Writer-in-residence knows challenges of changing stories into screenplays



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

Turning the pages of a printed text into a film can cause discrepancies for readers. It usually leads to discussions about casting, missing plot pieces and visual choices.

Jim Daniels, writer-in-residence for Week Five, deals with the challenges of evolving his own characters from the script to screen, which he will talk about during his Brown Bag lecture, “Adaptation: From Story to Film,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the Alumni Hall porch.

“I thought it might be interesting for people to hear about that process from a writer’s point of view,” Daniels said. “I’m going to provide examples of some scenes from a story and talk about how they were transformed into script form.”

Daniels, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, has published 13 books of poems and turned several into screenplays, so he knows the challenges of adapting text to film.

Whenever he writes short stories, he goes into a character’s head. Often, it is just the narrator and Daniels telling the story, which means readers know exactly what characters are thinking and feeling.

“In movies, you can’t do that,” Daniels said. “You can’t have thought bubbles, like you do in cartoons, so everything has to be externalized in one way or another — a collaborative process comes in.”

Because Daniels has taught at the Writers’ Center many times during the past two decades, he knows many people who attend the lectures and tries to offer new ideas on different topics.

In 2006, he and director John Rice presented “Dumpster,” an award-winning film Daniels wrote, in Smith Wilkes Hall. “Dumpster” is not based on a previous short story, but two of Daniels’ other films —“Mr. Pleasant” and “Triggerman” — are.

Daniels will mainly discuss his experience in turning his own writing into screenplays, answering an important question: “How can I bring that out on the screen through dialogue and through visuals?”

“He has seen his fiction translated from the page to the screen,” said Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center. “He can intimately address how one form of storytelling informs and transforms the other.”

Daniels said he thinks it will be interesting for Chautauquans to understand, from a writer’s perspective, how the decisions are made to turn writing into a screenplay and film.

“They’re both art forms — filmmaking and fiction writing,” Daniels said. “When you take the same material and try and transform it into another medium, there’s a kind of translation it involves. I’m hoping people will be curious at to what that involves.”