Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Screenplay Adaptations

It isn't official yet, but I've received a very good offer for the movie rights to Dirty Sweet from a Canadian producer.

Part of the offer is that I'll write the screenplay.

When the book was first published people asked me if I was interested in writing the screenplay because I'd wasted, er, spent a lot of time trying to sell screenplays. At the time I said there was no way I'd want to write the screenplay.

But since then I spent six months writing a TV show, had a great time and met some great people. So now I'm going to co-write the screenplay with one of my fellow writers from The Bridge, Dannis Koromilas (on the left in this picture with me).

It's very exciting. Lots of new possibilities and new challenges.

Of course, not everything form the book will make it into the screenplay and what does will likely have to be changed quite a bit.

We'll have to get the spirit of the book across much more visually than it is on the page. The events in Dirty Sweet seem cinematic, but the book is really a lot of internal monolgues. That's just the way I write. A recent review said of Swap that the book was full of "endless reminiscing." And that's true.

So, it'll have to be changed.

A great example, I think, of a movie changing a book and keeping its spirit is Emma Thompson's screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (oh yeah, here on this blog about crime fiction, that's right, Jane Austen, you know it). A few key scenes from the movie aren't in the book but they develop the characters and pull the whole thing together which I think is much better than making it a nineteen hour movie or just leaving suff out.

The hook in Dirty Sweet is right off the top:

"The cars were stopped on King, right there, waiting for the light to change."

Roxanne Keyes lit another cigarette and told the detectives exactly what she saw happen then. "A guy got out of the Volvo, the passenger side, walked back to this one, and shot that guy in the head. Then he walked back to the car, got in and it drove away."

She didn't tell them she was pretty sure she knew the driver of the Volvo.

Okay, so a couple of problems turning this into a movie. For starters, don't you think the movie should start with the guy getting shot in the head and not someone telling someone else about it?

And, how do you get across the fact she was pretty sure she knew the driver?

Then there's the problem that what follows this opening is pages of Roxanne thinking about her current situation (hey, it's my first book people) and the male lead, Vince, doesn't show up until page 15. That's way too far in for any potential actor reading the script to be interested until his character shows up.

So, this is what we came up with:


On a busy street near the intersection, a few people on the patio this crisp fall afternoon.

VINCE comes out of the shop carrying a coffee. He's about 40, good-looking, confident, easy-going. He sits down at a table.

ON THE STREET cars stop at the red light.

An SUV with heavy tinted windows is right in front of the coffee shop.

A man, KHOZA, gets out of the car in front of the SUV and walks back.

IN THE TINTED PASSENGER WINDOW Vince watches Khoza, who's a young looking sixty, and sees the gun in his hand.

Someone on the coffee shop patio yells, "He's got a gun!"

-- and the passenger window EXPLODES, the image of a calm Vince in the middle of panic around him falls in pieces.

Inside the SUV the driver jumps and turns to look at Khoza just in time to get shot in the head.

Blood splatters out the driver's window and hits a BIKE COURIER who falls to the street in front of a city bus that slams on its brakes and gets it from behind by a delivery truck.

Khoza leans in and shoots the guy two more times, then turns and walks back to the waiting car he got out of.

ROXANNE KEYES is coming out the door of the coffee shop. She stares at Khoza as he gets to the still open car door and looks past him inside the car, sees the guy driving, BORIS, and recognizes him.

And Boris recognizes Roxanne.

Khoza gets into the car, closes the door and it drives away. No screeching tires, no cutting off other cars, it just drives through the intersection and disappears into traffic.

The crime scene is pandemonium. People on the sidewalk screaming, people getting off the bus, the bike courier standing up covered in blood.

And Vince watches Roxanne watch it all. She continues on to the patio and takes a seat, taking out her cell phone.


The cops have arrived - lots of them - and closed the street.

Uniformed cops keep people away from the taped off crime scene, lab guys take pictues of everything.

On the coffee shop patio a couple of detectives, PRICE, a black guy in his early 40's and LOEWEN, a white guy in his early 30's, are finishing up questioning Roxanne.

