May 13, 2008

 

Raj Dore

raj_dore@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Raj,

 

Attached please find my adaptation analysis for your stories, THE CELEBRITY and PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED.

 

I thank you for two enjoyable reads, and commend you on your ability to tell an interesting story.   When I have some spare time I intend to read the other stories in your book as well.

 

If after reading the attached notes, you have any questions, do not hesitate to write.

 

Sincerely,

Lynne Pembroke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 13, 2008

 

 

 

Screenplay Adaptation Evaluation

 

 

 

 

Titles

THE CELEBRITY

PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED

 

Form

Novel and Short Story

 

Author

Raj Dore

 

Submitted by

Author

 

Contact

raj_dore@hotmail.com

 

 

Logline

THE CELEBRITY

PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED

 

 

Similar Properties  

A preliminary search of recently sold screenplays and motion pictures currently in pre-production, production or post production found nothing similar to either of these stories.

 

 

Analysis – THE CELEBRITY

 

THE CELEBRITY could be adapted to screenplay form, but there would be some challenges.   

 

1) Length

It is not unusual that the length of a novel is something of a barrier to direct adaptation.  Usually there’s too much story, but in the case of THE CELEBRITY, it’s a case of too little story.  Screenplays in this genre typically run 100 to 110 pages, and each page of a screenplay averages out to a minute of running time.  The problem is that screen stories are expected to be more tightly structured than novels or a short story. Usually we have one major through-line and a couple of related subplots, and that’s it.  It would be expected that in adapting THE CELEBRITY to screenplay form, we would cut everything that’s “off the spine” of the main story.  Were we to do so here we would come up short for the screenplay form.  I’ll explain this further a bit later when we look more specifically at screenplay structure.

 

If more length is needed and would help, I would like to take some of the anecdotes from ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Sojourn’ from the same book and add to this.

    

 

2) Voice

THE CELEBRITY is told in the first person from Rohit Sharma’s point of view.  In a screenplay we are not privy to a player’s inner thoughts, feelings, etc., and thus other devices would be required to reveal back-story, Rohit’s thoughts, observations, suspicions, etc.  Additional dialogue, with a character acting as a sounding board, is one technique, but in the best adaptations the writer finds a way to create scenes that provide needed exposition in a visual way.

 

‘Back-story’ is what I may call flashback. This is being done in any number of movies. Inner thoughts in many movies are depicted as a dialogue with one self or pages from his own diaries. In fact the back-stories, thoughts, feelings and observations could be revealed as a dialogue between Rohit and Archana as they are driving, just like in the book. 

 

3) Story Structure

Strong screenplays almost always have ONE central dramatic question that serves as the story’s through-line.  The dramatic question posed must be of sufficient importance to create a strong “need to know the answer” in the mind of the reader. (And eventually in the mind of a movie audience.) It must be capable of sustaining viewer interest for several hours.

 

It is the reader’s (and later the audience’s) desire to know how that question will be answered that keeps them tuned in and interested.

 

Examples screenplay story through-lines:

 

Will Dorothy find her way home? (THE WIZARD OF OZ)

 

Will Rocky prove himself when he meets Apollo Creed? (ROCKY)

 

Will Frodo be able to return “the one ring” to Mordor, or will the Dark Lord, Sauron, gain possession of it and use its power to enslave the world? (THE LORD OF THE RINGS)

 

Even in “character driven” stories such as DRIVING MISS DAISY there is a strong though line or central dramatic question.

 

“Will Miss Daisy grow beyond the prejudices she was raised with?”

 

Notice that in each instance, the question is posed very early in the story and answered very late in the story. 

 

THE CELEBRITY is in essence a love story.  Love stories all have pretty much the same through-line.   The structure of such stories is built upon the question:

 

Will the two parties be able to handle the things keeping them apart and thus come together and establish a lasting relationship? 

