Archive for the ‘Screenplay Writing’ Category

Readers Ask: Can You Make ‘The Centurion’s Wife’ and ‘The Book of Hours’ into Movies?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Wendy writes:

Whilst I was reading The Centurion’s Wife I could picture it all brilliantly as a play or even a musical. Have you written it as a play?

Pat writes:

I really enjoyed The Book of Hours. For years I’ve wondered have you ever considered making a movie from this book?

Rather than make a movie for tv or theater, just make a DVD movie to be rented or sold at a video store. I’d really like to see this story on DVD. Maybe even consider making a five-disc DVD movie as a set or series. That way I could see the whole story over a period of time at my convenience.

Dear Wendy and Pat,

Work on such things as plays, musicals, and films are dependent upon a production team deciding to move it forward. The writer becomes a relatively small though important component of a very large creative effort.

The only project that is definitely headed in this direction is Unlimited.

The Rough Cut

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

This past weekend, my wife and I received a minor miracle. By ‘minor’, I mean that no great world-changing event took place. No higher order of peace was achieved in the Middle East. As far as miracles go, it was more in the common garden-variety category. But still…

As far as we are concerned, there is no question. We witnessed a miracle.

That's my "house," in the background

In order to understand just how amazing this event was, I need to explain something about our home here in England. The big house where we have our apartment is located at the end of a two mile-long lane. The telephone and power cables were all laid down in the ‘60s. Which means the phone lines are old, the seals are corroding, and we cannot get high-speed internet.

Up until last year, all we could get was dial-up.

It’s a beautiful world, our little haven in the fields. But it is also a world without Skype, or downloadable films, or music, or video conferencing. It’s not quite as bad a connection as where we lived back when we first arrived in England. That was an Edwardian boathouse, converted to a home back in the nineteen-teens. We renovated one room, and discovered all the wiring wrapped in old newspapers. The Times, to be exact. The headline was about the negotiations to end the War to End All Wars.

All this has something to do with the miracle. Really.

This past week, I invited my wife on a date. We have both been so busy since we returned to England—the surgery, and Oxford term, and work on the Unlimited novel. But a week ago I completed the novel’s first draft, and last Thursday I gave my last class and completed all the tutorials for this term. So I invited Isabella to go away for a little weekend break. I took her back to the village where we used to live, and still love, called Henley-On-Thames.

As the name suggests, Henley sits on the River Thames. Its history is pretty amazing. Back in the early medieval era, when the river was the major conduit for transporting goods through the heart of England, Henley was the seat of the royal customs houses. All goods transported along the King’s river was subject to the King’s taxes.

There are still houses in Henley that are over a thousand years old, that bear names from this time—the Salt House, and the Corn Exchange, and the Wool Market, and so forth. At that point, Henley was home to almost five hundred taverns and inns—not bad for a village of some five thousand souls. There is still one brewery, Brakespear, that has been making ale in Henley for more than seven centuries.

We left Henley because it was ‘discovered’ by rich London bankers, who, in one twelve-month period, pushed up the housing prices so high we could no longer afford to stay. In one year our rent went up 350 percent. At the time, it was a very hard moment. I can’t say I’m glad it happened. But I am very happy that we’ve had a chance to live where we are now. Very glad indeed.

So we returned to Henley, and stayed in a riverside manor called the Phyllis Court Club. It basically looks like a wedding cake that sits on an emerald lawn right alongside the river. It is one of my wife’s favorite places in the whole world. So to celebrate all the milestones, and to thank her for nursing me through the recovery from my operation, I took her to Henley for a date.

After my last tutorial, we drove down from Oxford. Before dinner, I checked my emails, and to my astonishment I discovered a note from the producer of the Unlimited film, Chad Gunderson, announcing that the rough cut was completed.

The rough cut of a film means that from all the hours and days of shooting film, a basic structure has been laid out from beginning to end. The soundtrack is in place, including the initial structure of the music. There is still a great deal of polishing to be done. But this is the first glimpse any of us have had of the story in its entirety.

The basic rule of thumb in watching a rough cut is, this is the worst this film will ever look.

Which means the only people who should see even a glimpse at this stage are pros – people who know to look beyond the off-tempo moments and the scratchy sound and the absence of special effects – and so on and so on and so on. There are a thousand different reasons why the rough cut could be a toe-curling experience. The best thing that can be said for most rough cuts is, there might be a film there somewhere. Basically the experience is a jagged shift from one cringe to the next.

My wife has never seen a rough cut before. When I told her over dinner that the link had come to the rough cut, she immediately demanded to see it.

“Let’s not ruin a lovely meal,” I begged. “It can wait.”

“Wait? Wait for what? For the sky to open and the Second Coming to arrive?”

