hope these lessons will come handy when we make our first movie, in which no Malayali actor or actress will act, because we have made fun of all of them.

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