 

In the case of THE CELEBRITY, the barriers to a relationship between Rohit and Archana include the fact that he is married and she is a celebrity

 

As I mentioned earlier, it’s expected in screenplay form that every line of action and dialog be “on the spine” of the story.  In practice his means that in the case of THE CELEBRITY, once the story is setup, every line should deal with the question of whether or not Rohit and Archana will succeed in establishing a relationship.  That portion of the novel after they meet, which deals with Rohit’s back-story is entirely “off the spine”.  While such wanderings may work in a leisurely paced novel, in screenplay form it would bring the story to a screeching halt.   I’m sure you’ve heard people complain after seeing a motion picture that it was “too slow.”   The perceived speed of a movie is strictly a function of the rate at which new information that moves the story forward on its through-lines revealed to the audience. 

 

Subplots, the little stories within the major story, pose lesser dramatic questions, often involving the fate of characters in supporting roles.  For example, we have Dorothy’s traveling companions in THE WIZARD OF OZ:

 

 Will the Cowardly Lion find his courage? 

 

Will the Tin Man get a heart?

 

Will the scarecrow get a brain?

 

The above questions are those posed by THE WIZARD OF OZ subplots.

 

We have several subplots present in THE CELEBRITY.  The strongest subplot deals with Rohit’s relationship with his wife.  It asks the simple question, Will the marriage last?

 

Although not as well developed as the “wife” subplot there’s also a subplot centered upon Rohit’s career and his relationship with his boss, Don.

 

I never considered that the writings should fall exactly into the kind of grooves you have described. Now that you are mentioning the kind of structure you are looking for, I could analyze my story in those terms.

 

The main ‘spine’ of the story is Rohit’s life, his emotions and foibles as he goes through his cross cultural experiences. This is a character with whom a majority of south-Asian viewers will relate extremely well. Rohit hails from a well to do upper-middle class family in India. He has his complexes in dealing with the opposite sex. And finally he is torn between two women who pull him in two different directions.

 

One sub-plot is the character of Wing Commander Dhillon and his family. How from a normal decent fellow he becomes corrupt and amasses wealth. His wife is another domineering Amazon who tramples her daughters’ lives by super imposing her will. Seema is torn between her love for her cousin and the domineering mother on one side and a marriage that she is caught in, on the other.

 

The other sub-plot is Archana who is a simple girl from an ordinary family thrown into the glitter and glamour of beauty queen and movie star. In spite of her celebrity there is that little girl in her that is trying hard to escape from the cage of harsh world, looking for true understanding, love and an ordinary life of a girl next door. She is also torn in the conflict between two kinds of lives that she desires – one of a celebrity and the other of an ordinary girl.

 

I purposely did not want to end the story with Rohit settling down with Archana in Bombay, happily married thereafter. That would have been so mundanely cliché.

 

‘The dramatic question’ of the story, as you have asked is, the dilemma of Rohit to make a choice between 3 things: First to keep his own self respect and ego; second keeping his marriage with a kid intact; and finally his romance with the Celebrity. This is a choice he only makes in the end. The choice being to keep his own self-respect and ego intact, while leaving the two women to come to terms with him on his conditions – like Frank Sinatra would say ‘I did it MY way….’ He was a self made man and hates being rattled around.

 

There was a movie called ‘Nottingham’ with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. The ‘Celebrity’ part has some shades of that movie. There was another movie of Alan Alda, (I cannot offhand recall the name it was something like ‘Same Time Next Year’ or something like that). In this movie he is married and has an affair with another married woman for some extraneous reason. Neither of them wishes to give up their individual lives but agree to meet once in a year. My ending is somewhat like that. Archana’s role is also vaguely similar to Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Roman Holiday’.

 

 

In my opinion the best approach for adapting THE CELEBRITY to screenplay form would involve:

 

1) Presenting needed back-story currently in the middle of the novel, up front, but keep it to the essentials such as the arranged marriage, and the difficulties with the marriage early on. 

 

Yes. Taking in a chronological order is one way to do it. But flashbacks in movies are quite common. Most of Rohit’s ‘back-story’ is as he narrates to Archana while driving and on her asking him where was he from in India. So that should satisfy your need to be ‘filmable’.

