Interview with Alex Epstein, Part OneComplications Ensue
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

A UCLA novel writing class interviewed me via chat. I thought you might find some of the interview interesting.

CL: You've done adaptations of novels--can you talk about what you usually end up cutting out--how the shape might differ?
AE: I'm adapting a novel right now. The shape is going to be different because they are different media. The novel, for instance, isn't just about the A story. It's about [hook deleted] ...
CL: The A story? Do you mean the main story?
AE: ... but the novel is also about his childhood, and this odd assortment of people he's accumulated at his workshop ... a second family really. I cut almost all the past out. I cut lots of the quirky characters out, too.
CL: Ah, I see. So you picked out the storyline that is the most movie like.
AE: A novel can be many stories interwoven. A movie USUALLY wants to be one story told straight ahead.
AE: I try to figure out WHAT IS THE MOVIE? The movie is about [hook deleted]. I cut anything that wasn't that movie. Really cut out isn't what I did. What I did was to re-construct a movie story using the novel as source material... I thought "what are the characters I need to tell this story?" A lot of characters didn't make the cut, because they weren't about that story. In other words you rethink it for the new medium. Now that I’ve streamlined the story, though, I’m finding it a bit too streamlined, and some of those quirky characters and some of that past that didn’t seem to belong at first are working their way back in. But not because they were in the novel; because I need them for the story I think we’re trying to tell in the movie. You look at the novel, figure out what the story you want to tell is, and from that, figure out what movie tells that story. In other words you take a step away from the novel and then take a step towards the movie, you don’t go straight from the novel to the movie.
CL: Do you follow a three act structure, or a Truby structure? Or is this the wrong question?
AE: Personally, I don't use a three act structure any more. I find three act structure is not useful because how can a story not have a beginning, middle and end? I used a 7 act structure on this one. I find that if you can fill seven acts with twists and turns you have a movie... Possibly this is because of my TV writing experience of late, where I'm writing 5 acts. And it’s easier to keep 1/7 of a movie in your head than 1/3 of one. Check my book CRAFTY TV WRITING for how acts work on TV.
RG: Alex, when you are adapting a move from a novel how long does it usually take to write the screenplay? How many revisions do you usually do?
AE: I like to spend 6 weeks working up the story outline, and 6 weeks writing the first draft... then tinker tinker tinker. I’ve got something that looks like a treatment now, after only two weeks, but I'm working on it and pitching it and testing it and showing it to a few cronies and the director and the producer, to see if that really is the absolute best treatment I can do. If it takes too little time, I'm suspicious I can do better.

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