A chance to help make a LGBT movie come to life? Sign me the hell up! And guess what? You can help too. Please welcome Brad Vance to my little corner of the web and see how you can play a part in taking A Little Too Broken to the big screen.
Thanks to Bey for letting me take over his blog today! I want to talk about the development process I went through as I turned my novel A Little Too Broken into a screenplay. I’ve got my first draft done, and I’m doing a Kickstarter to help me pay for “development expenses,” including script hosting on sites that can get it industry attention, getting paid evaluations from Hollywood pros, and hopefully going to LA in June for Scriptfest/Pitchfest, where I can meet other screenwriters and learn how to sell my script to Hollywood! You can contribute here.
How did it all begin? I started taking acting classes last fall, almost by accident. I was slothing on my couch, wishing “someone” would make a movie out of one of my books. I’ve always known Broken was the perfect property – it’s got a small cast, few locations, oh and puppies! How can you lose?
Then some voice inside me shouted, “Shut the fuck up! Stop talking about If Only and see what you can do to make it happen!” So I started googling for Reno filmmakers, and while I didn’t find a film studio, I found a web page for a short film festival, and saw that it was partly sponsored by a local acting school, Take 2 Performers Studio. I thought, well, if nothing else, maybe I should see about acting classes to improve my audiobook performance skills.
Turns out that Take 2 is a real feeder to Hollywood, that many of the young actors taking classes there work in LA part time, doing roles on McGyver and Bones and Nike and Vans commercials. It was the real deal!
And not only did I get bit by the acting bug, but I started writing short scenes for the actors, which you can find here on my blog (as well as the Broken script). Their response was enthusiastic, and it gave me the courage to take on an entire screenplay.
I read copiously – other screenplays, the how to books (and I learned which “how to” books I should ignore) the Reddit screenwriting subreddit, the Black List blog, and more. I learned how to do it “their way,” that is, the way you write a screenplay that might actually get sold, and made into a movie.
That is not to say, write to the beats, write by numbers, have X happen on page Y (though there are definitely books that teach that). But it is to say, don’t editorialize in your Action lines, don’t overuse parentheticals (the acting directions like “rolls eyes” or “wryly” to dictate tone). I even learned that parentheticals are called “wrylies” because of the overuse of that word! Which, I’m proud to say, I’d only used once, and immediately deleted. Let the characters and the story do the talking, not you.
Which is hard for a novelist! Especially one like me who’s always been criticized by some for my Balzacian tendency to launch into expository fulminations. But I did rein it in.
The thing that startled me the most was how much had to change between the novel and the screenplay. There was stuff I had to change that made the script better, maybe even made the story better than it was in the novel.
Obviously, I had to do something about all the sex! The novel readers wanted lots of it, and they got it. But I wanted an R rated script, which of course meant removing most of the hot sexin’ from the novel. It’s going to be hard enough selling LGBT content to anyone outside of the “niche market” studios who make those films exclusively, without adding the softcore obstacle to it.
But that’s okay. What’s left now is what’s integral – Jamie masturbating (chest up!) in the shower and then bursting into tears, Tom masturbating with a flashback to his rehab in the VA and a funny conversation with a physical therapist about prostate health. Tom and Jamie having sex the first time, of course, because how do you do that with Tom’s prosthetic legs, you can’t just leave out the technical obstacle to their lovemaking. I condensed two or more scenes of that into one, and cut away once the real fuckin’ begins.
And as far as anything rough/kinky goes, I managed to condense that into three lines from the book. Tom and Jamie are about to go to Tom’s family’s house for Thanksgiving, and Tom gives Jamie a tip on how to deal with Patrick, Tom’s dad:
Oh, and if you call Dad ‘sir,’ that’ll help. He likes that.
Runs in the family.
And that’s all it takes in film to express everything that’s going on with them sexually, without having to frighten the horses :)
I really loved this line of Ava’s in the novel: “Your problem, hon, is that you turn every simple box of a problem into a Rubik’s Cube. Then you twist it around and around until all the colors are screwed up, and then you look at it say, oh, it’s hopeless, I can’t solve that, it’s too complicated.”
But… it wasn’t working in the movie. First of all, it’s really long. Second of all, I realized that while it’s a great “line” in a book, it’s not something one person says to another. Out it goes!
I had to “externalize” a lot of what I’d done as narrative. For instance, I took lines Jamie said in internal monologue, like “Besides, he thought with morbid humor, how sick does that sound – Jamie, Jackson and Jane? Jackson had come from the Humane Society with his name, and so would Jane. But it would sound to anyone else like he was a crazy cat lady.” And I turned that into Jamie talking to Ava:
Why couldn’t you adopt her? You know Jackson’s lonely. And don’t say it always ends in tears.
Everything ends in tears. What if they fought? I couldn’t stand to take her back to kitty prison. And how sick does that sound – Jamie, Jackson and Jane? Everyone would think I’m a crazy cat lady.
So you left her in kitty prison instead.
(drinks and makes a face)
See? You’re driving me to drink.
Like you need a driver.
Worst of all, just transcribing the book into the script, I could see that Jamie was coming across “flat,” as a character, that a lot of his sympathetic appeal in the book came from his internal monologues, as seen above. But his actual dialogue made him sound, for the most part, like a boring self-pitying drip. So, I had to steal some lines from Ava, and invent some new ones, to give him more dark humor. And to have more of those funny moments to punctuate the seriousness.
I studied the script from Manchester by the Sea for ways to handle the flashbacks I needed to do, and between seeing the movie and reading the script, I realized how effective it was to have those moments.
