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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Q. [A high level exec at a studio has sent me] a novel they've optioned, with a view to me adapting it into a screenplay.

I've read the novel, I love it, it's very me, and I feel like I know how to adapt it. I'm meeting with the next week to "discuss my take" on it. And that meeting is my shot at the big time. That's my chance to get a Hollywood commission.

So how should I play the meeting?

Should I write up a treatment, or notes on how I'd like to adapt the novel, *before* the meeting? Would that paint me into a corner? Or should I keep an open mind, stay flexible, and sound them out about *their* take on the novel first? Would that sound wishy-washy, like I don't know my own mind or trust my own opinions?

How much of "discussing my take on the material" should be me justifying my choices, and how much of it should be me listening to how *they* think it should be done? What are they chances they've even read the novel at all, rather than just coverage from some reader?

I really don't want to blow it, but I'm not sure exactly what's expected of me at this stage. I know I can write the screenplay to a professional level; I just want a chance to prove it!
First of all, relax. Half the time you've either got the job walking in the door, or they're just jerking your chain. Which they do all the time, by the way. Having meeting with additional writers when they've already decided who's getting the job is something that studio development execs do in order to look like they're working hard.

I have never got a job by doing an elaborate "take." I know one guy who did this once, but he wasn't going to be able to take the meeting in person. An elaborate take is risky. One, they could disagree with you; but because you've put it all on paper, now they think you can't take it in a different direction. Two, they could fail to understand that the "take" is not intended to be a polished document. They might criticize it as a treatment, rather than as a take. And of course it won't be as good as a treatment that you'd do, because you don't have the job and you're not going to spend 6 weeks on a take.

What I do is go in planning to show them that I'm going to be easy to work with. They already have an opinion about my writing. I want to show them I'm agreeable.

I come in with, at most, an opinion about what the movie is -- theme, hook, and the five elements of the story. (Which are, as you know, dear readers, character, his opportunity/problem/goal, obstacles/antagonist, stakes, jeopardy.) I might sketch out the premise or setup, the sort of complications, and then the ending we're heading towards. At that point they have enough to hire me on, but not so much that they feel I'm tied to one approach.

You might also give them a few really cool visuals, or one particularly memorable scene, if you've got'em.

Don't assume they've read the novel. It might have been bought by the studio head on his summer vacation and dumped in their lap; and who has time to read a 300 page novel? That's what readers are for. On the other hand, do tell them why this novel is a great idea to develop into a movie.

And by the way, if you haven't figured that out by the meeting, you haven't done your homework. Sometimes they will have told your agent what the book is about, which is a good tip-off; or if they called you in on their own, they might have pitched it. There's no harm in giving them back their pitch, elaborated a bit. But if they haven't given you a hint, you still ought to be able to identify what the movie is in any material, whether it's schlock, or incoherent, or derivative, or actually is a good idea. Some of the best movies have been adapted from terrible books, so the quality of the material is no excuse!

What if they don't like your take? Then draw them out as subtly as you can. You can't ask them point blank what they think the movie is, but you can get them talking about the theme and it will usually become obvious.

And after you've listened a bit, start agreeing. Do you want to be right, or hired? Unless your career is in very, very good shape, you're there to get a job.

Remember, as in any interview: they already know your credentials. They want to meet you. Sell yourself as a person above all.

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