Three texts you can adapt for short film during COVID-19

Or, Ashleigh’s Tips for Adapting Microlit – Part One

The 2020 Microflix Comp is here, and the microlit is in. There are countless texts to choose from, and endless ideas to explore. Here, I’ve broken down three texts which I loved and could visualise on film.

The following texts lend themselves to dramatic adaptation and can be filmed easily and safely at home during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

First, some tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Some of the best adaptations capture the theme of a text, rather than transferring a literary play-by-play to the screen.
  • Film is a new medium, with its own rules, challenges and advantages.
  • Identify the aspects which will be harder to portray on screen (inner dialogue, a particular literary style) and decide early how these challenges will be overcome.
  • What will make this text visually exciting? When adapting from fiction to film, look for moments which can be dramatized on screen – moments which capture the theme of the text and can be expanded and enriched.

Story #1: Well, then

Well, then explores the clash of idealistic, old-fashioned, corsets-and-carriages Romanticism with a modern-day, match.com gone wrong reality.

This idea doesn’t need petticoats – it needs soft romantic lighting with a record-scratching return to reality when Mr. Darcy finally opens his mouth and pronounces that he is freezing his balls off.

For a fresh adaptation, play with the setting and characters. It’s the moment of letdown – the great missed opportunity of romance – which needs to transfer to film to capture the heart of Well, then.

Read the full story here.

Story #2: Body Image

Body Image explores themes of disordered eating, with each of the two characters representing extremes – one who eats too much and one who eats too little.

A series of vignettes – short, sharp shots could show the “little digs” building up in Jen’s mind and create a narrative arc which justifies her actions.

The important thing is not to get hung up on the details. Don’t have a treadmill at home? Free weights or any exercise equipment would work just as well. A limp hand and the thud of a weight on the ground will still communicate what’s happened without explicitly saying.

Don’t sell your audience short – they’re smarter than you think.

Body Image is perfect for a COVID-era adaptation because it takes place between two characters within a contained home set. Ideally, housemates or sisters could try their hand at acting – so as not to involve a second household.

Read the full story here.

Story #3: Traces

Traces has enormous potential for short, sharp and deeply funny film. Sure, it’s about love, loss and moving on, but’s also about burying a toenail clipping in the yard.

This is one of those moments which can be expanded and dramatised. If the protagonist would go so far as to bury the toenail, would she change into black for the occasion and write a heartfelt eulogy? Play on the ridiculousness and melodrama of the moment – and get as much comedy out of it as you can.

Traces only has two characters, and can be filmed at home so it’s about as COVID-19-friendly as a film set can get. Because the protagonists lost love is being recalled in memory only, POV shots would work best – which also eliminates the need to have the actors in the same room at the same time.

Read the full story here.

Even if you’ve never picked up a camera or performed in front of one, isolation is the time to try new things and experiment. I hope these breakdowns inspire some fresh (and sanitary) adaptations of 2020’s Microlit texts – I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Entries close August 1st – so get filming!

Ashleigh Mounser has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since graduating in 2018, she has written and produced five short films. Mounser was Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year in 2012; the overall winner of the Future Leaders Writing Competition; winner of the ‘Time to Write’ contest by the University of Melbourne, and recipient of two arts grants from the Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, presented by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company. Her first feature comedy film, Questions and Comments was nominated for the Humanitas Prize by Thomas Musca, was shot in Miami and is due to be released in May 2020.

Taj’s Tips for Filmmaking in COVID-19

Hello to my filmmaking and screenwriting friends! With the Microflix submissions for writing in, who’s keen to dive into some new adaptations?!

For today’s blog instalment we’re going to be looking at a few of the Microlit submissions for this year’s upcoming Microflix festival with the theme of IMAGE and I’ll be running through a few possible ways they could be adapted. The three incredible texts we’ll be looking at are Fragment from a Western by Mark O’Flynn, Mona Lisa by Susan McCreery and Valencia by Banjo Weatherald. To get the most out of each text I’ll be identifying the key theme and the best visual moment, as well as where there’s potential to run into problems with budgeting and ways to overcome those. An important issue to think about this year is the current climate surrounding COVID-19 and how social distancing measures may affect filmmaking when working in teams. Most of the tips I’ve given below are tailored towards non-pandemic situations, but since I know you’ll want to get cracking right away I’ve also included some COVID-19 safe alternatives so you can keep creating while staying safe. 

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Fragment from a Western by Mark O’Flynn

Fragment from a Western explores the inner thoughts of both a failing horse and its rider after an exhausting police chase out in the dry and unforgiving Wild West. It’s the end of the line, and while one reflects on what life could have been the other curses his bad luck and his partner, forgetting all the times the horse came through for him. O’Flynn really captures different reactions to the realisation of time being up. 

Narrative theme: When the race finishes.

