English 326 Literary Dimensions of Film
Screen Adaptation Assignment

For this assignment choose either Option A: Screenplay, Option B: Novelization, or Option C: Review Research.  Read the examples which follow the assignment to see how other students have handled the first two options successfully.

Option A: Fiction into Film

Throughout the course we have been discussing the ways screenwriters adapt the work of novelists and dramatists to film.  Your assignment now is to write your own screenplay or portion of a screenplay adapting a novel to film. The text you should use is The Stranger by Albert Camus in the Matthew Wood translation. The best plan would be to read all the book before selecting a section, chapter, or scene to work with.  Read the book carefully, respond to it  in a self-generated journal entry, and select a scene or a sequence of scenes that you can imagine cinematically or visualize projected on a movie screen in your head.  You may have to read the section several times to come to know it well enough  to fully comprehend its significance in the novel and to write a film version of it.

The screenplay or screenplay portion you produce should include an explanation of the context for the scene you are adapting and the scene itself written in script format.  Check the example of the screenplay for the student paper adapting "The Jewish Wife"  as a model of what screenplay format is like.  Also consult the screenplay for Casablanca, the screenplays on reserve on the third floor of Park Library, and the following books about screenwriting on reserve:

     Field, Syd. Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay
     Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
     Horton, Andrew. Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay
     Scorese, Martin. The Age of Innocence: The Shooting Script

You should remember that you will be trying to make us understand what the camera sees and shows us; it is not enough to repeat what's in the novel with a suggestion that that's what we're seeing--try to make the screenplay cinematic by imagining how to use the camera to tell the story or dramatize the action.  The paper should run 8-12 pages, typed, double-spaced. The final draft of the paper will be due April 26, 2004.

If you are doing the screenplay for  The Stranger, follow these guidelines:

  1. The paper should run 8-12 pages, typed, double-spaced. (It's okay if it runs longer--you'll likely have a lot of white space.)
  2. The paper should have a title centered on page 1 with your name centered two lines below it.
  3. The paper should begin with a section titled Introduction which runs three-quarters of a page to two pages in length and explains where in the play your screenplay is taken from and what has happened in your screenplay just before the scene you've written begins.  END THE INTRODUCTION WITH THREE ASTERISKS (* * *) CENTERED ON THE PAGE.
  4. The screenplay should begin two spaces after the asterisks and follow a format similar to those in class handouts or in the screenplay for "The Jewish Wife."  You don't have to be specific about every shot but important uses of the camera ought to be indicated.
  5. OPTIONAL:  If you need to add an afterword to the paper, to explain what happens after your scene or scenes, separate the afterword by three asterisks.
  6. Remember that you are adapting the play and are free to make changes that you need to in order to make a better screenplay.
Sample of a Screenplay

Nicole Lanctot chose to adapt a portion of the brief play by Bertold Brecht, "The Jewish Wife."  Although the play is short, her screenplay suggests that the film will be more expanded and extended.  Her introduction explains what actions and plot elements precede the sequence she is going to adapt into screenplay format and she also provides an afterword or epilogue that explains where the screenplay would go next.  Notice that the screenwriter doesn't not have to reproduce every word of dialogue or every action in the original source; she is free to make the print source into a cinematic work.  If you'd care to consult her screenplay, click here: "The Jewish Wife--The Screenplay".  Also available for review are the following screenplays on reserve in Park Library:

     Branagh, Kenneth. A Midwinter's Tale
     Coen, Ethan. Fargo
     Minghella, Anthony. The English Patient
     Scorsese, Martin. The Age of Innocence
     Taymor, Julie. Titus
 

For a website demonstrating the adaptation of a scene in a novel to a screenplay and a screenplay to a film, click this link to Wives and Daughters. Wives and Daughters is a Victorian novel by Elizabeth Gaskell which was made into a four part television mini-series and shown on Masterpiece Theatre, an adaptation series shown Sundays on PBS. For an interview with the screenwriter check this link to Andrew Davies. For additional help on screenwriting, click this Screenplay Link.

Option B: Film Into Fiction

The point of this assignment is to help you to a better understanding of the difference between fiction and film by forcing you to struggle with adaptation.  An alternative option to the one above would be to adapt a work of film into a fictional form.  For this term we will be novelizing the screenplay for Casablanca by Joseph and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch.  Your best approach would be see or see again a DVD or video of the film, select a scene that is representative of the whole or a crucial moment in someway, read the screenplay and locate the scene or sequence you want to adapt, and try to write it as a novelist would.

