Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bradbury, Ellison: Writing for the Screen

Last week I attended the Eaton Science Fiction Conference (which this year was combined with the Science Fiction Research Association conference) in Riverside, California, to present a paper on the screenwriting styles of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison.

The overall conference programme was ridiculously full, with seven simultaneous panels for most of the conference's three days. This is an amazing expansion since my first Eaton in 2008, which just had a single strand of panels.

My paper was part of a panel I had proposed on screenwriting. The paper title was "Screenwriting: Spectacle, Specificity and Speculative Fiction", and my intention was to illuminate the challenge of writing a screenplay for an imagined world, using examples from the scripts of Bradbury and Ellison to show two distinct strategies.

Bradbury tended to write non-technical scripts, resulting in a style of script which looks for all the world like a modern-day "spec script" - although he developed this style as early as the mid-1950s. Ellison, on the other hand, developed his craft in television in the early 1960s, in a time when it was common practice for the scriptwriter to write more or less in a shooting-script format, a style which is generally more prescriptive and more technical in terms of camera directions.

Over time, Bradbury's style became more and more simplified, and his scripts tend to read like very clear short stories. The heavy use of metaphor we often find in his short stories is largely absent, however, as he recognised how important it was to be unambiguous in describing a fantastical world in a screenplay. Ellison, on the other hand, developed a remarkable specificity in his scripts, which makes for some stunning visual concepts which challenge the director and production team to match his vision.

Time permitting, I intend to develop the paper for journal publication.

The other contributors to the panel were Julian Hoxter of San Francisco State University, author of Write What You Don't Know: An Accessible Manual for Screenwriters (New York: Continuum, 2011) and Michael Klein of James Madison University. Julian spoke on the emergence of the "spec script" format and its impact on action in blockbuster movies. Michael spoke on the mythos of Frankenstein as it developed in both Shelley's original novel and its first film adaptation. I learned a lot from both presentations, and appreciated both speakers' contribution to the panel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fahrenheit 451 Marathon Read

Mark DiPietro of the Edge Ensemble Theatre Company contacted me to pass on news of an event on 11 May 2013: a marathon reader's theatre presentation of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The venue is Heberton Hall-Keene Public Library Annex in Keene, New Hampshire.

Mark writes:

"The whole idea is that 'getting lost in a good book' is something that's disappeared for many people, especially young people, with smart phones, iPods, iPads and earbuds stuck calling to them continuously. (Bradbury even foretold the earbud sensation in Fahrenheit 451, with the omnipresent 'seashells' that preoccupied Mildred Montag.) Marathon reads - i.e., reading an entire work of literature in a single setting - have been catching on at many colleges and high schools. (Here's a story from the New York Times about college campuses doing marathons of War and Peace, Paradise Lost, and other literary works.

We got the idea after hearing about these other marathons and decided that Bradbury's novel would be the perfect length and subject matter to stage our own marathon. The Edge Ensemble has recruited students from four schools in Southwestern New Hampshire as our readers/performers, along with community members and Edge Ensemble performers. We're also working with 5th- through 8th-graders who are members of an Opera Club at a local elementary school. The students are writing an original opera based on Fahrenheit 451 called "Operas Burning," which they'll perform in June at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. The Edge Ensemble is working with the students on performing techniques, and the students will attend the marathon theatre production on May 11.

Our goal is to make this a public event and get as many people to come out and participate in the Fahrenheit marathon as possible - to get them reading Bradbury's novel, and to get them reading, period."

Thanks, Mark, for all the detail on this event.

For more information, visit the Edge Ensemble website.