“Let’s go home. I’ll go over to a friend’s house. I’ll give it a first look…”

“You’re not seeing this without me.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“We’re not waiting. They have wi-fi in this hotel. We’re watching it. Tonight.”

There are moments in married life when all the logic in the world is defeated by a woman on a mission.

My dearest friend in the publishing world, Gary Johnson, former President of Bethany House Publishers, was having a discussion like this one with his granddaughter last week. The granddaughter is nine years old.

When she came up with an idea that he had a hundred reasons to nix, she planted her hands on her hips and said, “Stay with me here, Grandpa. You have two choices. You can argue with me and then do it, or we can go have some fun.”

Which was exactly what I thought about as I gave my wife the inevitable answer, which was, “Okay.”

So I went to the front desk, and explained what had happened, and asked if we could sit in the disused room closest to their wi-fi connection. To stream a professional cut of a film, we needed every ounce of oomph their e-link could provide.

The receptionist responded without the blink of an eye. I mean, it was like she had been sitting there all day, just waiting for me to come up and say, I’m a novelist and a screenwriter, and there’s this film that I’ve been working on for over a year, and we have a chance to see it…

The receptionist announced that they had just redone their conference room, and installed a professional-grade overhead projector and a wall-sized screen.

So we took our desserts and our coffees and moved into this room with padded swivel chairs. And this really nice guy came in and hooked up my laptop to their system.

And there comes the film. Just remembering that moment gives me chills. Readers who have followed the course of this project will understand when I say, there have been moments when all we had to go on was prayer. And yet here we were, holding hands in the darkened room, watching rain streak our window and make patterns upon the river, and then the dream came to life.

Unlimited is without question the finest inspirational film I have ever seen.

There are so many astonishing aspects of the finished project. I am going to mention just two here, and come back to others later on.

A few weeks before we started filming, the insurance groups that cover risk on a film production stopped covering work in Mexico. The violence and the risk of kidnapping were just too great. Which meant it was possible to film in the slums of Rio, or Angola, but not across the border from El Paso. So one of the last-minute issues our producer and director had to overcome was finding sites that looked like Mexico, but were north of the border.

There are moments in the film when the border fence becomes visible. And I know at some level that I am looking south, from Texas into Mexico. But my logic doesn’t hold me. Because at a gut level, I am so caught up in the atmosphere that I’m in Mexico, seeing across the impossible divide, and there on the fence’s other side is the forbidden land, the richness and the opportunities of USA. Which it isn’t. It’s actually the other way around.

That’s one thing. The other is the cadence, or what in film parlance is known as the beat structure.

Too often inspirational films go like this:  Story, story, story, then soapbox, soapbox, then back to story again.

The hardest thing about bringing an inspirational story to the big screen is finding that balance between message and story, so that the entertainment value is never lost, not for an instant. Because this must happen, it must become the norm, in order for inspirational films to start drawing a mainstream audience.

The message of Unlimited is solid. But at no point – not one – is there the sense that the moral pulls the viewer out of the story. It is amazing.

  • The emotional ‘feel’ is constant.
  • The tension and the flow and the steady unfolding of the plot draws beautifully towards the climax.
  • The lighting is exquisite. It holds to that arid Mexican yellow, the parched quality so powerful I was comparing it in my mind to favorite big-budget movies that have been shot in desert settings.

Unlimited is a good movie. Really. As a rough cut, it is fun to watch. From start to finish.

I will finish here with a request.

This week the producers and director are flying to Nashville to show this rough cut to major backers. It is a vital step. Crucial. So much hangs on this showing. Your prayers would be so very much appreciated.

We stand in prayerful thanks, our hands outstretched to receive the next miracle.

Fun Filmwork Feedback

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Karen writes:

Thanks for the sneak peek into the world of film. You also gave us a picture of the person you are and how you are guided by God. I work at a bookstore and love recommending your books to customers especially ones who have never read your books. I have compared you to Francine Rivers another favorite author. Loved the collaboration with Janette Oke!!! Keep on writing and growing in Jesus!

Cali writes:

As an emerging writer, I found it fascinating to learn about the process of script writing.  To have the actors themselves talk to you about the characters must have been like having a character in a novel develop beyond what you expected.  It’s happened to me, as I’m sure it’s happened to you, but then to have that character displayed in a person who is telling you these things must have been amazing and surreal.

Dorothy writes:

Am so looking forward to this movie when it is out. Your books are so well received in the library where I am the purchaser and I know that there will be a lot of interest in this movie. I am also anxiously awaiting your next novel…love your writing!!

Larry writes:

Thanks so much for sharing this report with your subscribers. This is just awesome! I’m not over remembering all details of recent LION OF BABYLON and so looking forward to the new novel, RARE EARTH… However, I see what you mean about “using new tools” and it’s so interesting how God can use an author to write or even ‘embed’ spiritual data/points in novels and I suppose at times the writer might not even know he did that, but by the Spirit was it so subtlety accomplished….

