Thursday, July 7, 2016

Story 142: From Stage to Screen

            “Thank you so much for meeting with me today,” the film producer said as he shook the hand of the writer of the music, lyrics, and book of the current smash hit play.  “Please, have a seat.”  He sat behind his desk as she sat across from him and next to her agent, who was trying not to grin from ear to ear with the knowledge of the major deal that he had landed.
            “Thank you for having me,” the writer said; she really did not know what the etiquette was in high-powered meetings such as these and was winging it.
            “Now,” the producer said, “you know this was inevitable: Struggling Lives, huge Broadway success, all the Tonys, constantly sold out with over-priced tickets, running for years, soundtrack went platinum, the works.  So of course Hollywood wants to turn it into a film.  Musicals are in vogue again, movie audiences are eating them up, and you’ll have the added bonus of a new soundtrack with the film cast that generates even more royalties.  You can only come out a winner in all this.”
            “So I gather.  It’s all very exciting.”
            “You bet it is.  Now, as I’m sure you’re well aware, film is a different medium from the stage, so with the screenplay there are going to have to be a few… revisions.  You know, to make everything flow better on screen.”
            “I realized that that probably would happen, yes.”
            “Good, so right off the bat, you know we’re going to have to cut three songs.”
            “The play’s run time is three hours and 15 minutes, which doesn’t include the intermission – no movie audience is going to sit through that, even if there were space battles every other scene.”
            “Why wouldn’t they?  It’d probably be the same people in the audience.”
            “Trust me on this: the average moviegoer is a mouth-breathing voyeur with the attention span of inert clay.  Studies have proven this, which is why we make the movies we do.”
            “Then how can they be the same people who are eating up musicals?”
          “That is what science calls a phenomenon.  Going back to the cuts: the songs that can be disposed of the easiest are ‘Another Soliloquy,’ ‘Reflections: Part 2,’ and ‘Running in Place Yet Again,’ due to the fact that they are absolute deadweight.”
            “Deadweight!  They are pivotal insights into the characters’ transformations!”
            “Not to be insensitive, but they are boring.  You put them up on screen, I can just hear the test audience yawning and twitching on the first one, shouting ‘Enough already!’ by the time the second one rolls around, and the third one would just kill whatever momentum was left and the entire theater would be empty.”
            “He has a point,” her agent chimed in.  “These only work on stage because the lead needs to change costumes and the audience needs a break from seeing her all the time.”
            “Silence, traitor!”
            “There’s another revision I want to talk to you about,” the producer cut in.  “I know the play is set in Italy, but since we want names in this we’re moving the action to Little Italy.”
            “Yeah, you know, star power and all that, plus budget cuts keeping us from a lot of location shooting.  Also, Chad got his passport revoked and he can’t leave the country for at least a decade.  Or is it for life?”
            “Chad who?”
            The agent chimed in again: “Oh, they got Chad Astro to play Enzo.  I love that guy, he can do anything!”
            “Chad… Astro,” the writer said through gritted teeth.  “To play Enzo!”
            “Yeah, isn’t that great?”  Her agent beamed.
            “He can’t sing!”
            “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of that,” the producer waved her off.  “It’s really not that hard.”
           “I have an entire stage cast who would disagree!  And what about the lead, Fiorenza?  I’m assuming you’re not going with any of the women who’ve played her so far?”
            “Nah, they’re too old.  We’re getting Holli Chipmunk.”
            “Oh, her voice isn’t too bad,” her agent said.  “My kids watch her TV show all the time.”
            “She’s off-key even with computer-generated enhancement!”
           “Yeah, but she’s perfect for the part,” the producer said.  “The kids love her, so there’s our 12-17 and 18-34 demographics.”
            “The character is 53 years old!”
            “…Says you.”
            “Says the entire plot!  That’s the whole point of Struggling Lives!  She’s old enough to have lived!”
           “Yeah, that brings us to another change: instead of the failing business that she’s trying to keep afloat with her friends and her children, the movie’s going to show her getting ready for college and trying to find a boyfriend.”
            The writer began banging her head on the desk.
           “Now, now,” her agent tried to calm her, “think of the whole new audience who’ll be able to see your work now at much cheaper prices!”
         She stood in despair.  “But it isn’t my work anymore!  It’s been corrupted – tainted – destroyed!”
            “Hardly,” the producer said, unfazed.  “This is standard operating procedure when it comes to movie musicals.”
            “I obviously can’t stop you from going forward with this monstrosity,” the writer said as she exited stage left, “but know this: I refuse to have my name on any promotional material, and whatever royalties are due to me still better end up in my checking account!”
            “That’s your prerogative,” the producer shrugged as he began to make a random phone call to show that he, in fact, was the one who was ending the meeting.  The writer swept out the door as her agent ran after her to make sure that he was not fired.
            One year later, Struggling Co-Eds debuted in and departed from movie theaters within a week.  The writer continued to benefit from goodwill generated by the beloved Broadway show and simultaneously workshopped her next piece, Trials in Selloutsville.

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