How well do you think a serial would convert to a screen?

By popular demand, I want your thoughts on what you think would work for a serial using YOUR serial as your main example.


The big 'screen' categories I see around here are TV, film, and a TV miniseries (which differs in that there's a definite beginning an end to the series, unlike 'regular' TV with its option/goal to go on for as long as it can). I want to specifically add Netflix onto this (i.e., regular TV but with episode lengths that change depending on that episode) and web series (which can be any of the types I mentioned, but would be primarily online and arguably more indie, and that could work out really well or poorly depending on how you argue it).


Do you think serials are something that can go straight to film, or would their length call for a mini-series? Are there enough acts or major arcs in a serial to float multiple, standalone movies, or does it need a Breaking Bad TV format? Or hell, how about a sitcom format, if you think a serial's plot resets enough to do a new adventure each episode? Can a serial ever be a sitcom, or does it take a highly particular style of writing? Is it even practical to think in those big Hollywood terms, and should we be riding the YouTube wave onto our own sites, like RocketJump?


Bottom line: should we be writing with any intention of 'making it easy' for a screen adaptation down the road at all, or pull a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and make it a ride best enjoyed through words?


The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was actually a BBC Radio serial before it was published in book form.


Yes, it was, but the books themselves are written in a way that doesn't really lend itself to the big screen. The plays on words, the extended jokes, even the little tangents that they tried to make a cartoon of in the movie, all fall very short of the charm the book had. That had a lot to do with the movie just taking what the books wrote and slapping "SCRIPT" on the front.


But the BBC television version was actually pretty funny, and the cheesy special effects worked in its favor.


Adams gave an interview I thought was pretty interesting where he said he considered all the different interpretations of THHGTTG in different formats (radio, book, Video Game, film) to be different stories with the same characters and mostly the same plot, but that he wanted the movie (this was given before a movie was made) to be different from the books just like the books were different from the radio plays. It's an interesting approach that sort of ran up against the wishes of the audience coming into it, I think.


The problem with writing a "film friendly" serial is you'd lose some of the strengths writing has that film doesn't. Specifically, written stories can focus on the inner world of a character without sacrificing plot progression. Film doesn't do that nearly as well because the pacing is different. TV sort of walks the line between them but writing is still better for that stuff.


I would assume that anyone who options something of mine is going to change it anyway, at the very least because they'll have writers on staff and a desire to justify their salary. Focusing on making the story work best in your medium and letting someone else worry about adopting it is a better choice I think.


Plus, if the adaptation turns out to be bad you can always rant about how they made a mockery of your work. :-D


That has always been my biggest issue when I watch any adaptation: the character isn't fully there. In the book, I can read all the inner thoughts and get little facts and personal musing, but by and large, on the screen, we only have what the character says. Even if there's a voice over, it's much more restrained than when it was written. That means that when someone says something, even if it's straight from the text, the context usually isn't there. It just feels off.


I don't think that's specific to serials, though.


Webserials becoming movies, you say?


Although I don't think people should write with the expectation of becoming a film (or television show, or video game, or whatever). Those that do transcend their original medium are few and far between. Better to focus on telling the best story you can rather than worrying about whether it will "make a good film".


My own stuff would suck at transition to film. It's too introverted and it's built on the very idea that different people have different views of the world, which not only comes across through things like alternative spellings, but having actual characters who look different depending on the viewpoint. A filmed version would have to cast multiple actors per character! Also, good luck trying to film someone having a breakdown of identity without it coming across like a Lars von Trier film (and thus alienating 99% of the human race).


Also, although it's not a serial, I'm so very happy they're making a TV series out of His Dark Materials. The film version was ... yeah.


I can't say that anything I write would be good for a screen adaption. I mean novel writing and writing a story for a film or even a TV show is a little different. Most books that have a film adaption are usually simplified for a mass audience. Writing a serial with a film adaptation in mind wouldn't seem very wise. Written stories have strength as well as weaknesses. You would be loose some of it's strength doing that in my mind.


My current project, would make a poor film adaption given that most peoples thoughts on a fantasy story is some grandepic adventure which my project is most certainly not. It won't be "exciting" enough and they'll probably add in something that wasn't there in the first place, chopping most of it out, and changing characters personalities. That'll just make me cry just like I have for most film adaptions of novels. Now I've joked that it would make a good slice-of-life short series anime. Probably something that's like 24 episodes long that'll show up on Netflix and Crunchyroll to be binged watched and leave viewers wishing they had more episodes.