 

2) Once the back-story is complete, jump forward in time to what is now the beginning of the novel. We could do that. But if you use it as a flash back, it would be better since very early on you would have introduced the conundrum of Archana’s appearance and kept the audience interested.

 

3) Expand both of the subplots mentioned earlier. Yes. But the subplots are like I mentioned earlier: 1. Wing Commander Dhillon and his family; 2. Archana Roy and her life story; 3. the main line of Rohit and his family story including his dad, brother, and his life in the college including the encounter with Anita Singh etc.

 

4) Extend the story, perhaps to include a happy reunion for the couple when Rohit takes the job in Bombay.

 

That would be a cliché but may work. (Did Audrey Hepburn the princess marry Gregory Peck the journalist and raise a family in ‘Roman Holiday’?)

 

5) The story may play better on the big screen if, for dramatic purposes, we add several scenes to the story where the relationship between Rohit and Archana is strained and tested.

 

This is provided Rohit and Archana intend to marry, raise kids and ‘live happily ever after’ being mundane.

 

But that is not the choice Rohit makes. He prefers to just have an affair with her on the side.

 

Nor is that what Archana wants, she prefers to keep her celebrity status and glamorous life intact while having a romantic affair with Rohit on the side.

 

6) Unlike a novel in which we tell our story in words, a screen story must be told in sights and sounds only.  That’s all we can capture on film.   In THE CELEBRITY, because it’s written in the first person, much of it is not filmable.  That is, we can’t film Rohit’s thoughts, feelings, etc.  Thus to present needed information in the film version, we may need to introduce a new character to the story, a confidant, if you will.   By this device needed information that was communicated directly to the reader via Rohit’s thoughts in the novel could be communicated via conversation, which we can film.

 

We don’t need to introduce a new character. Archana is that character and Rohit can use her as the ‘confidant’ to communicate those thoughts.

 

7) There is no one-size-fits-all paradigm for screen story structure, but what follows is typical.  I present it here, to give you further insight into screenplay form.  

 

ACT 1: (The beginning. Setup, About 25 pages)

In which the central dramatic question is set up and posed.

 

1)  Introduces the protagonist and build empathy for him.

 

We meet Rohit learn enough about his life that we can relate to him.  It’s important that the audience “connects” with our protagonist so that they have somebody to root for. 

 

2)  Introduces a change in the status quo that upsets the equilibrium of the protagonist’s life.

 

In the beginning, the status quo of Rohit’s life is a marriage, but it’s not a happy one.  When he meets Archanna he gets a glimpse at what his life could be like, and perhaps realized that he’s been living a life of self-abnegation.   

 

3)  Introduces an Antagonist or other forces that will oppose the protagonist.

 

Here we become familiar with what’s in Rohit and Archanna’s way.

 

4) Presents the resulting decision made by the protagonist.

 

Rohit decides to maintain a relationship with Archanna, at least on some level.

 

4)  A plan to achieve the goal, and action.

 

Here’s where we need to begin expanding the story, and making Rohit a more proactive character.  As written he’s too much a passenger on the train of life, and for screen story purposes, we need him to be the driver.   

 

 

ACT 2: (The middle. Barriers and Complications. About 50 pages)

In which the central dramatic question is exploited.

 

1) The protagonist struggles to overcome the obstacles between himself and his goal.

 

2) As attempts fail, and as more and more obstacles are introduced, things look bleaker and bleaker.

 

3) Often times not only does the protagonist fail, but also in failing causes the predicament to become even more severe. (A reversal)

 

4) Sometimes a fumbled effort or new, hard-won knowledge causes the central question to be dramatically changed. (A plot twist)

 

5) A subplot or two are introduced and played out.   These subplots usually involve lesser dramatic questions that deal with issues about or between characters.

 

Subplots would need to be further developed to flesh out our act 2.

