ByMelissa Molina, writer at
Melissa Molina

It may seem like a simple process, trying to create a great story, but it's far from that. If you're a screenwriter, you may spend weeks, months or even years trying your best to perfect that one special script that could one day get the movie treatment. Every writer hopes that one day he or she will get the script recognition they deserve through the prestigious awards season, but very few do. At this year's Santa Barbara Film Festival, a few accomplished writers talked about their individual writing processes. A couple of the screenwriters who talked at the panel included (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), (Moonrise Kingdom), (Flight), (Looper) and (Life of Pi).

The screenwriters rambled on about a number of things they do in order to make that right script. Life of Pi screenwriter David Magee shares his thoughts about the difficulties of adapting a beloved novel into a monstrous movie.

David Magee: "I had some issues that I had to solve. I didn't ever looked at the previous drafts so I didn't want to say what worked or didn't work and I have no idea how they came together. But the challenge with this particular book was that it's very episodic, it's written in a hundred chapters. It's only a 300 page book so you can imagine most of the chapters are only fragments, snapshots of different things in the life of Pi. Because so much of it is kind of a philosophical reflection of what he went through and kind of static images of the struggles he went through while on the boat, the challenge was to find the arc that would carry you through that story for the character to go through. In addition, it's hard to convince a studio that doesn't want to make a film with a boy no one's ever heard of, an Indian boy, in a boat with a tiger that's going to have to be created either by CG or through hundreds of hours of trying to convince a tiger to do what you really want it to do. So the cost of the film was going to be prohibited if we made it anyway. So really I think one of the biggest advantages we had was that came on and said I want to direct it. At that point, there was enough faith that something amazing was going to happen and that they gave us the freedom to try and figure it out."

Writer/director Stephen Chbosky comments on the changes between his own novel and the script he had to create for the movie.

Stephen Chbosky: "The biggest change I think was that the book... because screenplays are so unforgiving structurally, you have to find the center. If you veer off too much or if you don't make things clear, you're going to loose the audience really quickly. The biggest difference was in the book I can talk about Charlie's extended family, I can talk about his grandfather, the history of the family and all of these things. Some of these thoughts about the world or pop culture or whatever. There was room to do it. But in a movie you can't. So I just focused on Charlie's past, his friends and his immediately family.

Roman Coppola on the process of creating Moonrise Kingdom with and what they did in order to put it together.

Roman Coppola: "For Moonrise Kingdom, we were in a house together, a rented house and it was more having to do with imagination and fantasy and people ask what about that movie is real, what happened to you? The answer, as we've discovered, is nothing really happens, though it's what we wish what could happen. You meet a girl in fourth grade and you would love to run off with her. So it's not based on any real experience but it's based off of the fantasy notions and recalling those times on being a child. So it was more that type of work, daydreaming and improvising. We were in this house together and my girlfriend was there, Wes's girlfriend and Wes's brother, and they were sort of our audience. So we'd work during the day, we'd go and have our meal in the evening, and we would tell them the next installment, sort of like a radio drama. We had that fun of knowing they'll be there to share the next installment. That brought a lot of pleasure to us."

Rian Johnson comments on the sci-fi influences of Looper and how he expanded the short film into one killer feature length screenplay.

Rian Johnson: "In terms of sci-fi it was, most of the sci-fi that I grew up really loving like Ray Bradbury or Philip K. Dick, it's always stuff that uses this otherworldly concepts in order to get to something incredibly immediate and recognizable and human at the heart of it. When I think of sci-fi, that's what sci-fi means to me. It doesn't mean big and crazy, it actually means something that uses something mythic to get to something really personal. So that was always kind of the way of what I tried to do with this. So basically the whole movie is set up as this conflict between these two guys, between the older and younger version of himself. I actually wrote the film originally as a short script, as a four page script like back before I made my first film Brick ten years ago I wrote it as something I was just going to make with my friends on the weekend. I never ended up making it. It just sat in a drawer until we made The Brothers Bloom, I took it out and then expanded it.

It didn't have the second half of the movie which was the mother and the son. For me it was, when I was expanding it out I was thinking okay, I need to show what's different about these two. Show the basic conflict. Show they kind of work to their different ends and the conflict between them. To me, I figured well, you can either do that by have them chase each other more and shoot at each other more, or team up and buddy up or something like that, or you can give them both the same problem. You can give them both the same thing to deal with, in the second half and see how they each deal with it and explore how they're different in that way. So that's the way I went at it. It was introducing the element of the kid and the mother and it's kind of giving them both the same dilemma and where they come down on at the end of it. IT was all a way I thought of getting much deeper into the heart of exploring the conflict between our two main guys.

Watch the rest of the panel below (via YoureTheStarVideo).


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