When I was a child, I saw quite a few funky little movies with titles like “How a Bill Becomes a Law” or “How a Tree Becomes a Pencil.” This is “How a Short Story Becomes a Screenplay,” at least for me.
I was visiting a local antiques shop with a friend several years ago, not something I do all that often, and we were having a great time poking around because just about everything was so interesting. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly an antiques shop; it sold antiques and their cousins, the near-antiques. I have a weakness for mid-century modern and this store had enough of that to keep me almost reaching for my wallet several times to buy something I knew I didn’t need or even have a place for. Yet, she resisted.
Toward the back of the store, we came upon a lovely mirror–from its looks, one of the older things in the shop. Framed in silver, it was elegant and delicate, and the glass was still in excellent shape. It suggested a very different, long-ago era and yet, there I was, reflected in it just as if it had been mass produced in China last week. For days afterward, my mind returned to that mirror. I kept thinking about just how many people had looked into it since its debut in what was probably sometime in the 1800s. The mirror was very compliant. It reflected back the image of now, not of its own time. Wouldn’t it be interesting and fun, though, if that wasn’t the way it worked? If a mirror was stuck in its own time, and let you see yourself as you might have looked when it was new? I decided I wanted to write something that included a mirror like that.
Marta in the Mirror was the result and the story ended up in a pretty quirky place–one I really liked. I also have an interest in characters who get by on a kind of unwitting passivity, who let decisions get made for them, and Marta turned out to be one of those people, letting other folks always point things out to her. I don’t remember how my son came to read it, but he did. He’s a film maker and said he thought it would make a good short film. Was I interested in doing it together?
I had written one screenplay before, a screenplay right from the start. This would be my first experience adapting a story. That process really drove home for me the difference between the two kinds of writing. I had written Marta in the Mirror in a spare style to begin with, but you have to show the audience everything in a film, literally everything. No one likes to hear one character tell the other, “Jane, when you and I took that walk in the woods together last year, when we were both still in school and your mother didn’t approve of me, I told you I wanted more out of life and when I had to leave for the west coast to run my father’s button business because he had pneumonia, you waited for me.” Even Jane would be bored. As a viewer, you instinctively cringe when the doorbell rings and someone says, “Hey, Bob, would you get that and let my younger sister Mary from Cleveland who is going to be my new roommate in?” Those might be exaggerations, but I think I have actually heard worse.
For Marta in the Mirror, I decided that a narrator could help me out and also retain some of the fairy tale quality I wanted the story to have. Everything else, I would have to show visually or eliminate. Sometimes, a single line in the story seemed to want to be a whole page or more in the screenplay. Other times, the process of looking, in my mind’s eye, at what was going on from a visual standpoint, made me add something new. Usually, that fed back into changes in the story. The Donny Osmond element, for example, was not in the original story and I think that turned out to be one of the most fun things in the story.
We’re planning to shoot the film this fall. If you are interested, I will be updating what’s happening with that on this blog. In the meantime, if you’d like to read both the short story and the screenplay, you can find them together in Kindle or paperback form here. They’re also part of the Kindle Unlimited program.
If you decide to read one or both, and I hope you will, I’dd love to hear your comments or questions. You can also ask me questions on my Goodreads page.
If you’d like to see what my son Colin Theys does, you can click here.
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