Friday, September 7, 2012

A screenplay and movie experiment

Like all writers, I dream of one day writing a screenplay. And, like most writers, I probably never will. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from the process. So I set about to read a screenplay. However, I didn’t want to be influenced by a movie I had already seen—I wanted the movie to come alive in my mind first, and then wanted to see how it actually came alive on the screen, with final actors and finalized directorial choices.

I knew I wanted a comedy because it’s the genre that most appeals to me as an auteur.
I knew it needed to be a movie no one had or would talk about.
It needed to be a movie that I would also like to watch eventually.

The movie: Cedar Rapids.

This quiet comedy had languished in my movie queue for months … okay, years. But other than knowing that Ed Helms was the lead, I knew nothing about it. So I did a quick Internet search and found as close to the original screen play as I could find.

As a screenplay, it moved along well, kept the scenes and jokes tight and each of the characters were distinctive enough that I didn’t need to keep checking to see who said what. All in all, I liked it and could see why it was optioned as a movie.

As a movie, some scenes are altered, a subplot that seemed funny on the page is abandoned entirely, and the ending feels rushed. But the casting is better than I imagined. John C. Reilly takes a boorish character on the page and makes him a realistic bombast with enough pathos to make him seem authentic and vulnerable. Anne Heche is not an actress I’m familiar with, but she was surprisingly good as the love interest. And the rest of the cast elevates their material as well.

Overall, the experience was much like “reading the book first”. Because I had read the screenplay, I knew what was coming. But the actors did such a great job that familiar jokes were still delivered in surprisingly novel ways.

Next up: watching a movie first and reading the screenplay afterwards.