Peter Langmead's Blog

Film Director, Screenwriter, Composer, Steadicam operator, Social Documentary Photographer. My latest film is The Borderline, released on December 4, 2019.

Writing Film Scripts 2: Adapting a Book

As dull as this may be, the start is about mathematics. I suggested scriptwriting books in the first part of this series on purpose. Practice your moderately redundant reading skills and learn from them, because I am not telling you what is in the public domain. I am talking about what you get from experience, not from reading, but you need to read first.

Harry Hama, played by Dixon Mumbaa, with Brenda, played by Nancy Handibile, on the Zambezi Harry Hama, played by Dixon Mumba, with Brenda, the Commissioner's Aide played by Nancy Handibile, on the banks of the Lower Zambezi in Zambia.

A film script written in a scriptwriting programme is about 120 pages of A4 or Letter size for a 2-hour film. I use Final Draft but Celtx is also useful. One page of script is one minute of film. Blake Snyder’s dogmatic rules are well-advised. Really, do them, but know you can throw them out later. If your first ten pages to the 'inciting incident' do not hook the reader, rewrite them again because, at that point, your script is binned without a rejection letter.

Three months is what you expect to be paid for a 120-page script. In Zambia, you would be lucky! A tv-hour, an episode of a series, is around 56 minutes, 56 pages, which is an hour of programming with advertisements, about 59 minutes/pages without advertisments, for Netflix for example. A tv-½ hour is about 28 minutes/pages and more saleable because ½-hour gaps need filling. Smart writers design their films to fit ad breaks because they are time to ‘put-the-kettle-on’; smarter writers take advantage of the enforced Brechtian point.

What does a book for adaptation look like? On average, feature films have 60 scenes. A scene defines a location, simply EXT. FOREST - NIGHT or INT. OFFICE - DAY. It is the senior class of the scriptwriting hierarchy in your writing programme. If the film is 120 minutes/pages, each scene is two pages, two minutes. This is rhythm. If four scenes are concurrent in the same location, I maintain the four scene headings to ensure there is tangible change between each in the rhythm.

You recall writing at school and having to conform to the beginning, middle and end philosophy of Aristotle? This is the three-act structure. There are other models, Shakespeare uses five, but there are always at least three. The halfway point is also a staging post. So, what is the perfect storm in three acts and sixty chapters, and happens to be one of the finest examples of English literature, famous for its opening statement?

The BBC, other British film institutions and the film industry are (or were) obliged or predisposed towards writing scripts to support education, which has resulted in excellent films and series with meaningful quotes straight out of the nation’s great literature, including Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, one of the greatest novels of British literature, is in three acts and has 61 chapters, which is two minutes/pages per chapter for a feature film or six minutes/pages per chapter for a tv-hour episode in a six-part series.

Best regards,

Peter Langmead

There are all sorts of interesting things about my film productions, operas and books on social photography here on this site. Remember, if there is no spit on your lens, you are not close enough - I do not know who said that but it is true. Feel free to write.

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The Next Movie

The script is prepared for my next movie and pre-production is in progress. This is the most time-consuming part of filmmaking and production is expected to begin at the end of the year,