Barb writes:

I am amazed at how God uses us in new and different ways if we are just willing and obedient! God bless you richly – I’ll be waiting to see this one.

Dear Friends,

There have been some amazing comments on my website and emails regarding the latest blog post on my recent filmwork for Unlimited.  Thank you so much, for the wonderful and encouraging comments.  As I work to develop the novel from the screenplay—the first time I have ever worked in this order, these very warm and heartfelt comments have been a great boost. 

Thank you again for writing. 

Warmest regards,

Davis

The Writing Life: Taking Stock

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In December, my wife and I bought a new home, an apartment in the Florida town just nine miles south of where we have lived for the past fourteen years.  It is only the second time we have purchased a home, and it was a big and long-awaited transition.  We sold our first home two years ago, after having it on the market for three years.

When we bought our first home, I never thought selling it would be a cause for celebration, or that we would accept an offer for half our original asking price – and then count ourselves fortunate.  Welcome to real estate in Florida.

Yes, we know it is a hurricane zone, and yes, we know there are risks involved.  But we love it here.  It is home.  And so we bought a unit that we think is extremely well built, and we feel much more comfortable about leaving this for extended periods of time in England.

The problem is, I don’t want to go.  Since our arrival, the time here has been one non-stop hurricane of events.  The purchase of our new home is a great example.  My wife and I watched them build four identical buildings in a little park-like setting, and we realized they would be perfect for us.

But they were soooo expensive.  But like so many developments these days, the prices fell and fell and fell some more, and then on the second day after our return from England, the twenty-first of December, one of the units dropped thirty percent in price overnight.

We thought, we hoped, the builders might want to get out before the end of the year, and we were right.  We countered and offered to close by December thirty-first.  They accepted, but only if we bought it before year’s end.  We had eight days to close.  For anyone who has ever bought a home, these words should send shivers down your spine: we had eight days to close.

With Christmas in the mix.

A whirlwind of writing, rewriting, editing, filming, and moving!

Our lives have pretty much stayed at that incredible pace ever since. I have been pushing on two projects simultaneously.  This rarely happens.

But one of my new book projects is a totally new concept, and I wanted to get a third of the way into it and share it with the publishers.  It is a huge new direction, something I’ve never tried before, where the publishers came to me with an idea, one they have been thinking about for ten years.

It was both an honor and a major challenge to be approached by a publisher.   As soon as I reached my goal for the new concept, I left for the film set.

What an amazing statement to make: I left for the film set.  We closed on a house in eight days in December.  I left for the film set in March.  (See my blog post, “Learning at the feet of actors,” for what the set was like).  Since my return, I have been pushing hard on the novel based upon my screenplay, Unlimited.

Of course, added into this has been the ongoing work on my three books being released this year (Rare Earth, Hidden in Dreams, and Prayers of a Stranger. Each book, once it has been accepted for publication, goes through four back-and-forth transitions between author and publisher.

Rare Earth by Davis Bunn  Hidden in Dreams by Davis Bunn  Prayers of a Stranger

First there are the major edits, which have to do with smoothing out the plot-line and making what can be substantial changes along the way.  Then there are the minor edits, or line edits, which deal with everything from a character’s hair color to dialogue to all the myriad of small issues that make the book whole and polished.

Then there are what in the industry are called the final passes, the galleys and the page proofs.  These are the final opportunities to correct all the small issues before the book goes to print.  And there are always issues.  At this point, my wife calls them ‘eekos’, which is the sound she makes when she finds one.  Eeeek-o!

So I had three books going through edits and galleys, and two new book projects, and a film.

So what’s the fun of moving?

And let’s not forget the move.  For those of you in the know, let me add that we are moving from a house to an apartment.  And my wife does not like to throw anything away.  Nooooooo.

Actually, the move turned out to be fun.  I know, that’s not possible.  But it was.  Isabella has been as busy as me, and perhaps at times even busier.  I will not talk about her life here, I’d need another ten pages, and it’s two in the morning, and I have a book I’ll be working on at dawn.

Most of my blogs are done in the wee hours, when a transition is coming up and I find myself stunned by all that’s happened.  Like now.  It helps me sort through the whirlwind, these quiet moments in a dark house.

Back to the move.

As I’ve mentioned before, the people who bought our home couldn’t move in because their company needed the husband to stay on and not retire.  We didn’t know where we were going, if we were staying in Florida because of Isabella’s work, so we rented it back.  And we insisted on a three-month opt-out, because we didn’t want them telling us we had to leave when we were in England, and giving us thirty days to get out.

The problem was, we closed in eight days.  We didn’t need three months.