In Manchester, Lee, the Casey Affleck character, becomes the reluctant guardian of his nephew Patrick after Patrick’s father dies. In one scene, Patrick tells his uncle he’s going to have a girl in his room overnight. There’s a pause, and Lee says, “Am I supposed to tell you to use a condom?” People broke up laughing in the theater, all the more because the main notes of the movie were so serious. I was definitely looking for more of those counterpoints in my screenplay than I had in the novel.
There was a long ending to the book, after the real climax of the book, at Thanksgiving dinner. In that ending, Jamie adopts Jane, his second cat, after all, having failed to adopt her the first time. There’s a lot of back and forth with his new extended family about how the two cats are getting on.
And I realized… no. Thanksgiving is the big finish. That’s the emotional climax and any blah blah after that is just going to rob that of its impact. So I condensed the whole coda to a single scene that recaptures and reflects the very first scenes of the movie – read it for yourself, I won’t spoil it! Simple is better, and in a film, one image, especially when it rounds back to the first one in the movie, is worth… oh, you know.
And to be honest, when choosing my battles on what to keep and what to toss, I had my eye on budgets! At 96/97 pages, that’s about a 100 minute movie. Which costs less to make than a 120 minute movie, but isn’t so short it’s not a “real” feature.
As far as keeping backstory, I was worried both about the screen time it would take, and how it might derail the pace of the story. I realized that Jamie and Daniel’s history, where Jamie falls for wicked Daniel and ends up on drugs and HIV positive, could take the least amount of time. Tom’s got a longer arc of injury and recovery, that needs that screen time, but He Done Him Wrong is the same story every time, right? In four minutes, it’s all done, from the moment happy, innocent Jamie meets Daniel in a bar to the day he tests positive after losing ten pounds as Daniel’s drug-fuck toy of the month.
I liked using flash scenes for some bits of information, especially for some of the sexy bits, fantasy scenes especially. In the first part of the script, they get the “shock” out of the way of two men kissing, you know?
For instance, when Jamie shows up at CCC for the first time, and he’s alone with Tom in the office…
Jamie’s eyes flick to a desk.
Tom’s arm sweeping everything off the desk, pushing Jamie down on it, climbing on top of him and pinning his wrists to the desk, Jamie’s eyes wide…
BACK TO SCENE
Jamie blinks away the image. He looks at Tom. Tom seems to have had pretty much the same vision. They both look away.
See? It’s shocking and yet it’s over so fast that the audience doesn’t have time to get uncomfortable w/ the gay sexin’ bits, but all the same it busts their cherry so it’s not as shocking when you get to the real thing!
I think the only thing that would have fucked me up would have been if I thought my Prose was Deathless, my Story Perfect. I’ve written a lot in the last 3 ½ years since ALTB, and I can see the flaws in it that I’d fix as a novelist if I was writing it again today. But all I can do now is fix them in the screenplay.
My great downfall as a selfpub writer was writing for myself, with the arrogant certainty that “I do not have to write alpha pack shifters if that’s what’s selling! I can write Werewolves of Brooklyn and the world will come clamoring and buy my book instead!”
Yeah, about that. That’s why I have $1.50 in savings now. This time, I knew I had to tell my story, but I couldn’t just tell it my way. Not only because, I realized, “they” wouldn’t buy it but because… it didn’t work “my way.” I found that the framework of screenwriting forced me to see the flaws in my story, made me refocus on the key elements.
One thing I read about adaptation really stuck with me. When Alfred Hitchcock would adapt a novel to the screen, he would read it once. And never look at the book again. He thought that if he couldn’t recall a scene from the book, it didn’t belong in the movie.
Another writer, David Trottier in his Screenwriter’s Bible, said that when adapting, you pick 5-10 scenes in the book that are the most powerful, and those are the core of your screenplay. The rest is croutons (he didn’t say that).
And okay, even though I took a lot of “emotional editorializing” out of the Action lines, there were places I couldn’t help but leave it in. After Jamie can’t adopt in the first scene, I had “He’s a bad person,” or “He knows it’ll end in tears,” etc. Those aren’t action line stuff. So out they went, and good riddance.
But there was one place I just had to leave my little mark. When Daniel’s abandoned Jamie for a new twink, Jamie’s still chasing him, frantically calling him.
Daniel? I’ve been calling you for days. Just call me, okay? Or text me so I know you’re okay.
The Daniels of the world are always okay.
But, other than a veiled swipe at “Trump Privatizes VA” as a headline Jamie would be reading by the time someone read the script, I took myself out of the story, as much as it hurt to do it as a novelist who’s always weighing in on his characters and their world!
Well, that’s a lot of technical stuff about the script. The one thing that astonished me the most is that this story still makes me burst into tears, which very few things can do. I burst into tears when I wrote it, and then went through the whole catharsis again when I did the audiobook (the sound of Patrick’s tears at the Thanksgiving dinner table are not me “acting”), and again now with the screenplay.
Am I Crazy? Am I the only one who’s going to blubber at this story? I hope not. But you never really know with your own story, how it looks to someone else, from a distance. Let’s hope it doesn’t look that much different.
Again, you can help me get to the next level with this screenplay by donating to my Kickstarter here! It’s an all or nothing affair, so if I don’t get to $2,000 in pledges, I get $0. Also, you can cut to the chase and read the screenplay for yourself here. This money will help me pay for development costs like script hosting, evaluations, and a script pitching conference in LA in late June. The goal right now is to get this script saleable, get it in front of as many eyes as possible, and get ready for the next phase – world domination! I mean, making an actual movie!
I’ve always donated 50% of the ebook/audiobook proceeds to veterans’ organizations, and in addition, I’ll be donating 10% of any income I might make from selling book rights, script option, script sale, profit points, whatever. So please help me make this happen, and thanks for reading!