Best moment: The description of the horses ‘better life’.

Main budget problems: Horses, sheriff car and location.

Overcoming budget problems: Instead of picturing this played out in real life, think a bit smaller. Literally. You could use miniature plastic toy horses, cars and play house toys to set your scene, potentially using stop-motion animation techniques to ‘act out’ the story. Collect sand from a beach to use as the dust, or just use dirt, and a small grassy hill could become your horse’s lush paddock with ‘a gentle incline up which to gallop’. You still want it to feel authentic even with plastic figurines. This interpretation would require no actors! Only voiceovers if you decide to include dialogue and sound effects such as galloping, church bells, wasps buzzing and a horse’s sigh.

COVID-19 alternatives: In this scenario, as long as your team is separated (one person films the figurines on their own, files are sent to an editor who puts it together on their own, etc.), you’re good to go! If you do choose to use voice actors, however, try to use someone in your own home or send your actors a script via email and ask them to record their lines on their own. If you must get together because of equipment needs, remember to keep you distance (1.5 metres) and thoroughly sanitise all surfaces post interaction.

Mona Lisa by Susan McCreery 

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Mona Lisa captures two art lovers in a quarrel about one of the most talked about paintings in the world. It really highlights the subjectivity of art and that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ opinion to have, even with highly praised and widely acclaimed artworks.

Narrative theme: Tradition vs. change.

Best moment: The humour in the dialogue.

Main budget problem: Location. 

Overcoming budget problems:

Option 1 – You could recreate the space using a room, a wall, and a handful of people. Set the room in your re-imagining of the Louvre; think bright ‘art gallery’ lighting, high ceilings and large rooms with various sizes of paintings evenly spaced along walls. Cut between extreme close ups of the ‘crowd’, a tight shot of two actors with extras behind them taking photos, and shots of the Mona Lisa. Use printed versions of the artworks (you could use a home printer for these, the works that are in the background of shots won’t need to look like professional quality), but make sure you get the sizing of the Mona Lisa right.

Option 2 – If we’re thinking outside the box, this scene doesn’t need to be gallery based at all. Change the location to either a library setting with the characters in the aisles looking at art books, or the characters seated at a desk on their laptops and Graham is showing a photo of the Mona Lisa. In these two scenarios, focus more on the actors and their dialogue; really play with their relationship and reactions to each other’s opinions.

COVID-19 safe alternative: In both of these options, you will need at least 2 actors. In order to overcome social distancing hurdles, do not film the actors together, but instead film actor A from actor B’s perspective and vice versa during conversations. Make sure that the camera operator is keeping his/her distance too! Recreate the scene of a gallery or library in your own home, and instead of having extras to make a crowd, add in a background sound that mimics the hubbub of a crowd during the editing process.

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Valencia by Banjo Weatherald 

In Valencia we see a more lucid and fluid form of storytelling, with images drifting in an out attached to conflicting emotions. The narrator attaches a faded love to an orange tree, and in the blooming of the fruit he sees moments from their past, both sweet and haunted. Weatherald’s text is an exciting opportunity to play with depiction and movement between scenes, with the driving form of the story being how feelings reside in objects long after the person has left us.

Narrative theme: Going through the seasons and the same changing nature of relationships. Best moment: The description of oranges in each season.

Main budget problem: Orange tree.

Overcoming budget problems: Instead of finding a whole tree, use oranges that have already been picked. Take single shots of an orange differing in its ripeness, and contrast each stage of ripeness in the orange to the stage of the characters’ relationship. This contrast could be done through ‘flashback’ moments with actors or even as the story progresses; an orange in the early stages of ripeness in the grass by a picnic rug as two actors blissfully in love eat watermelon, then later yellow and almost ready to be picked cut open on a plate and discarded by a man in a purple scarf sitting alone with a cup of tea, and again a fruit bowl piled high with perfectly orange fruit maybe with the man making a dish from a few of them. He has to find a way to eat them all himself after all.

COVID-19 safe alternative: Here, you can get away with using mainly one actor, and if you choose to include a second for flashback scenes film them from the perspective of the main character. REMEMBER! Keep your distances and sanitise regularly. Another completely different way to approach this would be to use animation in place of actors. This way, multiple team members could work cohesively by sending files back and forth via email, googledoc or any other preferred file sharing method.

These are just some of the many ways each of these texts could be translated onto the screen, and I hope they inspired some fresh interpretations for your 2020 Microflix submission! You can find all of the details on the do’s and do not’s here (link: http://microflixfestival.com.au/microflix-entry-regulations/), and most importantly remember that the deadline is midnight August 1st. So get your creative cap on and peruse our selections of Microlit (link: http://microflixfestival.com.au/2020-microflix-image-texts-excerpts/selected-2020-microflix-microlit-texts-image/) for this year. Good luck! From Taj Luksic