Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Elizabethan Tragedy vs. Classical Tragedy

Elizabethan Drama (Shakespeare) Classical Drama (The Greeks)

Panoramic: Many Places/Elastic Time Unified: One Place/Real-time
Action: Onstage: Fights/Battles Action: Always Off-Stage (Described)
Character: Monologue (break 4th Wall)
Character: Dialogue w/Chorus
Diction: Varies (Nobility vs. Commoner)
"Common Man"

Diction: High (Noble) Upper-Classes

Film vs. Stage

Conventions : Film vs. Stage

Panoramic (Loose Time/Many Locations)
Unified: One Place/Tight-Time/Real-time
Visual (Camera expresses everything)
Dialogue: Words=feelings, ideas, emotions
Action: On-Screen
Action (typically) off-stage
Character: What they do
Character: What we hear them tell us

The Most "Filmable" Books

It is well-known that since the earliest days of the motion picture industry most films have been based on novels or short stories. Still true more than ever in recent decades. However, despite this practice, it is also true that many books DO NOT adapt well into films.

As someone who has worked in video production and studied film history and criticism for many years, I can say without question that there is no way to actually "film" a book. The motion picture medium and the written word are two entirely separate creative mechanisms and the best we can ever hope for is a rough translation.

This is not to say that some books are not more adaptable than others though. Below, I have listed some of the most common traits that make a book (or short story) "filmable." 
Let's take a look:

Typically any novels or short stories that employ third person omniscient narration and that spend a lot of time "in the head" of the character (internal emphasis) DON'T WORK.

Rather, what does work is a novel or short story that employs scenes with dialogue as well as a lot of physical description and multiple locations. It is not surprising that detective fiction works quite well (John Huston shot Dashell Hammet's The Maltese Falcon almost right off the book itself—he didn't even worry about a shooting script most of the time).

Basically, the general rule is, books and stories that "show" ,i.e., describe in external terms are far preferable to, works that "tell" (narrator giving you what the character is thinking and focusing only on the internal).