Writing - From Stage to Screen
When I started writing, my stories were all for the stage. Even though I loved movies and television, I found it too daunting to write out stories that had such a refined visual component. It scared the pants off me…see, now there’s a GREAT visual (I’ve gotten better at it).
I’ve never been a “let’s read about it” type of guy. Instead, I finally just got brave enough to try writing screenplays on blind faith that I’d figure it out. I didn’t have any special software. I didn’t even research what screenplays look like. I just described things differently than I would for the stage. And it was liberating. Now, the whole world could be used as my sets. Crowd scenes were possible. Stories took on a more epic scale. It seems that creating on-camera scripts actually came relatively easy to me.
There was one challenge. On stage, your characters can talk. A lot, if you wish. And a theatre audience is used to it. In screenplays, you’re creating a visual medium and, although there are all kinds of films and series, it does help to take advantage of the “world” of the screen to actually have your stories “move”…that’s where “movies” comes from!
I can’t say that I completely adhere to the maxim that movies must always move. In fact, I’d say some of my best work as a screenwriter has been allowing my characters to speak. They may do it while they’re riding a bike or attending a baseball game but they talk. If you have great actors saying your words, now you can see them do so in close-up. As a storyteller, it’s an exciting difference from the stage.
My first experiment with writing for the screen actually developed from a stage show that I wrote. It was designed to be performed live but was segmented into TV episode lengths. The show was called The Men’s Room. A small cast of talented folks (and me!) performed three episodes over the course of three months. It was my way of making sure that an audience would like the show before I went to the next level and re-created the episodes for the screen.
Happily, people loved the live sitcom so I was encouraged to rewrite and produce it as a web series, which became the award-winning show “He’s With Me”. There were differences, of course. What people imagine when they see a live show is worlds away from the reality of what we expect to see onscreen. But, the story, characters and intention remained the same. It proved to me that though the writing is altered for the screen, the play is still the thing.