I'm sorry, it all happened so fast, you know.

They know. They've heard it from every other witness.

And you're sure the guy wasn't shouting or angry or anything?

Not that I noticed, I was just coming out.

Did they seem to know each other?

Didn't look like it.

So, for no reason, this guy just got out of his car, walked back to that one and blew some guy's head all over King Street?

Most of hit that bike courier.

Behind Roxanne Vince is listening and there's the slightest hint of a smile.

Can you describe him?

The bike courier? He's right there.

The shooter.

I'm sorry, I must still be in shock. No, I didn't really get a good look at him. He was wearing sunglasses, a blue sports coat. Short hair.

She shrugs, she's got nothing else. Loewen nods, looking at his notebook, seeing the same vague description given by everyone else on the patio.

Okay, thanks for all your help.

Loewen gets up to leave but Price leans forward.

What kind of car did you say it was?

A Vovlo, S80. Midnight blue.

Price can tell Roxanne knows more than she's saying.

Not a Lexus?

Now Roxanne realizes she was too certain about the car and the details.

It could have been a Lexus, I guess.

Price stares at her. He knows. She stares back, not giving in to nerves and the temptation to talk more.

After a beat Price starts to stand up.

All right, thanks.

He taps her business card in his hand.

We may be in touch.

Roxanne looks at Loewen.

Anytime detective.

Loewen is pretty much unaware of what just passed between Price and Roxanne, totally taken in by her mild flirtation he stares right at her.

We'll talk.

He holds her look for a moment and then follows Price out of the patio.

Vince watches them go, then--

You didn't tell them you knew the driver.

Roxanne turns slowly to look at Vince. She's calm, in control again.

Not until I can figure out where I know him from.

Vince looks at her. He's unconvinced. He's also very cool, to the point he seems aloof. Roxanne keeps looking at him.

You also look familiar.

I do?

We've met, haven't we?

I rent practically a whole floor of an office building from you.

(Sorry, I don't know how to format this like a screenplay on blogger).

And it goes from there. It's early days yet and about 95% of all movie projects fall through so the odds are against us, but we'll do our best.

The title, Dirty Sweet, comes from the T Rex song "Bang a Gong (Get it On)," but Dannis has been playing music by an Australian band clled The Church while we write and now it's his dream to get some of their music into the movie.


Declan Burke said...

Top, top news, squire ... bang a gong, indeed.

Cheers, Dec

Gerard Brennan said...

Blood-spattered bike courier! Class. And the black humour in the dialogue that follows from it... I'd watch this.


Here's hoping it goes all the way.



Jay Stringer said...

Great news. Wow.... There are movie producers in Canada? (ducks while Knowles throws something.)

I like that start too, take the internal and make it external, give the audience the hook that the reader got in a different way.

I guess an approach, maybe more suited to a TV show, would be to start with an image of the crime scene or a body, then have the internal monologue turned into a conversation. Though, now that I think about it, that's how THE WIRE started.

Dana King said...

Great news, John. I like how you're handling the opening, getting right into it, just like the book, but finding ways to show things that people only think about in the original.

Good luck with this.

John McFetridge said...

Thanks guys.

By the way, Jay, there are only reluctant producers in Canada. When the Canadian dollar was worth sixty cents US a lot of American movies filmed here and they hired a lot of people. Now that our dollar is up around ninety cents US that's not happening so much, so producers like this one have to try and start their own projects. So it really is a longshot.

But we'll try and make the script as good as possible, go for the hook and see how long we can hold the reader.

Nik Morton said...

It's a good clean beginning, very visual with the right amount of crisp dialogue. If nothing else, when it's finished, it goes in that folder so when your next script is turned down and you're asked, 'Have you anything else?' you can pull out this sweet piece...

Stacia Decker said...

Yay! Congrats!

Mike Knowles said...

Dude, you are an unstoppable Canadian juggernaut. Congratulations on everything.

Steve Weddle said...

The selection from the screenplay has pretty much all the same stuff I loved in the book. Well done.
Best of luck.