Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writing My First Commercial Screenplay

I never thought the day would come.

Yesterday, I submitted a sequence treatment to a film company. This is my first commercial screenplay project. I don't consider the Zaturnnah movie as the first as I'm only credited for "story," and I've only gone as far as making dialogue suggestions for that. A few years ago, I did write a full-length screenplay for an animation company, but they didn't intend for it to be released.

How did I get this new project? Back in 2013, when my one-act play "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" was being staged at the Virgin Labfest, I'd be chatting with director Chris Martinez about the possibility of writing for film. It was one of those it-would-be-nice-but-I'm-not-sure kind of things, but Chris was very encouraging. I even got a call some time later if I was seriously interested, but I had to turn it down. I was busy, but I was also iffy.

Writing the Leading Lady musical script in 2014 gave me the experience of writing a full-length script for a commercial production. Though it was not in screenplay format, it provided good training. I had to take into consideration factors that I would never consider when I'd write a story for comics. The producer, the director, and other members of the creative team would have input, and it became a matter of incorporating those ideas without me sacrificing my own vision for the story.

Soon after this year's Labfest wrapped-up, Chris messaged me. He wanted me to write a screenplay based on a book. The story, he said, was up my alley. I had to download and read the book to see for myself. I could see why Chris asked me to handle this.

I'm not at liberty to divulge anything yet, but I think I can say that the story is from a Wattpad book.

Yes. Think "Diary ng Panget."

I am aware that there are members of the literary community who scoff at the way these Wattpad stories are written, particularly in their original online form. I don't want to say that these poorly-written stories are representative of all Pinoy Wattpad novels--I'd like to believe that there are gems in there--but I've tried to read a couple and, yes, they gave me headaches. The story I'm adapting has already been published in book form. I don't know what the original looks like.

But it's an interesting exercise, and the story is amusing as far as these commercial stories go. I started studying how to make stories about a decade ago, and a lot of my references have been screenwriting books. Some of my favorites are Bob McKee's "Story" (for its insight) and Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" (for its straightforward by-the-numbers approach). Another favorite is Will Dunne's "The Dramatic Writer's Companion," which covers dramatic storytelling in general.

Normally, when I'd write my own stories, I'd start with a theme, premise, or situation. But since the story has already been laid out in this adaptation project, and I'm sure the author had a personal reason for writing the story the way he did, I found myself spending a lot of time contemplating my "place" in it. I didn't want to just transfer every plot point from prose to script. I felt I needed to uncover themes from it that resonated with me. Because, if I couldn't, then I won't be able to invest myself artistically in it.

Plus, I would like to think that people know my "brand" of storytelling. As Chris had told me in a message, "Own it."

So, I did. In my sequence treatment, I was faithful to almost everything that happened in the book, but I spun it just a bit to conform to my artistic sensibility. I hope they like what I wrote.

In any case, I'm excited to get to the draft phase. The film company wants to start shooting soon. I wonder if I can be Passerby #26.

Hee hee.

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