But we had it anyway.

Amazingly, our new apartment was the same deal as our old home.  The previous folks had bought it as a retirement place, but never retired.  So it’s four years old and never lived in.

Last month we took the tags off the dishwasher.  It needed painting and carpeting and other stuff.  And we had ninety days.  Ninety days!  The painter and his entire crew came down with the flu and had to put off our job for two weeks.  We said, okay, no sweat.

Moving can be utterly horrid.  But if you take out the pressure of having to get it done, and you factor in all the stress we had in our professional lives, hauling boxes down to a new place became a, well, hobby.  It was our downtime.  We filled up our little SUV and we carried our boxes in and walked around the place, anticipating the day we could call it home.

When the movers finally came for the big stuff in mid-March, we were ready.  So ready.  And so calm about leaving the first home we had ever bought, the place we had thought we would never leave.  Back before we endured four hurricanes and burst pipes and blown-out windows and a new roof and four new a/c units.

But that was the home where my study was in a cubby at the top of the stairs on the third floor, with seven sides and seven windows and water to the east and the west, and all the world was green and blue.  That was the home where I wrote a dozen novels, and dreamed big, and loved my wife and our home and my life.

But it was time to move on.  I went back by the house today to check on mail, and realized it’s not mine any more.  There was an official ‘vacant’ notice in the mailbox and the drive was empty of all but sunlight and memories, most of them very good indeed.  We have moved.

Time to embrace change

The problem is, I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to settle.  I’m not ready to go back to England.   It’s really bothered me.  We moved in three weeks ago.  Immediately after I go teach in Colorado and Tampa we’re supposed to make the change to England.

Next week I need to go to Nashville to meet my new publishers, and then six days later we leave.  I’m not ready to go.  I want to sit on my new veranda and drink my coffee and watch the green world out back of our new home.  We have bunnies and osprey and so many different kinds of birds and some very nice neighbors.

Then today two things happened.

First, I got my teaching schedule from Oxford.  And that, folks, is another sentence I never in a thousand years thought I would ever write.  But it’s come.  I am a lecturer in Oxford’s new creative writing program.  The pay is laughable for part-time lecturers in England, set by the state at a level so low a secretary here would fall out of her chair.  No kidding.

But hey, this is Oxford, and I am loving it.  So I got my schedule, and I’m doing tutorials, which are the crown jewel of Oxford’s teaching program.  All six of my tutorial students were in my class in the autumn, and I am really looking forward to seeing how much they have progressed with their writing.

And then tonight I got up and couldn’t sleep and was walking around our new home, padding from room to room in the dark, and came into my office, and turned on my computer, and drew up photos I took of a favorite bike ride I took last autumn through Alesbury, a village rimmed by prehistoric planted stones, like Stonehenge but not in a neat tidy circle.

Forty miles.  Eight mile-plus climbs.  From there I had climbed the Ridgeway, up to a Neolithic road that was old when the Romans arrived.  I then descend into a hidden valley, with one road that runs straight and true for nineteen miles.  And in that entire run I might have passed two cars.

In my mind, I’m already overseas and it is green as only England can be, and the wind is my dear friend.  I then mentally climb back up to the Ridgeway, and over the peak, and then swoop down a three-mile descent to the plains of Wiltshire and my car and home.  Because that is what awaits me.

Our other home.

Learning at the Feet of… Actors

Friday, April 20th, 2012

There is a great deal of newness to my life right now. I think this is one of the most remarkable components of this stage of my artistic career, how the past two years have catapulted me into a completely new direction. I worked very hard to make this happen, so I can’t say the overall result is unexpected. But so much of what makes up this transition is revolutionary.

On the set of UNLIMITED, the movie with the market in the background. Joe Scott, writer, Davis Bunn, writer, Chad Gundersen, producer

A New Set of Tools

In many ways, working as a screenwriter is like a skilled surgeon learning a new field of medicine, say, pediatrics. A great deal of what I know can be directly applied. But at the same time, there is a very real danger in assuming I know what I need to. This is a crucial issue.

I have often worked with successful pastors who are finding it extremely hard to say what they want in a non-fiction book. Because they are successful at the pulpit, they assume they will be successful on the page. This is totally not true. In fact, it is often necessary for them to unlearn certain aspects of their work in order to write a solid book. The success they know as a pastor does not translate. They must learn a new set of tools.

Much of the unexpected newness comes from learning this same lesson. Which is ironic. Because I have said it so often to others, you might think I would already know this myself. But it is not true.

I will talk about two specific new items here. The first is the collaborative nature of screenwork.

When I write a novel, I am one of many. Most novelists prefer to ignore this fact. But it is true. I write the story, and then it goes through a very detailed and technical editorial process. Then it is taken by the marketing team, who often will re-title the book. Less than half my books carry the title I have lived with for the year or more that it took to write it.

