- by Karen Sandler
Screenwriting is an entirely different world than the publishing world. The most obvious difference is the format–a script looks entirely different from a book manuscript. In a film script, dialogue is set off in blocks with wider margins. The dialogue alternates with description, each scene identified by an interior or exterior location. As an example, here’s an early script for Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies.
A script is also 3-hole punched and bound with brads. A book manuscript, on the other hand, is not hole-punched and is generally kept together with rubber bands. At least manuscripts were rubber-banded together in the olden days, when they were sent snail mail to agents and editors. Nowadays, everything is e-mailed.
It’s always funny to watch TV shows and movies where one of the characters is a novelist. The screenwriter who wrote the script bases the character on their own experience as a writer. The book manuscript will be three-hole punched and bound with brads. The novelist always hands his/her manuscript over to their editor or agent in person. The fictional writer is able to do this because they always seem to live in NYC, just like most actual screenwriters live in L.A. and are able to have personal contact with their agents/producers.
Anyway… When I wrote Icer, the script that I eventually used as the starting point for my YA book Tankborn, I didn’t just have to learn how to write a story that was suitable for the screen (i.e., everything on the page had to be visual). I also had to learn script format. One problem with this is that although there were many sample scripts available (at that time, in printed, hardcopy form that I could order from a service) the majority of those were shooting scripts. Shooting scripts contain all sorts of camera directions that aren’t appropriate to include in a spec script (a script written on speculation). It took some years of education to figure that out.
As I mentioned in a previous post, part of that education was a class I took through UCLA Extension. The instructor liked my concept enough that he helped me with the beat outline (essentially coaching me through the plotting process). Later when the script was finished, he suggested that he and a writer friend of his option my script for $1. I wasn’t comfortable with that arrangement, so I was then on my own.
Here are the first few pages of an early version of Icer.
Nothing much happened with Icer for a few years. I kept writing, mostly short stories, but a few TV scripts as well. We moved from Southern California to Northern California and my husband and I agreed I’d stay home with the kids and write while the kids were in school. I focused on novels, pretty much forgetting screenwriting.
Then I stumbled across a tiny ad in Writer’s Digest magazine requesting scripts. Talk about a leap of faith. No way of knowing if the person on the other end of the ad was a fraud or the real deal.
It turned out to be the latter. I got a call out of the blue one day from Fern Baum of the production company Kanter-Baum. Fern was the daughter of Martin Baum, legendary agent at Creative Artists Agency. Mr. Baum agreed to shop my script on behalf of his daughter.
I was thoroughly awed by the massive Lichtenstein mural in CAA’s lobby, and my jaw just about dropped seeing the Oscar displayed in a case in Mr. Baum’s office (which had been awarded to Gig Young and bequeathed to Mr. Baum after Gig Young’s death). Even still, I was pretty ignorant about who Marty Baum was and the honor he paid me by agreeing to work with me.
We went through a number of re-writes and eventually Icer went out to a long list of studios and production companies. One of those submissions was to a brand new studio called Dreamworks, SKG. Alas, Dreamworks passed. Icer was eventually optioned by Prism Entertainment Corporation, a small production company that had previously done a number of lower budget films including When the Bough Breaks starring Martin Sheen.
I actually had one of those Hollywood “meetings” at Prism where they gave me notes (kind of like an editorial letter, except in real time). It was pretty cool. Everyone threw out ideas, some of them great, some not so much and I scribbled madly. (Note: One of the better ideas is an element that will figure into the second book of the TANKBORN series, TANKBORN AWAKENING.)
Everyone was very enthusiastic about the script. The notes led to another round of re-writes and the script continued to improve.
Prism unfortunately couldn’t get funding to proceed so they weren’t able to go any farther with Icer. I co-wrote another script for Kanter-Baum, but we weren’t able to get anywhere with that one either.
A few years later, I met another producer who liked Icer, Craig Nicholls of Pendle View. We went through another round of re-writes with an eye toward decreasing production costs. By this point, CGI had come of age and what once would have been very expensive special effects could now be done at a much lower cost on a computer.
With Craig’s guidance, I was able to kick Icer up yet another notch. Still no takers ready to finance the film, despite Craig’s best efforts. He worked with me on another script, a quirky YA time-travel called Timewrecked (now there’s a screenplay that’s ripe for novelization!), but we couldn’t get any traction on that one either.
You’ve probably gathered reading this post that as tough as it is getting a book published, that’s a cakewalk compared to selling a script and getting it produced. I do confess I never felt completely comfortable in that world. I was never quite sure I had the format down, that I wasn’t over-writing (a screenwriter shouldn’t be directing the actors, for instance), that what I put on the page could be transferred to the screen. Books I understood. Scripts are even now still a mystery to me.
But writing Icer led me to writing Tankborn, so obviously the time working on that script wasn’t wasted. And it was an amazing challenge and there were some very exciting times. I’m grateful for those who helped me along the way, who worked so hard to see my vision on the screen. I hope they’re satisfied with seeing it on the page instead, between the covers of a book.