The new normal: How to adapt stories during COVID-19

Or Ashleigh’s Tips for Adapting Microlit – Part Two

By now we’re well into isolation and adjusting to the new normal – if normal is a parallel universe where I go on three walks a day and spend my nights learning embroidery. What time to be alive. 

Many people are finding isolation is a chance to sit back, reflect, and get creative. Here, I’ve curated three Microlit texts worth a read on a lonely iso night – and some ideas to get you thinking about how those small literary moments can make the transition to the screen. 

Story #1 Seen by Emily Ralph

Seen explores the momentary highs and lows of online dating.

It’s a timely topic – most people predict a certain level of satisfaction from their mindless scrolling – something called affective forecasting – but the majority of studies conclude that time spent on apps like Facebook and Tindr lead to a drop in mental health. The big moment of Seen which needs to transfer to film is the missed connection – when the interaction could become substantial and meaningful but doesn’t.

What makes Seen unique is the switching perspectives – the writer switches seamlessly from one character to another. This could be achieved on film by using the phone as a go-between – a portal of sorts into what’s happening at the other end of the conversation.

This filmset is an isolators dream come true. It’s essential to the story that the actors are never in the same room – which is so on trend for 2020.

Read the full story here.

For an example of a short film with a similar vibe, check out Nope by Brooke Hemphill

Story #2 – Makeup by Angela Blake

Makeup contrasts the soothing effect of a ritual with the confrontational and unpredictable outside world. The protagonist of Makeup is in control of everything – except how other people react to her.

To dramatize Makeup, the protagonist could verbalise what she’s doing – a kind of self-soothing make-up tutorial for one before she is yanked out of her cocoon.

Makeup is a great story to film in isolation – it could even be filmed by a jack-of-all trades. Depending on how many hats you can fit on your head, you could be actor, cinematographer, director and editor, with a brief cameo from an unseen voice at the end. After all, we need to hear the response to her when she steps outside, but we don’t need to see the aggressor. This isn’t their story.

Read the full story here.

Story #3 – Tuna by Lucy Fox

Tuna is almost funny – until you realise what’s going on. As the character moves through various incidences, past trauma is evoked. The story explores the way trauma can manifest, sometimes in ways as innocuous and unexpected as a tuna sandwich.

Tuna has a relatively simple narrative – putting it on film gives us the opportunity to expand and strengthen the story. There’s nothing dramatic about someone staring at a sandwich, thinking intently. Filmmakers must ask – how can we get inside this character’s head? How could the world around her be dramatized to reflect her internal conflict? Is her world loud? Grating? Visually overwhelming? How will the filmmaker transport us from one memory to another?

To make a film version of Tuna safely in the age of COVID-19, some of the settings need to be moved around – you’ll have more luck setting up a makeshift café or waiting room at home, than taking actors in public spaces to try and capture the perfect shot. Don’t underestimate the finishing touches to make your scene believable – lighting and background noises (Café Sounds on Spotify has been a real comfort to me this last month) can make all the difference.

Read the full story here.

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.