Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The One That Got Away

It's common knowledge (or received wisdom) that for every film that gets made, the are 5000 screenplays that get left on a shelf; some because they are awful, but a goodly proportion for no particular reason other than being the wrong script at the wrong time.

Even a writer with an established reputation - Ray Bradbury, to pick an example at random! - can suffer this same fate. Although Bradbury has more than a handful of credits on completed feature films (Moby Dick, Something Wicked This Way Comes to name but two), he has his name on a large number of unfilmed scripts. Some of these have begun to appear in print in limited edition volumes from Gauntlet and Subterranean.

I have recently been studying Bradbury's unfilmed screenplays for The Martian Chronicles. Two of these have been published in the so-called The Martian Chronicles: the Complete Edition - these are a script from c.1965 which was written for Alan J. Pakula and Robert Mulligan, and a script from 1997 which was written for Paramount. The Complete Edition won't give you any of these details. Nor will it tell you that Bradbury wrote at least two other script version of The Martian Chronicles. Far from being "complete", that volume gives merely an (unexplained) glimpse at a substantial amount of script work Bradbury carried out between approximately 1958 and 1997.

I will be presenting a paper on these unpublished and unfilmed screenplays at a conference in a couple of weeks. The conference theme is the "invisible" nature of the screenplay, and my paper is titled "I Live By The Invisible: the Published and Unpublished Screenplays of Ray Bradbury". You can find my abstract on the conference website.

In case you are thinking a script is a script is a script, I can report that Bradbury seems to treat The Martian Chronicles differently each time he adapts it. Sometimes this may be because of the medium and format - a TV mini series will offer different opportunities than a two-hour feature film - and sometimes because of external factors. And in case you are still thinking a script is a script is a script, take a look at this delightful article on how strange (and terrible) some great movies could have been, if early drafts of the script had been used.

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