Welcome to week eight of AFF at Home! For those of you just joining us – AFF at Home is Austin Film Festival’s way of promoting a sense of community, engagement, and creativity in a time of distance and restrictions. Each week we’ll guide you through content and storytelling tips to help inspire and motivate you to take your next creative step.
This week we’re focusing on Nonfiction and Fiction Adaptations. In today’s world intellectual property goes a long way in the viability of a script. Whether you are putting together a project based on a popular novel or telling the story of a real person, adaptation is more than just copy and paste.
Just like last week, we have five actions to guide you through the art of adaptation. We encourage you to go at your own pace and keep us updated on Twitter with #AFFatHome.
We are planning on wrapping up our AFF at Home program in two weeks. Before we do, we want to hear from you! Would you like to see the program continue? Any topics we missed that you’d like to see added? Email us your thoughts at AFFatHome@AustinFilmFestival.com.
Let’s get going!
-Colin Hyer, Creative Director
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Nonfiction & Fiction Adaptation
Writing a successful biopic is no easy feat. Sure, your subject comes with a built-in story, but how do you live up to the legend and craft characters that are as compelling as their larger-than-life counterparts? Alex Tse (co-creator Wu-Tang: An American Saga), David Gleeson (writer Tolkien), and Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster (co-writers A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) discuss strategies for writing an effective biopic and the art of balancing fact and fiction while staying true to the heart of your subject’s story.
- Case Study: The Rookie Pt. 1 (2001) John Lee Hancock (director, The Rookie) Mike Ritch (writer, The Rookie)
- Case Study: The Rookie Pt. 2 (2001) John Lee Hancock (director, The Rookie) Mike Ritch (writer, The Rookie)
CONNECT WITH US
How will you apply this advice on adaptation to your work this week? Tell us on Twitter using #AFFatHome or in the forum below.
Q&A with Robin Swicord
What’s the process behind writing true life stories? We’re doing a virtual Q&A with Robin Swicord so you can find out! Swicord’s credits include Memoirs of a Geisha, Little Women, and Matilda. Submit your questions here or on Twitter using #AFFatHome before 11:59pm on Thursday 5/14 and we’ll publish her selected responses here on Monday 5/18.
MORE ABOUT ROBIN SWICORD
Robin Swicord is primarily known for her work as a screenwriter for Memoirs of a Geisha (Satellite Award for best screenplay); Little Women, (co-producer, Writers Guild award nomination); Matilda (co-written and co-produced with Nicholas Kazan); and the cult comedy Shag (shared); The Perez Family; Practical Magic (shared). She has written two plays that were produced off-Broadway (“Last Days at the Dixie Girl Café,” “Criminal Minds,” both published by Samuel French).
In 2009 Swicord received an Oscar nomination for her contribution to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a project Swicord originated and worked on for more than a decade. Her original feature script The Promise, set during the Armenian genocide, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016, with Terry George co-writing & directing, starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac.
Swicord made her feature-directing debut with Sony Classic’s The Jane Austen Book Club, produced by Julie Lynn and John Calley, for which Swicord also wrote the screenplay adaptation.
Swicord is married to writer-director Nicholas Kazan; they have two daughters, actor-writer Zoe Kazan and actor-writer Maya Kazan.
CHECK OUT MORE OF OUR Q&A'S FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS
- Q&A with Wendy Calhoun (writer/producer Nashville, Justified, Empire) from Week 1 of AFF at Home: Sparking Your Story
- Q&A with Brian Helgeland (writer/director A Knights Tale, L.A. Confidential) from Week 2 of AFF at Home: Character
- Q&A with Amy Talkington (writer/director Little Fires Everywhere) from Week 3 of of AFF at Home: Dialogue
- Virtual Q&A with Chris Sparling (writer Buried) from Week 4 of AFF at Home: Setting
- Q&A with Jeb Stuart (writer Die Hard, The Fugitive) from Week 5 of AFF at Home: Action & Description.
- Q&A with Herschel Weingrod (writer Trading Places, Kindergarten Cop) from Week 6 of AFF at Home: Comedy.
- Q&A with VJ Boyd (writer Justified) from Week 7 of AFF at Home: Writing for Episodic.
Join us on Saturday, May 16 for an afternoon of virtual panels featuring Christopher McQuarrie (writer/director Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Nicholas Kazan (writer Reversal of Fortune), Pamela Ribon (writer Moana), Roy Lee (producer It), Deniese Davis (producer Insecure), and Adam Kolbrenner (manager, Lit Entertainment). Get your ticket here.
Student Screenwriting Corner
Adaptation requires a clear understanding of not only the characters and plot, but the heart of the story you are adapting. Watch our On Story episode, On Writing To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, to hear how Sofia Alvarez balanced staying true to the book’s original story while adding her own voice to the screenplay and learn the steps she took in order to make a strong narrative successfully cinematic.