Then there is the sales campaign, and the interviews, and the PR work, on and on, the number of participants extending out through the world, getting this book into the hands of as many readers as possible.

But it is still my book. My name is the one on the cover. I am the guy in the spotlight.

In screenwork, nothing could be further from the truth.

When I talk with beginning screenwriters, I often hear them refer to the project as ‘my film’. I have to tell them they simply cannot say this. Not and be allowed to sit down with a director or a producer. Both of these people will boot the would-be scriptwriter right out the door. Because it is not their film and never will be.

A screenplay is like a blueprint.

And once the architect finishes the first draft, that is when the real work begins. And as many as a dozen sets of hands will work on the story before the first inch of film is shot. That is the world of film. Either you accept it, or you grow increasingly bitter with the process.

The second unexpected newness is the intensity of the set. I am on my flight home now, leaving behind the sites in El Paso where Unlimited has been filmed. I was both working on the film project and working on the novel. This happens occasionally, switching the order around, doing the screenplay first and then the novel.

The Godfather is an example of this order, as is Love Story. Adapting the story from script to film means a great deal of new research, because of the depth that a novel will reach which is not required for a good film. Nuances of the characters must be revealed, and a stronger sense of three dimensional flow is required in the plot. So I have had some extremely busy days. But beautiful. And one reason for this amazing wonder is, as I said, the intensity that surrounds a film set.

The level of professionalism is extreme.

Each component of the film is critical, from lighting to cameras to set design to wardrobe, on and on. And each one of these groups are here because they are passionate about film and extremely professional in their approach to the project.

And the reason that I was accepted on set was because I adopted the same approach. I might have been the screenwriter. But this was no longer my project. I was just one of many.

And the newcomer. Everyone else had worked on multiple projects. My first day out there, they watched. Would I play the prima donna. Would I object to the alterations that were happening to my work. Would I demand a central spot.

Instead, I remained at the very fringe. Like the wedding banquet Jesus described, I held back and settled down at the far border of the set. And I watched.

So people relaxed. When I was invited forward, I did not comment about the film at all. How could I? I have no real idea what’s happening. I was like a newborn, assaulted by so many new sensations I could only catch glimpses of what was happening, with no real understanding of the entire process that surrounded me.

The chief cinematographer explains to me that they are shooting ‘filler’ shots, walking around the barrio and capturing images that will add to the overall feel.

Questions, questions, and more questions

On the flight out, I had an idea. I knew I was the outsider here, and I also knew that many producers and directors bar screenwriters from even entering the set, precisely because they want to claim the work as theirs. I wanted to show them from the outset this was not my plan.

When I was invited to become a part of the process, really enter in and work around the people, I started approaching one actor after another. And I interviewed them.

I asked them to tell me who the characters were. Not what I had written. What they had made of these characters.

  • What was the backstory?
  • What did they bring to the moment when the cameras caught them?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Why did they act as they did?
  • Who drove them?
  • Where were they going next?

The questions caught everyone off guard. The director, the actors, the cameramen, everyone. No one had ever known a writer to do this before. Which surprises me, because it seems the natural thing to do.

These people had been living inside the heads of these characters for weeks and weeks of prep work. Of course they had studied these issues. They are, after all, real professionals. Three of them are stars in the making. Perhaps four.

One of them, Roberto Amaya, literally stole every scene of Courageous that he appeared in. He was great to talk with, by the way. He plays an orphan who wants to take over the Christian home where he was raised, and has a beautiful sister, Sofia, who plays a major role in the orphanage, and yet who exasperates him with every breath. Seeing the two of them work through this, and discussing their relationship with Robert, was like mining pure gold.

One of the great challenges of writing solid fiction is managing to give each character a unique voice. They must stand out as having their own story, and sound like this, think like this.

Learning to separate the characters from one another is a powerful component of becoming a successful novelist. And here I was, talking to one professional after another, who had spent months doing this work for me.

Of course I talked with them.

And what a joy, what an indescribable delight it was, to learn at their feet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Virtual Day on the Set

Join me at my Facebook page Tuesday, April 24 for a day on the set of UNLIMITED. I’ll be posting updates throughout the day about my experiences on the set.

Click the “Like” button, above, and you’ll receive all my updates in your News Feed.

From the ‘Never-a-Dull-Moment’ Department

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Last October, I was contacted by the senior vice president of sales and marketing at NBC Television, who has been a fan of my work. She is a believer, and has wished for years that there was more TV entertainment with a strong moral base. Instead, it seems to her as though things continue to shift in the opposite direction. She said that if I could put together a project that has serious potential, she would support it through the system.

