Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Want Some Screenwriting Advice? Add Drawings to Your Script and Then Put Your Dialogue in Bubbles.

Los Angeles Times article by Jay Hernandez.



If recent studio acquisitions are any evidence, then the fastest way to get a movie deal these days may just be to turn your next Big Idea into a graphic novel. In a faddish frenzy, no fewer than 22 film projects born of graphic novels or comics have been announced in the last six weeks.

"It's accelerating because right now it's fashion," says Frank Miller, who created the graphic novels behind "Sin City" and "300," and whose early-'80s series "Ronin," about a reincarnated samurai battling evil in a futuristic New York, is being adapted by Joby Harold ("Awake") for Warner Bros. "I think we can expect it to calm down. Comic books have always been this vast mountain range that gets strip-mined and left behind."

Universal recently partnered with Dark Horse Entertainment to produce and distribute movies derived from its independent stable of comics. Meanwhile, Paramount has its partnership with Marvel, Warner Bros. owns DC Comics and every other studio is looking for new material.

Meanwhile, comic icon Stan Lee is planning to reverse the process; he just partnered with Disney to go straight to the big screen with three original ideas -- "Nick Ratchet," "Blaze" and "Tigress" -- which may then be turned into comics.

For nervous studio greenlighters, having a graphic novel in hand makes script development cheaper and faster, since essentially the book is a screenplay and detailed storyboard wrapped into one. It can be beneficial for the writer too, since he'll likely retain more rights than he would by selling an original screenplay.

But most important, they're much more fun to read.

"I don't think there's a single worse story form than the screenplay," says Miller, who's finishing his directing debut, "The Spirit," based on a classic work by graphic novel progenitor Will Eisner.

"They're unreadable. Just about everything makes you want to put the thing down! Whereas a graphic novel is full of pictures . . . and you get a much clearer idea of what you'd have to spend to make" a film.

Today, the Writers Guild of America, West, holds its annual honorary awards luncheon at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, and the "Sopranos" creator is set to receive the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television. After the groundbreaking show's riveting sixth season ended (abruptly) last June, Chase's selection for the guild's highest television honor was as sure a thing as poor Vito's whacking.

The Laurel honor, awarded to a member who "has advanced the literature of television," places Chase in the esteemed company of Norman Lear ("All in the Family"), Larry Gelbart ("MASH") and Steven Bochco ("NYPD Blue").

Though Chase always wanted to be a film writer-director, the 62-year-old earned the first of his seven Emmys 30 years ago for writing and producing "The Rockford Files." But it was his sprawling saga "The Sopranos," launched in 1999, that became a cultural touchstone and expanded writers' and viewers' expectations of what television could achieve.

But Chase, who invested the complicated psychology of his characters with the truths of his own emotional life, isn't so sure that he sees the sea change in TV that many people claim his show brought about.

"There seems to be a huge interest in writing about people out there -- perps and cops, criminal syndicates and FBI, politicians and forensic labs, and things like that," Chase says. "Therefore, I think the personal is still missing. People don't write about themselves."

Hollywood's worst clichés maintain such vibrant life because the town seems so committed to reinvigorating them with fresh examples.

Last week, news broke that Brett Ratner was talking to producer Brian Grazer about possibly directing a remake of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" with Eddie Murphy starring for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment. Hot comedy team Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant ("Reno 911!: Miami") have written the most recent draft of the screenplay, adapted from the Richard Matheson novel.

The project provides an example of just how flexible some industry players find source material. As a matter of course, each agency collects data on projects in development at the various studios and circulates a comprehensive list that details all the open writing assignments at any given time.

"Shrinking Man" had been in development at Universal for a while, with Keenen Ivory Wayans ("White Chicks") attached to direct a script by Billy Frolick and Mark Burton ("Madagascar"), and then Peter Segal ("Get Smart") came on board to direct. When the project later lost its momentum, it landed on one of the big agency's open assignments list looking for a new writer, with the following typed under the comments section: "Studio considering eliminating shrinking element."


Brian M Logan

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