-Sally Seitz, Young Filmmaker’s Program Director
On Story: On Writing "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
Interested in our kids programming?
Take a look at our upcoming Summer Camps and Classes
“The constant refrain around AFF is the mirror-shattering trumpeting of writing and storytelling. Through AFF at Home we intend to showcase every extension of what Austin Film Festival aims to champion in its community, including our vaunted film competition alumni. We are delighted to represent the legacy of our alumni base through the WATCH section of the AFF at Home campaign; by curating incredible titles that are now available to stream in your living room, shower, wherever. Come join us in celebrating some Festival competition favorites, and marquee film titles from our Writers Conference heavyweights.”
-Casey Baron, Senior Film Program Director
AFF Now Streaming Pick:
Hand-picked past competition films from the AFF Film Department
Brave New Jersey (2016)
True stories are fun to tell. There are some wildly incredible stories out there and we all love to tell them over and over again. Everyone does it! Around the campfire, at the bar, while we’re supposed to be working, and so on. We want to share our stories with one another, to see the incredible and know that it stems from the real. This week’s WATCH, Brave New Jersey, takes it just one step further. More than simply a story following reality, this is a story following reality following a story. On October 30, 1938, HG Wells decided to share his novel, War of the Worlds, over the radio and wound up sending millions into a panic over a space invasion. We’ve all heard the story. Well, let writers Michael Dowling and Jody Lambert tell it to you again. Because a campfire, bar, watercooler, etc. does not do it justice. Brave New Jersey absolutely captures the utter terror, hilarity, and chaos of those poor fools who heard it on the radio and thought the Earth was about to end. Few films adapt such a wild and wonderful urban legend to such effect, but also demonstrate the power of a well told story. So have a seat, put on Brave New Jersey, and laugh. It’s not every day aliens invade and force us to confront our own mortality (or not).
– Casey Baron, Senior Film Program Director
“On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles’s legendary “War of the Worlds” radio show is broadcast to the nation, leading millions to believe America was actually being invaded by Martians. As the citizens of one New Jersey town are faced with what they believe is their last night on Earth, their lives will change forever. Prepare for an alien invasion movie where the aliens never show up.”
AFF SHORT PICK:
Hand-picked past competition films from the AFF film department
Living life comes with stories to tell. We all have turning points whether for better or worse. This week, let’s enjoy the documentary short Second Sight. Like in life, you never know what surprises you will encounter while shooting a documentary.
-Alexandra Mitchell, Shorts Programmer
Second Sight (2019)
Director: Cole Sax
Nestled in the rice fields of the Philippines, a blind mother and her family face the life-inhibiting consequences of cataracts until a doctor visits the village and gives the gift of sight in under five minutes.
HAVE A FILM?
Submit it to our Film Competition. Next submission deadline is May 22.
On Story Movie Night Pick:
Screening with a postshow On Story conversation
This week, check out 2016’s Arrival which was adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang. Then listen to our Lone Star Emmy Award-winning interview with screenwriter Eric Heisserer where he discusses the long road in selling Hollywood on an ‘unadaptable’ short, working with director Denis Villeneuve, and the challenges of writing a cerebral sci-fi story about love and loss.
SCRIPT TO SCREEN: ARRIVAL
Adapting for the screen requires a process of dissecting original material to find the essence of a story. This is an essential first step because the next task is to begin molding that story into a script, which can either consist of reduction – usually necessary to adapt a novel or inflation – when adapting a poem or children’s book. In either case, you’ll need to adjust the original material, so understanding the story through and through ensures confidence and direction when sitting down to write. This weekend, take a poem, children’s book, novel, or a story from a different medium and describe its essence in one page or less.
When writing, consider the following:
- Who are the characters? Do you get any information on their background? What are their flaws and motives? Also consider how they may speak, since you’ll eventually need to write dialogue for them.
- Is the plot clear? If not, how could you build one from the elements that are present?
- How well does the original author describe the setting? Is it clear? Does the story mostly take place in a single city or town, or are there multiple locations?
- What are the original work’s conclusions regarding theme and concept? Is there a new or alternative perspective you can offer?
- How is the original material structured? Does this suit the screenplay format well or will you have to do some adjusting?
The goal here is to make sure the essential elements are front and center so that you can begin to take the story in different directions as you write. It’s often said that an adapted movie “was good, but not as good as the original”, which I think comes down to a lack of courage from the writer(s) to take the existing material in new directions. This can be done only after the writer fully understands the essence of the story being told.
– Sage Kosiorek, Script Competitions Director
Finished with your script?
Submit it for our competition!
Adapting for Screen
Adapting a story is always a challenge, but it can be even harder when that subject is a well-known figure in history. Some of the greatest biopics to shape cinema have followed the lives of famous individuals. Let us know your favorite biopic. What do you like about it? Was the casting perfect? Or did the story surprise you? Tell us about it using #AFFatHome or in the forum below.