I know I've been offline for a long time, but this conversation is relevant to me in that I've long suggested novels are closest to movies, for length and focus, though it takes a good writer and director to do a good adaptation. Cider House Rules is a better film than movie, in my opinion, as a good example.


Serials are more like television shows that have long running seasons and multiple arcs. I like how Netflix handles Daredevil, but Xfiles had episodes of the week against ongoing narrative.


My novel No Man an Island plays as a movie in my head. I can see scenes, and in a film the overlapping threads would actually be easier to show - in the book, there is a story written by a character, and later on he lives that scene in the plot as part of his life. In a film, they could be shown more similarly - clothes and setting change, but the actors and angles could be the same, making the thematic connection stronger. As a kid he and his friends play as Knights, then fight battles as adults. I would film it once, so their imagination would become reality.


The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin is more serialized and would probably work best as a Netflix series - it has specific themed seasons that interlink. But it is too long to be a film. Maybe a film series, but they would have to be filmed back to back.


Graves is actually deliberately structured to be TV series-like. Not because I have the slightest belief it would ever be picked up for the real screen, but because I wanted to explore the structure and see if I could manage to write something that felt more visual- and action-oriented. There are a lot of ways it differs from a real TV script, of course. But approaching it that way has forced me to think more about showing instead of telling and about keeping things moving, things which I felt I was struggling with in some of my other writing. When I started writing years ago, I did a lot of flash fic and short stories before turning to longer forms. I like playing around with the different story formats, seeing how they work and trying to use what I learn to strengthen my writing.


As for how we "should" be writing... I think that depends on all kinds of things, like the story being told and the writer's goals in writing it. ;)


Blue Steel is TV series potential by accident. I wanted a story that could actively display the various cultures and societies that exist in my setting, an excuse to visit many different places and people... and in doing so, I basically have the perfect recipe for an episodic television show that involves hopping from place to place.


It's pretty much like some unholy blend of Sliders, Quantum Leap, and all those police dramas.


My other books, if put on the screen, would be put on the movie screen. The thing is, I focus on the "character study" aspects, and those rarely translate well to film. They *do* still translate... but they'd be awkward translations. But, hey, look at Donnie Darko and Barfly. Two extremely different movies that are almost pure character study.


So I guess my advice is "write what you wanna write... it it just so happens to fit a more mainstream formula, so be it".


My other advice is "don't take advice from me".


My serial ("Time & Tied") would be a TV series, for a few reasons which connect to serials in the broader context...


1) I'm better with plot. I wonder if one of the reasons that my fanfic went over pretty well years ago is because I didn't have to do much in the way of setting up characters that already existed. Now that I'm working with original characters, I don't think I'm able to convey in the writing how I see them in my head. (It doesn't help that I have a tendency to jump from character to character, though I'm working at curbing that.) Sometimes, aspects of a character aren't even fully formed for me. And as Tartra pointed out, in adaptations, the character isn't fully there anyway, which seems AWESOME in my case - actors can fill in any gaps they need themselves, and we can deal with the plot, which drives the majority of my storytelling (though not all of it). I've noticed that even in "Epsilon", my votes tend to be more plot based than character based.


2) I'm better long term. A character introduced in part 6 FINALLY returns to have a key impact on the plot in part 34. Hell, it takes 120,000 words before Carrie gets her temporal powers - in a time travel story! Even a mini-series isn't going to cut it with that sort of breadth. I've tried to write shorter works, and it's just so damn hard. I keep seeing more possibilities. Maybe it's the RolePlayer in me.


3) I originally wrote "T&T" as a TV show. Shows like "Babylon 5" and "Buffy" were big influences at the time, so I actually wrote with defined ideas for each episode, with the thought of them leading into one another and so on. I don't think I was, like L.E. says, aiming to be more visual, but the format (teaser, complicating incident, rising action, leading to something of a resolution within a half hour) was in my mind. (Maybe like a sitcom without the reset?) Came up with an opening sequence and everything. What I'm saying is the story's already chunked up into defined episodes.


