SCREENWRITERS’ FESTIVAL: DAY 3 – colour

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Screenwriters festival

Alright D+C Filmophiles, Phig Billy here with a summary of action from the third and final day at the Cheltenham Screen Writers Festival

At the start of the day I attended a presentation by Michael Gubbins, editor of Screen International, on how to write a commercially successful screenplay. Similar to Barbara Machin’s opening address, I didn’t find the matter of the speech particularly fresh or ground-breaking: essentially he advised against writing stories to target specific audiences simply because it is always to the detriment of the story… But Mr Gubbins was such a passionate and enthusiastic speaker that this session proved very inspiring.

Next up, I was especially looking forward to hearing the brilliant author and eternally behatted all-round genius Terry Pratchett. He was joined on stage by Vadim Jean, who adapted and directed the two recent adaptations of Pratchett’s books for Sky One, and the actor Nigel Planer.

The session itself was entitled “The Colour of Writing” and its emphasis was on adapting novels for the screen. I have been a fan of Mr Pratchett’s work since finding a copy of The Wyrd Sisters in the school library when I was a tender 11 years old and although I haven’t seen either of the Sky-financed adaptations myself, I was very excited to hear his attitude towards the films and his philosophy in general on literary adaptation. However, it was Mr Jean who took centre stage, and the ideas presented on this topic were all his: Pratchett merely sat in the background and interjected the odd anecdote.

I must confess to being consequently a little disappointed by the session… not because Jean spoke badly, on the contrary he spoke very well, but just because he spoke at the expense of Terry Pratchett!

But as I said, Vadim Jean nonetheless was an articulate and engaging speaker. He spoke of the importance of respecting and remaining faithful to the source material, and told how his first step in each case adapting Terry’s work had been to essentially import the entire novel into script format.

Although he knew that a mammoth proportion of this text would be cut, and that other parts would be moved around, it was a useful starting point for the adaptation, but moreover this document then became the master source document which Jean referred back to whenever he found himself stumped or something not working. He explained the essential challenge in adapting a novel for the screen as balancing pace against texture: the narrative needs to be sufficiently stream-lined to fit within feature length, and needs to be driven at an appropriate speed to keep the audience’s attention, but enough of the really juicy peripheral details from the book need to be harvested to recreate a sense of the environment… particularly important, of course, in the case of Terry’s Discworld!
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Flat Telly
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