From Theater Script to Screenplay, Part II

     Last post I began passing on my observations while moving a script from stage to screen. This posting continues that discussion. 

     The biggest change was plot. I’ve found that stage is very forgiving of non-linear plots, ambiguity, and a general looseness of story. In my experience, strong characters and dialog were the most critical elements on stage. On screen, I’m finding that the emphasis shifts to clear story telling.  The characters and dialog are still important, but story is what propels things forward. I suppose this might have been true on stage as well and I just never got it, but on stage I could get away with it while on screen I can’t. So I do feel like the world of screenplays strengthens my writing in the area of story, and I feel like the world of stage strengthens my writing in the areas of character and dialog.

     Speaking of dialog, another big change is that on screen the emphasis is on telling the story thorough visual elements, with dialog in a supporting role. On stage my experience has been that the emphasis is on telling the story through dialog with the visual elements playing a supporting role. 

     Another big change is that when writing for stage I was constantly aware of the limitations of stage. The cast is limited, so that must be considered. Doubling is typically used, so I needed to make sure actors had time to change costumes. I needed to keep track of who was on-stage, who was off-stage, and make sure that there was time for the actors to get from point A to point B backstage.  It was my job to tell people when and where to exit, and when and where to enter.  On screen, most of this doesn’t apply. There can be crowd scenes with lots of people.  I still need to keep track of who’s in the scene, but I don’t generally need to worry about exits and entrances very much. Everyone just magically appears when the scene begins, they magically disappear when the scene ends, then they magically reappear somewhere else, perhaps wearing different clothes, much older or younger, and so on. 

     I’ll continue to share lessons throughout this process.