Now, I don't think it's necessarily impossible to make a serial into a film, but you'd lose a lot. You might be able to synthesize something in the same way that "Nanoha the Movie" was a retelling of the TV show, with some stuff pruned out. Or you might be able to have some sort of stand-alone involving the characters, perhaps like what some wrote for Drew's site during his break. But it feels like it a "teaser"/"preview" is to a film what a film would be to a serial itself.


As a final aside/plug, I once wrote a "Pilot Episode" for my "TV Show" serial. In edits 10 years later, the whole story got absorbed into the main serial run, and I blogged about that process in one of my many asides. (A stand alone is necessarily different, as it in a "film" sense must include things that regulars might not need/want.) Feel free to read about that at: https://mathtans.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/ttc-commentary-13/


Ok, so here's what I think for mine. First, we cast Ryan Reynolds. Change the armor from orange and grey to red and black...


Could be worse. Could be green.


Speaking of serials being turned into movies, something not a lot of people seem to know is that The Martian was originally written as a serial of sorts on Andy Weir's website. Once you know that, it's actually pretty obvious in the way that the chapters are structured, with the dated logs. Considering it's probably the one of the best book-to-movie adaptations out there, I'd say there's definitely precedent.


I read somewhere when I was starting to write, that you never want to write it unless it can be put on a screen. I rolled this around a lot and I personally find it to be very off base. Some of the best books I have read would make terrible movies. Bottom line, write in a way that is captivating to your audience, regardless of how it will transition onto the screen.


Like Dary said, the odds are not in your favor for having your work produced into a movie. If it was produced into a movie, there would be some serious rework anyway. Like many have said, the book is always better than the movie anyway.


One of the things that always annoys me when I tell somebody I'm a writer is when they make a comment along the lines of "so, you're hoping they'll make a movie out of it?"


No.


There's nothing magic here. A serial doesn't have to be good enough to transcend it's medium. There are plenty of local amateur filmmakers in the world to turn amateur serials into films. I realize there are pro web writers here, but I'm not one of them. Hollywood may not be calling, but that shouldn't stop anyone. As far as what makes it adaptable, I've done some thinking over the years. I've had readers say that my serial, The Smell Collector, is cinematic because of how vivid the characters are. It is also the size of a novella, which is a good size for a film. One of Stephen King's best films was a novella/short story called The Body (Stand By Me). The strength of Stand By Me is not the story. There's not much to it. A gang of kids go into the wilderness to find a dead body. They find it. They go home. That's pretty much it. It's about the character's and their relationships and the coming of a new age in their lives. Those are the kinds of films I like, character-driven.


I would add that the budget is an issue. If you've written a huge sci-fi tome....of which there are many really good ones here...you're looking at blockbuster budgets unless you have Abed from Community make it. A book about people in ordinary settings could be done cheaply.


I'm not speaking from experience...yet. A local filmmaker has an expressed an interest in writing a screenplay of The Smell Collector (http://thesmellcollector.wordpress.com). These are the issues we are working with.


I come from a film-making background, in that it's what I studied at college (well, one of the times I went to college), and in that it's a lot of what I do in my spare time. Right now, in between the serial and everything else I do, I'm working on several short film scripts with my film partner. I don't really know what to call her. She doesn't get a say in my prose, but she co writes all my scripts, and we shoot everything together. Any, the plan is, do a few shorts, hopefully do our first feature next August (that will get pushed back a bit) circuit it round festivals, finance the next one, etc.


So my serial was originally a TV series. That's probably why I have six main characters, and they're all off doing their own thing, and there's several different plots running simultaneously.


But realistically, if everything goes exactly right, and I'm extremely lucky, I was looking at a minimum of six years before I could even start financing it, and it's kind of topical just now, with Brexit and Independence and even Trump.


So, webserial.


Do I think a webserial could be a movie? Absolutely. In fact, I read a webserial last week that would be a fantastic movie (and I'd love to film it one day). It's called Interviewing Leather, it's about a journalist who interviews a supervillain, it reminded me a lot of Interview with a Vampire, and it's only 14 parts long.


It's also (from what I can see) something of a square peg in a round hole. Serials tend to be huge. So I think most serials couldn't be movies.


But some of them could definitely be TV shows, and almost all of them would work as webseries.


*Anyway


Dastardly typo.


Don't Feed the Dead would make one of the best shows on TV. If you liked walking dead, this is even better!