Inside the major television groups, there is a serious divide between the sales/marketing and the production divisions. Basically the producers consider themselves to be the only people who can determine the worthiness of a project. So for a sales director, no matter how senior, to come forward with a project simply would not fly.

This meant I needed to set up a project in the standard TV fashion, jump through the standard hoops, and the sales vp would do what she could to back this from the sidelines. And that is how all this began.

Scene-by-scene

That same month, I was named Lecturer of Fiction in Oxford’s new creative writing program. The head of the screenwriting division is a friend, and we had already been working on a film concept together. Nicholas is the former chief writer on England’s longest-running TV crime drama, called ‘The Bill’.  We discussed various concepts, and decided the Book of Dreams idea could work as a television series.

Together we put together what is known as a scene-by-scene. This is basically an entire screenplay, but without the dialogue. In the television format, the Book of Dreams resembles an Inception-style story that could be done on a television budget.

Something this complex can’t be properly summarized in the standard Hollywood two-page format, which is called a leave-behind, because after a verbal pitch you leave the document behind with the producer for them to pass around. Also a scene-by-scene gives the producer a chance to cost out the project. It is one thing for the writer to say, “You can do this on a TV budget.”  It is another thing entirely to show this on the page. The scene-by-scene ran to twenty-six pages, and was completed in December.

Producers

At this point, friends within the believing community in Hollywood introduced us to two very successful producers. Dave and Gary Johnson have had four long-running TV shows, two of which were aired on NBC. They really liked the concept, and signed on.

Because of their enthusiasm, I got up the nerve to contact the film producer in England I most admire. His name is Norman Stone, and he is considered by many to be the leader of the European believers working in film and television. His most famous work was Shadowlands, but he has done dozens of films. This has included two films starring Peter O’Toole for NBC, which means he is on the group’s ‘Green List’. This is the list of directors and producers who are considered at such a level of performance that they can bring any project directly to the network’s top decision makers. Norman really liked the concept, and signed on to direct.

At this point, everything was put on hold. NBC was acquired by Comcast in late January, and virtually every top decision maker on the content side was replaced. This upheaval continued through the end of April. Which was an extremely good thing, as far as we were concerned, for two reasons.

First, it gave me a chance to focus upon the Unlimited screenplay and then begin writing the sequel to Book of Dreams. And second, it gave Norman Stone the chance to take the project to the BBC.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been going through a similar upheaval to NBC. And the result has been that they prefer not to cover the full cost of new drama alone. They want international partners. So after weeks of preliminary discussions, the BBC in late June decided they wanted to partner with NBC on Book of Dreams.

At this point, everything becomes a little surreal. I really can’t begin to describe just how wild this has been.

It’s sort of like saying, “I drove through Manhattan at rush hour at fifty miles an hour.”

Those words don’t include the flying bags and purses, the faces jammed against the windscreen, the laughter, the screams, the horns, the mayhem, and so forth.

Star Struck

The BBC has offered to cover one-quarter of the total cost of a series, so long as two things happen.

  • First, they want one major star to be British, and another to be European.
  • Second, they want to have the right to pre-sell the series to European partners.

So at this point, we suddenly have begun talking about who we would most like to play the various roles. Our first two choices for the lead role, Dr. Elena Burroughs, are Gwynneth Paltrow and Rosamund Pike. It is apparently important to have this sort of image in place before going to the Hollywood decision makers.

Our job at this point was to winnow down the scene-by-scene to four pages that could be agreed on by all the parties involved thus far–Norman Stone, the Johnson Brothers, the BBC, and us the writers.

Pilot Episodes

We then were asked by the BBC to do six pilot episodes that showed a full season arc. Just learning what this sentence meant has taken me the better part of a month. What they wanted was not six episodes back to back, but rather segments from throughout the season that would show an overarching concept, a background issue that would be resolved by the end of season one. And do this in a maximum of four paragraphs per episode. One important lesson every Hollywood writer will tell you is, producers don’t read anything longer than a page.

Agent

The neatest part about this exercise – and there have been some really great things involved in this creative process – has  been how it has drawn all of us together. By this point, one more person has also been brought into the mix. The Johnson brothers are represented in Hollywood by the former managing director of Creative Artists, the largest talent agency in the world, who has left the group and started his own smaller agency. He too has now signed on, and has taken it upon himself to begin setting up what are called the preliminary pitches. This is when the Johnson brothers go in and talk to the senior directors of content for the network.

To have an agent of this status make the calls is enormous. Or so I’m told. By this point I’m sort of the kid in the candy shop, my eyes glazed over, just not really believing I’m actually involved in all this. The agent has identified three networks as being the ones he wants to approach–NBC, Syfy, and Fox.

