Earlier this year, I submitted my first-ever attempt at writing a screenplay to a smallish indie filmmaker, arranged through a service provided by Stage32. A producer had issued a call for coming-of-age stories, and my novel Silken Thread kind of fits. In 1960s Manila, an American teenager courts a CIA officer several years his senior. Novel here, screenplay here, if you’re curious.
Spoiler alert — I was not offered a movie deal.
I was told I’d written a novel but not a screenplay. Also …
- The story is missing the exciting parts of the protagonist’s life until the last 20 pages (during which the hero almost dies).
- The narrative structure should adhere to the three-act form.
- The author should pay attention to story beats.
- There’s not enough drama.
- The author should ask the question, “Why would anyone want to watch this?”
- The hero David Aarens is a person who never says ‘no’ to the challenges in his life.
- The document layout does not “look like a professional screenplay” and I should use Final Draft as an authoring tool.
I wouldn’t call these observations inaccurate, but the story went almost unnoticed. What I received was a critique of execution.
According to literary agent Derek Johns, Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi was rejected by (at least) 5 publishing houses before going on to sell 10 million copies under the banner of Canongate UK. Director Ang Lee made the movie, which won 4 academy awards.
The Guardian quotes the author’s agent as saying, “It is embarrassing for the editors concerned. I understand how they must be feeling today. But you know, this sort of thing happens all the time with serious fiction in particular, where taste and sensibility are what matters.”
Not to say my novel deserves a spot alongside a work described as rich with spiritual allegory. Silken Thread turns around a male at the threshold of manhood and his courtship of a female a few years older than him. For the screenplay I softened the age difference between protagonists, straight-lined the core of the story, and culled a few side-trips – steps that must be taken to turn a 7-8 hour read into a less-than 2 hour film. Even so, Silken Thread is, at its heart, an examination of life and the choices a person makes to succeed at it. In place of explosions and car chases, such stories offer texture, nuance, travel to different times and places.
In Silken Thread, the dilemma for Barbara is that David is too young to be understood as an acceptable suitor. Thus, in the early part of the story, after their inevitable separation, he establishes a mountain homestead in the city where he’s attending college and cultivates leadership roles in the community. It’s the kind of thing young men used to do to attract a mate. The producer complained, “What is he doing? Why would anyone be interested in it?”
I suspect a cultural disconnect. Perhaps all the eligible men in her tribe are still living with their parents. Regardless, she suggested I bring the last 20 pages to the front of the manuscript and go from there. What I heard in that was ‘Cut out the thoughtful parts, go straight to the drama, gunplay and bloodshed.’
Isn’t that what Hollywood does? What a disappointment.
Have you written a screenplay? What happened to the project? Tell me in the comments.
Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay
I would love to watch this screenplay. All about impossible circumstances putting two people together who no one else saw the value in one. Reminds me of the story of the Seven Cow woman. Keep submitting it, my friend.
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Thank you for the encouragement. It’s often impossible to be objective about one’s own work, but I was totally unprepared for rejection, especially after receiving praise for the book. Perhaps I’ll shop it around some more. I did execute a more polished draft — you can find it at https://www.scriptrevolution.com/profiles/john-dyer