Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 111: If only crime paid.....

The crime screenplay that I’ve been working on, has to go on hold, maybe not for long, but a paying customer and a prospective customer have walked through the door of my ‘business’ and I have to turn my attention to them.

I’ve pressed the pause buton on where I’m at with the crime screenplay known as Jerusalem, but I will get back to it shortly as the paid work is only temporary.

A friend has asked me to look at a true-life incident that happened to his ancestors, over one hundred and fifty years ago, and advise/guide him as to whether I think there is the potential for a film, television or maybe a documentary piece in it? My reflex action was to stretch my hand out no further than eighteen inches in front of me and pluck a book that sits in the row of texts on my desk: ‘The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film’ by Linda Seger.

Linda Seger is a another highly regarded and widely published script consultant, who has been plying her trade (in the USA) since 1981, the author of many works, most notably ‘Making a Good Script Great’, but this volume of hers on the highways and byways of adaptation is a well-thumbed text of mine.

The sub-heading of the book is ‘How to transform novels, plays and true-life stories into screenplays’. In the first part of the book, the author explores why literature, theatre , the true-life story and another film may resist adaptation. The second part deals with “creating the second original” and in the third part, Ms Seger gets her hands on the legal entrails - optioning, purchasing agreements, sourcing rights - in regard to the business side of the business of adapting.

This is book is being used, doubly so, by me at the moment as a twenty-year pursuit of the rights to a piece of work that I’ve been chasing is hotting up, with a flurry of emails going backwards and forwards between my humble abode and The Strand in London. Residing within a building halfway down The Strand (coloured red on the Monopoly board, between Trafalgar Square and the Law Courts) is a company that looks after the estate of a creative genius, no less, who now, some years passed on/over/away/ beyond, has left a canon of work behind, one piece of which I’ve been hankering after to adapt for the cinema screen since the late 1980’s.

The chase began in earnest back in 2002 or 2003 when I first picked up the phone and called London to make a general enquiry about the availibility of the film rights for the “piece in question”. Eventually speaking to the right person, both of us were suitably surprised to learn that no one had ever enquired after the film rights to this "piece". Over the years in between, the trail has blown hot and cold as that person left the company and a newbee replaced him and then the structure of the whole company that I was dealing with changed and, just like this week, something else came along and distracted me and only in then last few months have I been able to get back to it.

But again, like the modest commission that I am working on for the friend, Linda Seger’s book has been the greatest of road maps helping me through making a request for an option agreement that gives me exclusive rights, worldwide, for a period of two or three years in which to develop a screenplay from this wonderful source material and then to see if I can raise interest and finance for an independent production.

I will only be able, intially, to offer them a token amount of money (very very little) to secure the option, possibly as little as $100. It seems preposterous to me (and it probably will do to them): $100 for the rights to adapt a work, that in it’s field, is one of the GREAT pieces of the last one hundred years. I am relying on passion and fierce hunger to carry the day (a bit like Agincourt).

So that’s why, I’m having to turn my eye away from a writer’s life of crime, just for the moment, but fear not, we blog on.

Day #111 Tip: Adapt or die
Did I make that pithy little adage up? Sounds like a law of nature to me, I think I’ve stolen it from Charles Darwin or David Attenborough, but there’s surely truth in’t.

Often as I’m trolling along, deeply invested in a piece of work, other more pressing pieces of work will come along that will put meat and drink on my table and keep the roof over my head, this is when the unpaid work has to be put to one side as I work to earn the money that will keep me moving forward over the long haul. Sometimes I believe that some sort of training as a juggler might have been handy, or an apprenticeship as a Chinese plate-spinner, the type that I used to see in variety shows at the end-of-the-pier?

To survive I have found that I have to scratch out a writer’s living whichever way I can, but the bottom line is this: I have to keep writing, I have to keep storytelling.

A friend once posed this question to me: “If you won a few million bucks on the Lotto tomorrow, what would you do? Would you keep writing or would you do what you really want to do?”

Before I share my answer to that question with you, let me raise two points: (1) I do not play the Lotto, because (2) I once heard that you do not significantly increase your chances of winning the Lotto by buying a ticket.

Back to my answer; “If I won millions tomorrow (which in many ways I hope I don’t) , I’d get up and start writing the next day, because that’s what I do and that’s what I really really love doing. Crime is way way more meaningful to me than gambling.

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