Novel or Screenplay?

This past Saturday I attended a wonderful writer’s workshop put on by the Scriptwriter’s Network. The topic was self-publishing. And, though I received some very helpful information about self-publishing, the biggest revelation I received had almost nothing to do with the workshop.

In the beginning of the workshop, the speaker asked how many of us were working on novels, and how many were working on screenplays. Someone in the group said they were trying to decide which one their story should be. In an instant, although I have been working on a screenplay, I realized that my story needs to be a novel.

There is no cut and dried way to know which format one should use. But I realized that my story needs to be a novel because:

  • It is about a woman’s inner transformation through her relationships
  • There is not a lot of action in the story
  • I want my main character to narrate the story

None of these items, in my opinion, makes for a great screenplay, so novel it is. I also realized that the reason I had shied away from writing a novel is that I feared it wouldn’t be long enough. Publishers tend to seek specific word count ranges, and I have no clue yet how long my story will be. With screenplays, it’s 80-120 pages. I feared that I might start writing a novel and then only have 80-120 pages. Who would want it?

However, having the option of self-publishing solves this problem. If I choose to self-publish, the word count is up to me. I haven’t decided yet if I want to self-publish or not.  But, somehow, having this option freed me from fear. I feel energized to abandon the screenplay and start my novel. I’m excited.

Speaking of excitement, one of my Facebook friends posted a video of a woman who raged against the notion of “inspiration.” When it comes to achievement, inspiration is overrated, she said. Most of the time we won’t feel like creating or doing what we need to do. Do it anyway.

So, although I am excited, I accept that excitement might be the exception rather than the rule. To accomplish my goal I will need to just work towards it, little by little, inspired or not, until it’s finished. That, actually, is also liberating.

Happy Reading,

Raven

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a workshop in which several studio executives and television writers shared their accumulated wisdom about the industry. What came up time and again was the necessity of knowing yourself as a writer – and being yourself at all costs.

We are used to thinking of this kind of advice as cliché. We picture those old-school after school specials starring some sad, unpopular teenager whose mother tells him to just be himself – “Your true friends will love you just the way you are!” We roll our collective eyes and think “Yeah, right.”

However, it turns out that that tired advice is true. As writers – and artists of all kinds – it is not choice of materials, or connections, or where you went to school, or even years of experience that matter most. At all stages of our careers, we must know whom we are, and stay true to that no matter what.

abstract watercolor on paper
abstract watercolor on paper

This is easier said than done, of course. Our consumer-driven, materialistic society is obsessed with the idea that we are not okay as we are. We are flawed in every possible way – but if we buy Widgets A, B, & C, maybe, just maybe, there is hope for us! The artist’s way of life, however, rejects this notion. Not only are we “okay” the way we are. Staying who we are is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the world. You matter. You are the way you are for a reason. So get in touch with it and play!

This may be difficult if you are relying on your art for money. But, even so – do what you have to do to put food on your table. But always, always, put some time aside to work on your own projects – the things you really love and want to do. That is your real art. That is your gift to yourself and to the world.

So, have a beautiful week of love and creativity. And, no matter what – be the best version of You you can be!

Fruitvale Station: Were The Changes From Script to Movie Effective?

Fruitvale Station – Script vs. Movie and Overall Thoughts

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Writer and Director: Ryan Coogler

*****WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE*****

Yesterday I finally had the pleasure of reading the Fruitvale Station script. Afterwards, I watched the movie on Netflix streaming. (I always prefer to read the script or novel first before seeing the movie, if possible). Writer and director, Ryan Coogler, has made a thoughtful, poetic, and important film that should not be missed.

Based on real events,  Fruitvale Station is the story of a young twenty-two-year-old black male who was shot by the police on New Years Day, 2009. I remember when this happened. It was a scary time, even though the incident happened in Northern California, not Southern California, where I live. I remember feeling what has now become a familiar feeling – that black physical survival in this country is still a roll of the dice. One’s fate as a person of color is not strictly related to one’s activities. To some extent, it is subject to the whims of armed members of the majority culture.

The movie forces one to ponder the “what-ifs” and the “if-only’s” of life. What if he had stayed home, as he and his daughter desired? What if he had driven, like he initially wanted to, instead of taking the subway, as his mother suggested? What if he had avoided the overly crowded subway car and taken the next one? What if Katie hadn’t seen him and called out his name, arousing the interest of his rival, Cale, with his gang of thugs? What if? What if? What if? This aspect of the movie delivers a haunting sense of reality. We can all relate to how often we do this in real life. We second-guess our past decisions based upon impossible-to-foresee outcomes.

The movie is not only realistic, however. It has a sense of poetry. The clearest example of this is the scene with the stray pit bull. The pit bull pre-figures Oscar’s own fate. The pit bull is a feared dog, one with a scary reputation. However, Oscar calls this lovely dog over to him and they play together like old friends. The pit bull is then mowed down by a speeding car. The car doesn’t even bother to slow down, let alone stop. Despite Oscar’s screaming for help, no one comes, and the poor dog dies in the street. I won’t insult you by explaining the parallels between Oscar’s fate and this dog’s. Incidentally, the officer who ended Oscar’s life spent all of eleven months in prison.

Other poetic elements involved some of the shots themselves. For example, when the subway left to take Oscar and his friends to San Francisco, we never saw the characters enter. They passed us by and entered off-screen. The camera stayed on a medium/distant shot of the back part of the train as it pulled away. You couldn’t tell from that distance that there was even anyone on the train. It was an odd, rather spooky image. There is an emptiness, or perhaps, a resignation to it. Oscar’s fate is in motion. On the subway ride back, during which the incident occurred, we are close up on the subway as the windows blur past us. It is like watching someone’s life pass before their eyes.

There is also the recurring reference to Oprah Winfrey in the film. In the script, Oscar’s uncles have a discussion about President Obama’s election and what that means. However, that conversation didn’t make it into the movie. When the grandmother is watching television with little Tatiana, they are watching a tele-novella in the script. However, in the movie, they are watching Oprah. In the movie, Oprah serves as an ironic contrast between seeming black uber-success and the still-precarious nature of ordinary black males’ existences. In the script, President Obama’s election serves the same purpose. By using Oprah rather than Obama in the movie, Coogler may be expressing an opinion on the level of danger this country poses towards black males versus black females. If so, I think the tragic incidents involving Sandra Bland, and so many others, contradict that notion. Neither gender is safe.

The other differences in the film between the script and the movie were fairly minor. Oscar’s reactions are angrier in two important scenes: one where his mother refuses to keep visiting him in jail, and the other when his former boss refuses to give him his job back. Perhaps this was done to make Oscar less of a victim and show his rage at his unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps it was done to explain his desperation at the subway station to resolve matters quickly with the cops and go home. There are many other little changes. But one of the most poignant was the end.

The script ends with Oscar’s girlfriend trying to explain heaven to their daughter, Tatiana. In real life, kids tend to see through these weak efforts on the part of adults to cushion the blow of death. Accordingly, in the movie, Coogler dispensed with the heaven talk. The movie ends with poor little Tatiana asking repeatedly “Where’s daddy?” The now-single mother, Sophina, has no answer.

Aside from Coogler’s stellar writing and directing, credit must be given to Michael B. Jordan’s stellar performance as Oscar Grant. Incidentally, Jordan did an even better job as Adonis in Coogler’s current film, Creed. I am excited to see what kinds of stories these artists bring to life for us in the future. If you have a chance, please do not miss Fruitvale Station (or Creed)!