Three-dimensional study

Which brings us to this current trip to Los Angeles. In order to make the pitch to the stars, we needed to do a three-dimensional study of all the major roles. And we had to do this in less than three paragraphs per character. We also needed to reveal specific character arcs in the episodes. This work has taken two absolutely fabulous and exhausting eighteen hour days.

To celebrate arriving at the end of this, we were invited by the NBC vice president out for dinner. Before going for dinner, we got a private tour of the NBC Universal back lot. We took her golf cart and went through the stages for all these amazing shows, some film and some TV, with these mammoth posters up on the walls by the main entrances to the stages.

A ‘stage’ here is basically a warehouse, somewhere around fifty thousand square feet, built out of concrete to completely block all external noise. Two really cool things about that trip. Actually, three.

First, we weren’t supposed to stop anywhere, but she parked us by the plane-wreck from War of the Worlds and took my picture.

Second, we had a private tour of their wardrobe warehouse with the division head. They have five million items of clothes in this place, there’s a room for jewelry bigger than my house and a second room just for Roman leather uniforms.
Third, after the tour we went back up to the VP’s office, and she showed me this massive closet beside the division receptionist that holds all the latest DVDs. She pulls out this drawer and says, Would you like anything?  There is this problem I’m facing tonight as I fly back to England called, weight limit. I have filled the hotel room’s three trash cans with dvd wrappers.

The pitch sessions are slated to begin in two weeks time. There was a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the summer that has really helped keep all this in perspective. Somewhere around a thousand concepts arrive at the point where we are now. Of course, not many will have the backing of a network VP and an offer of co-production from the BBC. But still.

From these several hundred concepts, the three channels we are approaching will produce around thirty pilots. These odds should probably be daunting. But to tell the truth, I have had so much fun it has been possible to simply live in the day. That really has been an achievement in itself. But I feel so intensely blessed by the whole deal. So many wonderful lessons and friendships have been gained. So much laughter. Really. It has been a blast.

Your prayers would certainly be appreciated.

Warmly,

Davis

‘Unlimited’ Movie Trailer

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Angela Walker of ChristianCinema.com reported that my new screenplay, Unlimited, has been completed.

She writes that Unlimited will be produced by Gundersen Entertainment [LIKE DANDELION DUST] and directed by Nathan Frankowski [EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED, RENEE].

“Bunn’s tightly plotted and fast-paced stories with very believable and sympathetic characters should translate well into the medium of film.”

About the movie:

When Simon, an underachieving doctoral student, travels to India to find his professor and obtain his grade for his dissertation, he is thrown into a world of intrigue and discovery as the search for a source of unlimited free power is pursued by competing interests.

The story of UNLIMITED is one of paradox: of squalor and luxury, of resentment and compassion, of corruption and generosity, of exploitation and empowerment, of giving up one’s life to save it.  At its core, UNLIMITED draws a contrast between earthly energy, which is scarce and costly, and divine grace, which is infinite and freely-given.  Which power will we tap into?

Here’s a video trailer for the movie:

Will ‘All Through the Night’ Become a Movie?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Olivia writes:

I so much enjoy reading your books as well as your blog and feel that I somehow know you and Isabella. It will be interesting to see as well, which books are put into movies. I am hoping that one will be All through the Night.

My Response:

Yes, one of the four projects under consideration is indeed All Through The Night. I am just thrilled to know this is a favorite of yours. I would appreciate your prayers as this moves forward. Sometime between now and the end of January the producer involved will be making a presentation to the Hallmark Channel.

My Morning: Isolated Writing. My Afternoon: Three Possible Film Projects

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

This has been a week of small, and yet still very important and very beautiful steps.

My days have basically been split in two. In the mornings, I am writing the first draft of a new story. It’s not time to talk about that yet. I’m still in the sketching stages. But the work is going well. Slower than I would like. But I’m making solid progress, and the lines of both emotion and plot tension are taking solid form.

In the afternoons it is just a whirlwind. It is important to have a clearly defined mental and emotional wall between the two, because I need that utter isolation from the outside world in order to do a solid job of first drafting. If a lot of things start pressing in, then I try to get up earlier so that I can get in a minimum of four hours on the writing before opening the door to the world.

Which brings us to the possible film projects. Plural. Three of them.

Six weeks ago, after seeing no progress whatsoever on the film front for almost three years, I began receiving one possible offer after another. First an Emmy-award winning producer of children’s television contacted me and wanted to take one of my books for development into a feature film. Nicholas – the  British screenwriter I mentioned two weeks ago – and I did a scene-by-scene for him of a novel to be published by Howard/Simon and Schuster next autumn entitled Book of Dreams. More on that in a minute.

Then the producer of several award-winning features, including the winner of the Toronto Film Festival’s viewer’s choice award last year, contacted me. He wants to do another book as a film, most likely a Bethany title, All Through The Night.