The fiction excerpt you produce should include an explanation of the context for the scene you are adapting and the scene itself written in fiction format.  You should remember that you will be trying to take the place of the camera; it is not enough to describe what happens on the screen--you will have to make the prose sufficient to give us all the information we need and to provoke the kind of response in prose that the film is (perhaps) provoking in images and cinematography.  As your model of the ways in which novels are written, use The Stranger by Albert Camus, Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, or the short stories by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Cornell Woolrich, and check the attached student novelization of The Crucible on this website.   The paper should run 8-12 pages, typed, double-spaced.  The final draft of the paper will be due April 26, 2004.

If you are doing the novelization of Casablanca, follow these guidelines:
 

  1. The paper should run 8-12 pages, typed, double-spaced.
  2. The paper should have a title centered on page 1 with your name centered two lines below it.
  3. The paper should begin with a section titled Introduction which runs three-quarters of a page to two pages in length and explains where in the screenplay  your novelization is taken from and what has happened in your novelization just before the scene  or chapter you've written begins.  END THE INTRODUCTION WITH THREE ASTERISKS (* * *) CENTERED ON THE PAGE.
  4. The novelization should begin two spaces after the asterisks and follow a format similar to the fictions we've read in the class.  It should read like fiction, not like a screenplay or a description of what is happening in a movie while you're watching it.
  5. OPTIONAL:  If you need to add an afterword to the paper, to explain what happens after your scene or scenes, separate the afterword by three asterisks.
  6. Remember that you are adapting the screenplay and are free to make changes that you need to in order to make a better novel.
Sample of a Novelization

Laura Hagle chose to novelize a scene from the screenplay of The Crucible  by Arthur Miller, based on his original play.  We had discussed how Miller's screenplay opens up his stage play, makes it less confined and limited in its setting and consequently less constrained in its actions.  In her adaptation, she has used the novelist's approach to storytelling, telling the story in the past tense rather than in the present tense as used in Nicole Lanctot's screenplay, describing action and explaining what characters are thinking. If you would care to read her novelization, click here: Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Option C: Critical Approaches to Fiction and Film

The following option is for people who prefer standard academic research papers to creative writing (as in Options A and B).  The assignment here would demand reading criticism, including film reviews and book reviews, and synthesizing critical analyses of the film as an adaptation of a book.  That is, while reviews of a film may focus on it as a film regardless of its relationship to a book, this paper is chiefly interested in critical opinion of the film in relationship to the book it is based upon.  Clearly the film you select ought to be one based on a book.  You're probably better off having read the book and seen the movie, but that isn't entirely necessary since the focus of the paper will be the critical reaction to the adaptation.  (Recent examples of films based on books: Mystic River, Cold Mountain, The Runaway Jury, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Black Hawk Down, A Beautiful Mind, Under the Tuscan Sun.)  The paper should run 8-12 pages, be typed double-spaced, and use MLA internal documentation format with a list of works cited at the end.  The final draft of the paper will be due April 26, 2004.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE FOR THIS OPTION:
You will want to rely entirely on reviews you find on the internet and it will hurt your paper if you do. Most internet reviews are from viewers just like you, not reviewers and critics who have a vast background in film and literature and a sound basis for their critical judgments. The reviews you cite should come from print journals and newspapers: The New York Times, Village Voice, The New Yorker, The Nation, The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The L. A. Times, New York, Variety.
This necessity will complicate your search for resources and make it important to get an early start on this option too.

If you are doing the research paper follow these guidelines:
 

  1. The paper should run 8-12 pages, typed, double-spaced.
  2. The paper should have a title centered on page 1 with your name centered two lines below it.
  3. The paper should be focused on what film critics have to say about the film you've selected AS AN ADAPTATION OF A LITERARY WORK.  You may mention whether critics liked or disliked the film, but whether they thought it successful as a film is less important in this paper than whether they thought it better than, worse than, or true to the book and why.
  4. When you quote or paraphrase what critics say, cite the source of the quote or paraphrase using the MLA internal documentation style (name of author and page number or simply page number where you have already identified the author). (Check your Freshman Composition handbook for guidelines.)
  5. Be certain to list all sources specifically quoted, paraphrased, or cited in a list on the last page.  Center "Works Cited" on that page and list the sources alphabetically by the name of the author (last name first, first name last) or, where no author is identified in your source, by the title of the review.
All papers are due April 26.  No late papers will be accepted after April 30.
 
 

Back to Course Home Page