Thursday, June 23, 2011

Screenplays and Michaelbrent Collings

Hi Michaelbrent. Welcome back to Two Ends of the Pen. I hear you’ve been doing some new exciting projects and it’s great that you’ve agreed to share them with us.

You recently have had a number of bestselling novels, and then you had a pair of screenplays sold and put into production in the last year.  Are screenplays and novels different animals?
Yes, extremely different.  Screenplays are sharper-edged, and give worse papercuts.  Don't ask me why. 

Seriously, though, they ARE very different beasties.  Novels are all about action and introspection.  That is, they are plot from the point of view (usually) of one or more of the characters.  Screenplays, on the other hand, are (as a rule) only about the action without the introspection.  There is no room for internal monologues in most screenplays, they are all about action, action, action, from the point of view OF the action.

Does writing one lead to writing the other?
Not at all.  Because they are such different ways of writing, it's actually (at least for me) a very Unnatural process to jump from one to the other.  Or, put it another way, they are like speaking different languages.  Novelese and screeplay...uh...ese.  It is possible to speak more than one language, and many people do.  But it is an entirely different thing to be FLUENT in two different languages.  And that's what you have to do in order to be both a novelist and a screenwriter.  Doing one doesn't mean that you can automatically do the other; indeed, I have a number of friends who are very successful in one, but absolute failures at the other.  That doesn't mean they're less talented artists, it simply means they haven't achieved fluency in BOTH novelese and screenplayese. 

So no, they aren't natural offshoots of each other.  It's totally doable to be proficient in both, but it requires discipline and practice to learn the tricks, traps, and tropes of each.

Are there advantages to doing both?
Absolutely!  I mean, if nothing else, it gives me something to do while in that interminable waiting period following completion of any kind of work.  When I've finished a script and am waiting to hear back from producers, I can work on a novel.  If I've finished a novel and it's being shopped around or prepped to go online, I can pull out a screenplay.  Keeps me busy.  That and my platypus collection.  Oh, sure, you wouldn't THINK a platypus collection would take that much time, but have you ever tried to glue a platypus into one of those little albums?  It takes FOREVER.

Another advantage to doing both is that you have alternate avenues to put your work out there.  For example, I recently finished a book called PERDITION.  It's a pretty nifty thriller (available on!) about a man whose family decides to kill him when they discover he's the anti-Christ (or is he?...bwahahaha!).  So it's out there (on, for instance!), making me a bit of money, and that's great.  But in addition, I think it's also got possibilities as a screenplay, so I'm working on that iteration of the story.

Another good example is my book RUN.  It's a sci-fi thriller, and is currently with a major production company that is deciding whether they want to make a movie out of it.  I recently had a conversation with one of their execs where he explained that the process is taking a while because the book is so complex it's hard for some of the other execs to figure out a movie out of it.  Lo and behold, I had already WRITTEN a screenplay for RUN, and when I offered to show that to the movie producers, my contact at the company was ecstatic.  So it all fed into itself.

Any disadvantages to writing both?
Yes.  For sure.  Jealousy, for one.  Again, you don't want to make a screenplay jealous, because of the papercuts.  But then, if you anger a manuscript and it falls on your foot in retribution, it could break your toe!

Other than that, there is also the issue of the competing languages, as I mentioned above.  It's hard sometimes to write in the right (write in the right...ha! I crack myself up) language.  In other words, when writing a novel, the last thing I want to do is start sounding like I'm drafting a really long movie script.  Ditto when writing a movie script...sounding like a novel is a kiss of death.  So it's something you constantly have to guard against when writing.

It can also lead to confusion in your "self branding."  E.g. "I'm a screenwriter, I'm a novelist, I'm a screenwriter, I'm a novelist...I'm a screenwriter AND a novelist!"  That's a little joke for fans of Chinatown (trust me, if you're a screenwriter who knows anything about the industry, what I just said is hilarious), but it's true: you have to make sure that people know exactly what you are, what you can do, and that you can do it well, since they naturally assume you're a better novelist than you are a screenwriter, or vice-versa.

What advice would you give novelists or other prose authors who want to turn to screenwriting?
Well, first I recommend that you try to climb a flagpole covered in Cool Whip (TM).  Not because it has anything to do with writing, just I think it's funny to watch.

AFTER that, however, I recommend that you read every screenplay you can find.  Especially the "good" ones, past and present.  Again, it's like learning a different language, and the best way to do that is and always has been total immersion.  So put yourself chest-deep in a swimming pool of screenplays and dive in, man!

And then do the Cool Whip (TM) thing again.  Because I need a laugh today.  ;o)

Thanks Michaelbrent, you’re entertaining as always.  I wish you great success with your screenplays and, of course, your novels.  Feel free to drop by anytime!

Michaelbrent Collings is a successful screenwriter and novelist.  His book RUN was amazon's number one sci-fi book, and spent approximately six months on their horror, sci-fi, and thriller bestseller lists.  His newest book, PERDITION, is also available at, and he's hard at work on the next big screenplay even as we speak.

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