Screen Adaptation: Theory and Practice

Dr Daniel Rosenthal

Screen Adaptation

When you adapt a book, you’re not making another book – you’re making a movie, which operates very, very differently. Anyone who expects a movie to be faithful to a book is not really giving the proper respect to cinematic form and literary form.”
– Alexander Payne, two-time winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011).

Every year, dozens of feature films are made from previously published sources. These films begin life as novels (Gone GirlSlumdog Millionaire), short stories (Brokeback Mountain45 Years), plays or musicals (Frost/NixonInto the Woods), biographies (Steve Jobs) or other non-fiction volumes (The Social NetworkThe Big Short), graphic novels (Watchmen), newspaper articles (Deepwater Horizon) – even theme-park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean).

If you are fascinated by the challenge of guiding a story from page or stage to screen, this course will enable you to explore and practice the craft of adaptation. We will examine acclaimed screen versions of classic and contemporary works of prose fiction and drama. In parallel, as your principal assignment, you will adapt a short story of your choice into a narrative screenplay.

Course Objectives

Through lectures, group exercises and workshops, students will examine the contrasting techniques and effects of prose fiction, stage drama and screenwriting, and apply this theory to writing a narrative screenplay based on a short story.

Intended Audience

This course is aimed principally at students of English Literature, Film, Media, Theatre and Creative Writing.

Previous Knowledge

Students should have a strong interest in film, prose fiction and drama.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

Students will develop close reading and comparative analysis; English language composition and communication; creative writing; problem-solving; organisation and time management.