A journey of my own
When you read a book, do you imagine the world the author is describing? Do you imagine what a character would be like to interact with in real life?
Reading fiction is some of the best storytelling around, and that’s exactly why I’ve recently come full circle into reading fiction again.
As a business owner, I’ve spent the last several years constantly reading books on marketing, strategy, business & negotiation tactics, and blogging – basically, anything related to sales, business, digital strategy, and technology. My Feedly is full of blogs on these subjects pushing out several posts a week and I try to at least skim 90% of them.
This is extremely consuming. There’s definitely a lot of value in there, which is why I continue to read them. But recently, I’ve come to several realizations that make me better at managing my time and that have improved my storytelling technique in the process.
I’m on my phone several hours a day. If I’m not on my phone, I’m likely on my computer at work or on my laptop at home. It’s usually one of the last things I look at before going to sleep.
Lately, though, I’ve been seeing a lot of studies indicating that this is unhealthy for your sleep.So I decided to change it up. In college, I was reading fiction novels non-stop. I remember being so enthralled with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that I stayed up all night for 3 nights in a row to read more and more. I read it all in about 4 sittings total.
I had never been to France or Paris or seen the museums the book references, but I did imagine I was making a movie about a book. When I saw Ron Howard’s movie, I was shocked to see how close my imaginary view of the book was to his movie based on the book.
Short stories are perfect for adaptation to feature films.
Of course, imagination is easy, but actually doing it is a whole other story. Thinking back on a fiction book you like, it’s fairly easy to imagine the scenes playing out. But each shot, edited together, with music, sound effects and the way the actors play each character is a ton of work.
Novels are generally several hundred pages long and the stories are very detailed and developed. They often don’t make sense to adapt into movies because you’d have to leave so much out; otherwise, you’d end up with a 10-hour movie.
For this reason, novels tend to make better TV series or miniseries. HBO’s Band of Brothers and Netflix’s House of Cards are great examples of this.
Do you know what’s great to adapt into feature films? Short stories. The plots are less elaborate and are generally on par with a movie’s length, which is about 100 minutes on average.
The author who really got me into fiction is Jeffrey Archer, a master storyteller who’s always including attention-capturing cliffhangers that make you want to read more. When I was 17 or 18, I asked my dad if he had any good short stories, and he gave me one of Archer’s books. My favorite wound up being one that was called One Man’s Meat, in which Archer includes 4 different endings.
This, to me, illustrated a profound sense of storytelling – one where you could take the story in 4 unique directions. It was great to compare actions and plot lines among each ending, opening the door for me as a storyteller on which way to chase a story in a documentary environment.
I began to adapt books I really enjoyed into movie scripts simply for the experience. This is much harder and a lot more work than imagining what you think the movie should look like, as you have to condense a lot of details into a brief script and translate descriptions into character moods, dialog or actions.
It’s also tiring and time-consuming. Whenever I would do this, I wouldn’t have the book open and try to copy everything. Instead, I’d reference it for the finer details, but as the exercise was supposed to improve my writing – specifically my scriptwriting – I left the book closed.
I’ve always prided myself on my directorial skills. So when I would write scripts, I’d be thinking ahead to who I would ideally cast and the shots or framing I would use to cover a scene.
I even went so far as to contact Archer’s publishing wing for permission to adapt a story for my senior project. I had the script ready to send upon their request, but although I didn’t know it at the time, he has different representation for his novel and his short stories, and presumedly his plays, too.
I was aware that there was this much involved at age 21, but – as they say – ignorance is bliss. But I was persistent. I stayed up to 2 am to call the publisher (as they’re based in the UK) – a process that taught me a lot about the business side of things.
Reading fiction allows me to dream. The freedom to explore shots in my mind and how to piece a visual story together is a powerful act or surpassed by actually making films. I love reading someone else’s work without any idea of what’s next. Curiosity for the next chapter, scene, page or sentence. What will it bring and what does it mean? How does this shape the way I would shoot this scene. Would I illustrate it the same way as my peers?
This practice isn’t something that is learned or taught, it’s something that is done. It’s difficult to explain, and, heck, even to understand. It’s just something that is done. When you get on a bike do you think about how to ride it? Or do you just hop and start doing?
Once this thought process routine is set it’s hard to stop. As a visual learner myself, whenever I read something I’m picturing it in my head. Fiction is no different, but more detailed and thorough. It provides me with the material to line up scenes, block characters, direct actors and ultimately tell a story.
This is the same process when working on commercial projects for clients. I’m dreaming, seeing in my mind before it all comes together. It’s just a matter of putting these thoughts on paper in an organized fashioned.
That’s how we created our process. By doing this over and over again I realized that we approach projects in a similar fashion each time. This provides consistency, give both parties and expectation on what’s to come and allows us to achieve the incredible results we’ve seen thus far.