 

6) At the end of act 2 we move into “the darkest hour,” in which it appears that all is lost.

 

I’m sure you can see the challenges that would be involved in act 2.   It’s fully half of our total running time, but in the book we jump pretty much directly from act 1 to act 3. 

 

 

ACT 3: (The conclusion. Resolution. About 25 pages)

In which the central dramatic question is answered.

 

In act 3 the hero and his allies either:

1)     Rises to the occasion and achieves his goal.

   (An “up” ending – most common) 

 

2)     Fails to rise to the occasion and succumbs.

(A “down” ending - The chances for survival of a screenplay that sports a “down” ending are about as good as those of the proverbial “snowball in hell.”)

 

3)     Rises to the occasion and achieves the goal, but in the process something else is lost. (A “bittersweet” ending – some of the most memorable stories ever told have bittersweet endings)

 

In THE CELEBRITY, we’re looking at a bittersweet ending.  Rohit’s marriage fails, but he gains a lasting relationship with Archanna.

 

The problem you are having is because you are considering the relationship of Rohit and Archana as the main theme.

 

The main theme is the character of Rohit and his life. He comes from a fairly well off upper middle class family in India. He starts at the bottom of the ladder in a strange new country where people treat him like dirt and is even unable to get a date. It is his frustration that leads him into a marriage that he later regrets. By the dint of his own hard and intelligent work he comes up in life finally landing one beautiful rich wife and another beautiful celebrity mistress. With all the ups and downs he is able to hold his own with all the challenges coming his way.

 

In the end, in all probability he continues to be married to the wench and also continues having an affair on the side. That is the ‘bitter-sweet’ ending like it happens in real world all the time. We could chasten this part, if necessary.

 

If you look at it this way, it has all the elements you have mentioned in your framework. To add more meat to the story, I could use some parts of ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Sojourn’ in this story.

 

 

Analysis – PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED

 

PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED would be difficult if not impossible to adapt to screenplay form. It’s more a historical account of a family living through good times and bad times, than a dramatic story.  This is not to say, it’s not a good read. 

 

It lacks elements essential to screenplay form, most notably a proactive protagonist.  There is no through-line to speak of.   Events unfold, and characters react to those events.  This is not untypical of true accounts.  Real life seldom plays out in the tightly structured way required for a viable screen story.     

 

There is the possibility that the story could be rewritten from the father’s point of view as more of a dramatic story, but that would be a very different story, and even then, considerable embellishment would be needed.

 

(I will get back to you on this later)

 

Conclusions

For the reasons stated earlier, I don’t see PARADISE LOST AND PARADISE REGAINED as a story that lends itself well to screenplay form.  

 

(I will get back to you on this later)

 

 

The CELEBRITY could be adapted to screenplay form, but realize that to be sold to a major studio and subsequently get made, a screen story must be strong enough and marketable enough to convince financiers to invest tens of millions of dollars. Characters must be intriguing enough to attract the attention and interest of stars. The story must show such promise that producers, directors, and other creative talent are willing to spend years of their lives bringing the project to fruition.   I don’t feel a screenplay adaptation of THE CELEBRITY could meet those tough criteria.  On the other hand, because THE CELEBRITY, the motion picture, could be filmed on a relatively modest budget, perhaps the screenplay might find a home in the independent market.

 

I really do not care at this stage what kind of people could be made interested – independent or otherwise. I think there must also be small and modest budget films made in the traditional ‘major’ studios.

 

I’m not very familiar with the motion picture industry in India, but my gut feeling is that this story might hold a particular appeal to Indian audiences.  In essence they could vicariously experience moving to America, developing a relationship with a beautiful celebrity, etc.  And obviously they would be able to relate to conflicts that occur when tradition and the modern ways collide.

 

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. I COULDN’T AGREE WITH YOU MORE.

 

If you’re interested in having one of my writers adapt THE CELEBRITY to screenplay form, let me know and I’ll send you a formal proposal.

 

Wishing you every success,

Lynne Pembroke     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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