Then a senior vice president of NBC Television contacted me. She was over for the annual rights conference here in London, and used her only free day to come out to our home with her husband. They stayed five hours. This was why I had to rush back from India. They arrived the day after I got back – at two in the morning.

The NBC executive wants to make two approaches, both for either a series or a three-part miniseries, to be decided by the groups. One would be to the USA Channel, the other to SyFy. Both of these channels are subsidiaries of NBC/Universal. She is thinking Book of Dreams would go best for USA. She has read the scene-by-scene and likes it a lot.

She also thinks a story I recently completed entitled City On A Hill is ideal for SyFy. According to her, SyFy has a new studio chief who wants to take the channel away from their current direction, which is leaning towards cheap horror. Their new tagline is one word. Imagination.

When all this started coming in, I was so excited I was boinging off the walls. Just saying these words now – two indie producers and the vp of NBC – make me smile. It’s not that I’m blasé. Rather, I’m caught up in everything that needs to get done for any of these to move forward. The best way to describe this might be, think of doing sixty miles an hour through uptown Manhattan at rush hour. The words just like there quiet and normal on the page. But in reality there would be a world of chaos—screeching tires and racing engines. People screaming their heads off. Flying handbags and shopping parcels and umbrellas. Sirens. Maybe gunfire.

So on the surface, I’m just one cool little dude, just taking it all in my stride. Sure. I’m fielding at least one call or email from these people every day. It’s all just cake, right?

But down underneath the surface, where nobody but me and my wife can see, the little duckling is paddling just as hard as his tiny webbed feet can go.

This Writing Life: Where There’s Smoke…

Monday, November 8th, 2010

For the past three years, I have had no contact with the film industry. None. Zip. Nada.

In the weeks leading up to my journey to India, and in the days since my return, it has not stopped. It has been every day. Every single day.

The question is, which one is actually going to bear fruit?

This is actually two questions, not one. The first is, which one will actually see the project become a dream-come-true story up there on the silver screen?

The second is, which one will actually pay me for my work? More on this in a moment.

Last winter, I began lecturing in Oxford University’s new creative writing undergraduate program. The head of the screenwriting section is Nicholas McInerney, formerly chief writer on ITV’s top-ranked cop drama, The Bill.  Nicholas and I began working together on a trial treatment, and found that we meshed together extremely well. A treatment, for those who are interested, is a brief overview that has two objectives: To give a two- or three-page synopsis of the whole film, and to entice a possible investor.

Following this successful trial run, we discussed a new story I had just finished writing, entitled The Book Of Dreams. (This novel is due for release in October of 2011 from Howard/Simon & Schuster.) I felt like the story had a lot of potential, and thankfully so does the publishing house. Nicholas and I began playing around with possible scenic structures for film, and something quite remarkable happened.

To understand, it is important to accept that a successful story on the silver screen is often quite different from what can happen in a book. There are a number of issues at work here, but I will name only two.

One is time. You have ninety-six minutes to not merely tell a story that before ran to some four hundred pages and perhaps two weeks of the reader’s life, but also you must emotionally engage in this same brief period.

The second issue is cost. In a book, I can create whatever scenario I want. But Christian films are restricted by the size of the investor pool. The most expensive film with an inspirational message last year cost less than ten million dollars to make, versus a studio-feature average of FIVE TIMES THAT AMOUNT.

It does not help to argue over whether inspirational films might make back their investment if people were willing to plunk down the capital. Right now, this option simply does not exist. So if I want to see my work produced, which I do, I must accept the current restrictions and work within these parameters.

Nicholas and I found ourselves exploding with ideas. The result is really something remarkable, a meshing not merely of plot points, but emotional concepts that, in my opinion, catapult the story to a whole new level. What we are doing is not for a book. It is for a film. It is not an adaptation. It is a great work in and of itself. At least, I hope it is.

We sketched out the entire story over two frenetic afternoons back in August. Then I had to leave for the US. I know I’m way off where I should be, talking about the contacts with film groups. But this is important. I travelled to Annapolis and then to Raleigh, where my mother and my father live. Both have had serious health problems, and I needed to go spend time with them.

Something very remarkable, and very unexpected happened during that eight-day period. What might have been an extremely difficult time proved to be one of the most electric and creative periods I’ve had in years. I got up every morning around five, almost as though jet-lag was something that happened to other guys, and I just pumped. I worked until noon, then left to visit the family.

A scene-by-scene is effectively a brief overview of the entire screenplay. No dialogue, very abbreviated, but it covers all the major plot points. It runs about twenty-five pages, single spaced. It is known to be a tremendously difficult exercise.

I completed the entire piece in those eight mornings.

A great deal of what’s happened over the past week relates to this work. And that will have to wait until next week.