London Screenwriters' Festival, I was scheduled to do a session on adapting novels. I've been at it for twenty years, commissioned for adaptation work more than a few times, some of it was produced, some of it is floating in limbo and some went nowhere. Figured I know a thing or two worth sharing.
That's when the organizers of the festival informed me that Ted Tally would join the festival - and that he'd like to be part of the session on adaptations. I was thrilled, of course! Long story short, the festival's history, the session was amazing AND I even got to join him for a script-to-screen session where we screened Silence Of The Lambs and talked about the shooting script and the various little changes that ended up in the iconic film we all know. What can I say, it was quite a weekend!
Click here for a look back at the session on adapting novels, expertly penned by the Leilani Holmes. And here's a blog about the special Silence of the Lambs script-to-screen session. I'm not going to duplicate what's been written already - here just a few things that stuck with me:
- Ted mentioned that you get about five minutes of respect for winning an Oscar. Hard to believe but I've heard this before. Incredible to think that you've climbed that particular peak ... actually, good way of putting it. You've climbed it, now what? There won't be a helicopter taking you to the next peak - you'll make your way down and then climb the next one. There are no shortcuts.
- Ted also said that everything you've learned is in the past - every new project has you starting from scratch. I do see his point, but don't see it that dramatically. After a few decades a few things are learned, a few are clear, a few writing muscles have grown. I do find it easier and I do find past insights helpful when tackling a next project. What's true, of course, is that you'll always start with the same blank page again.
- An essential question, before adapting a novel, is always this: "Who's the protagonist?" That may seem obvious but isn't - often a screenwriter tries to stick to closely to different points of view and thus makes it impossible for an audience to strongly identify with a protagonist. Ted did this with Silence of the Lambs, giving us most of the movie through Clarice's eyes. The novel had different points of view - giving us the film that way would have meant a bloated film and a diminished impact on the individual characters.
- Never assume the people who bought the rights to a novel have actually read it. Pitch your take on an adaptation as if they'd never read it. I've had that happen to me once, hard to believe but true. A production company may buy the rights for a novel based on strong word of mouth, a special pitch, a particular setting, an intriguing character or world, or even just an grabby title ... Same old applies - never assume!
- Ted's never been interested in directing but says he'd love to part of the editing process. The final draft of the script happens in the editing room, he says. Never had that particular interest before ... but I can see, I can definitely see how I would find that intense process fascinating and hugely valuable from a screenwriter's point of view.
Enough for now. I'll write about the London Screenwriters' Festival some other time. Let me just end by saying that yes, Ted Tally has brilliant successes in his bag. He is clearly a master of his craft with insights and anecdotes and connections to spare. But aside from all of that, I experienced him as a thoroughly kind and warm-hearted human being. I believe that, in the long run, this is the kind of person producers call again for the a next job.
PS: One of the participants drew Ted Tally, added some of insights given during the session - and created a pretty cool meme. Definitely worth sharing!