Sunday, 30 October 2011

Screenplays and novel writing

I'm currently turning my novel Replica into a screenplay. Why, I hear you cry - after all, if it's difficult to sell a novel which will cost a publisher £10,000 to produce (Snowbooks' figures), how much harder is it to sell a screenplay which will cost up to £500 an hour to make? (That's BBC tarifs - I couldn't find the total cost of a made-for-TV 90 minute film.)

Partly it's because I think Replica would transfer well to the small screen, and partly because it's an interesting challenge. Screenplay writing is very different from novel writing; since there will be input from the director, actors, set and costume designers, on the page it's the dialogue that does all the work. You don't say what the characters are feeling; you don't write backstory; you don't tell the actors how to deliver the lines. So the dialogue has to be very good indeed.

You lay the screenplay out to an accepted format, in Courier 12, as in the picture. This enables the length of a script to be assessed quickly. A film should come to no more than 120 pages. I'm a concise writer, so it's a new sensation for me to have to cut scenes and dialogue. I now realize why adaptations often have whole subplots missing, and why films can be so different from the original novel.

I've a nasty feeling it probably takes as long to become proficient at writing screenplays as it does to write readable novels.


  1. Er... Unless BBC costs have plummetted massively since I worked in TV, I think you mean £500 000 an hour! Which is actually quite cheap...

  2. You worked in TV? That must have been interesting.

    I meant an hour of making, not an hour of film. That's the only information I could find on the BBC's website here:

  3. Brave woman, Lexi - good luck with this. And do let us know how you get on.

  4. More foolish than brave, Jo, I fear. If I did sell the screenplay, there would be no possibility at all you wouldn't get to hear all about it :o)

  5. Oh, how I understand the dialogue between foolish and brave . . .

  6. Jeweller, writer, screenplay person.. is there no end to your talents!?!?!!?! WOW!

    Take care

  7. Kitty, you have never heard me sing. If you had, you would know that is where my talents end :o)

  8. It sounds like a useful exercise Lexi. One note: it sounded like you were shooting for 120 pages. 120 pages is for a feature film. It's 90 pages for a 90 minute film. 1 minute per page is the industry standard (according to my research--Guy may correct me)

  9. Norm, you're right! I got mixed up. How lucky you told me - must cut more drastically than before.

  10. I agree it would make a great TV drama, Lexi. Fingers crossed...
    ps Kipferl has moved to Islington! Had a great sachertorte which had been ordered from there this weekend so can confirm the standard remains high.

  11. Camden Passage - I used to go regularly to eat at the Aquilino there many, many years ago. They did delicious Chicken Kiev back when it was quite unusual.

  12. This is great. Once again you have given yourself a challenge and you're using that challenge to acquire new skills and hone existing ones. Another reason why Lexi Revellian will one day be a successful and respected writer. Even more successful and more widely respected, that is.

  13. And rich, Alan - you meant to say rich too, didn't you?

  14. If that's what you want. My personal choice would be "comfortable" although I know each person's definition of that is, well, individual. But rich just sounds like a lot of trouble to me and I'm not sure I would wish it on a friend.

    But once you get there, I will be interested to know what you think!

  15. Can't resist this quote from Sense and Sensibility:

    "Elinor, for shame!" said Marianne, "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."

    "Perhaps," said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

    "About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."

    Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end."

    "And yet two thousand a year is a very moderate income," said Marianne. "A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less."

  16. That Austen women did have a way of getting to the truth of the matter. An irritating trait in a writer.

  17. Sounds like a good idea, especially since there are competitions (e.g. Slamdance and American Zoetrope) where a screenplay all by itself without an actual film deal can win prizes and possibly attract enough attention to eventually lead to a film deal.

  18. Marilyn, do those competitions favour American subjects? I thought I'd aim for the UK small screen to start with - and even saying that sounds incredibly optimistic :o)

  19. Hi Lexi,

    What an amazing coincidence that you're branching off into screenwriting. To borrow a quote from one of my daughter's favorite films The Trouble with Angels, that is the most scathingly brilliant idea!

    When I first read the beta version of Replica I thought that it was perfect for film. And then, about a month after that, through the most convoluted series of events, (beginning ironically with a suggestion from you) I ended up writing screenplays, myself.

    After a three or four months of intense research during which time I read probably between 100-150 from and other sites (I read 1-2 per day), I stumbled upon a sideline enterprise belonging to your favorite business partner, Amazon Studios. Check out their monthly contests and the rest of the amazing activities at

    To date, I've written two screenplays in a genre that I never imagined I'd be exploring, I have four others I'm outlining, and I just finished outlining a sci-fi action one which I've entered into a contest where AS provides a premise and the entrants can submit up to three "pitches" in the form of outlines or beat sheets. They've teamed up with Warner Bros. for this and have already hired a director - the winner gets hired to write the screenplay for the film!

    In the contest, up to five pitches will be selected and their entrants will each be paid $10,000 to deliver a treatment. Then the one winner will be paid, I believe, $65K for a first draft and then, if the film is produced, $150,000. If domestic box office exceeds $60,000,000 gross, a further $150,000 bonus will be paid.

    I have found a trove of information for the beginning screenwriter that may be of some help to you and I have a ton (tonne) of other resources that I would be happy to provide, as well. One hint that really got me up to speed quickly: Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! and his www site I believe that is the single most valuable book for the aspiring screenwriter (and it reads like a novel). The second most useful tool I've found is Syd Field's classic Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.

    (Blake Snyder breaks down the screenwriting process in a way that almost eliminates false starts, wasted scenes and wasted effort - it IS a masterpiece!)

    But nothing I've found beats reading the hundreds of scripts on Through a somewhat convoluted process I paste the HTML source of the screenplays from into DreamWeaver where I clean them up and alter the margins and then drop them onto Calibre. There I convert them to mobi and read them on my Nook Color using the Kindle app.

    I love the idea of Replica as a feature film, and I believe that you'd stand an excellent chance of winning one of the monthly $20,000 US prizes on AS with it. I for one would love to see you do that as several of these monthly winners are now being made into feature films via the Amazon / WB partnership.

    I really can see a film version of Replica being perfect as the catalyst that launches a successful screenwriting career. In fact, at one point, I was actually considering approaching you with the idea of optioning it! Seriously.

    Lexi, I believe you probably still have my email address from your beta "program" as I think you've spammed me once. though considering the source it can hardly be called spam. ;-) Please feel free to drop me a line if you'd like some of the information I've collected.

    I look forward to hearing from you,

    PS: I've been so busy with this... addiction, that I haven't had the chance to visit since we last corresponded. It is great to hear that your book sales are increasing this year - I think if you can create another one like Replica you may well wind up residing in the top half of Amazon's sales charts. Are you planning to stick with titles that begin with the letter "R"? ;-)

  20. William, so sorry Blogger sent your comment to Spam and I've only just seen it.

    And it's a very interesting comment. I came across Amazon Studios a while ago, bookmarked it and did no more. Will check out all your links and be in touch, thank you very much.