BBC scriptwriter’s lounge


So I managed to adapt KILLING TIME into a film screenplay and sent it off for some professional reviews. I was very happy with it myself, but have to acknowledge their concerns that it is too long. Only 2 hours and 17 minutes… about the same as a lot of films out theses days, but for a new writer it is frowned upon.

So… the task of cutting out another 17 pages (= 17 minutes). It doesn’t sound much does it? But I’ve already cut out the hero’s subplot love interest, which brought some lightness to the horror of murder. The lovely Samantha was strong and vulnerable at the same time. And when with her friend Libby, they were hilarious. No time for laughter in this horror.

I’ve had to leave lots of scenes dealing with the Ripper’s early years and his tormented mind that focus a little light on the darkness that surrounds him. How his father forced him to go hunting and skin rabbits. His love of Mary Kelly, his final victim, and his possible syphilis that drove him mad.

I’ve had to leave out another of the original Ripper’s victim’s – Katherine Eddowes – a voice lost in the past, and now on the cutting room floor. And I’ve had to give less of Mary Kelly’s viewpoint too.

All in all, it removes the humanity… concentrating more on the action – a true cinematic ploy to drive the narrative and keep the audience coming back for more. A shame though.

It’s perfectly illustrates why you might love a book, then get very disappointed by the film – only half of it is there! I had to cut KILLING TIME from 90,000 words to 30,000 words and it is still too long. It is very frustrating.

I have to admit though, done properly and it can enhance some of the points. Jason Ives love hate relationship with the beautiful but dangerous DCI Bjorkman is simplified – intensified even without Samantha in the background.

The action flies faster and the view is a lot more dramatic. Details only interesting to some are glossed over in favour of the key points to keep us engaged.

So… with my next book, I will be keeping some of these points in mind to try and strike a balance. A golden rule is: SHOW DON’T TELL. Well I shall endeavor to use my new script writing experience to do this even more… but keep the humanity. After all, we only care about the characters if we understand and empathise with them. It is only interesting if we want to go on the same journey with them, through thick and thin.

Image result for adapting a book to film

So now… I am adapting it again to a 6 part drama series. Why? Because the extra time in the extra episodes give the story space to breathe, and re-introduce all those elements I’ve had to cut out of the film.

This is why we are in a golden era of TV at the moment. With BBC I-player, Netflix, Sky, Amazon etc, all looking for that next great mini series to fill their air time and attract new viewers. 6, 8 or 10 parters are very popular.

It is a golden opportunity for new writers to try and explore this highly competitive art form. I must warn you though, it’s even harder than getting a publishing deal, and that’s near on impossible in this celeb obsessed world.

So I’m treating it as a learning experience at the moment – almost a hobby. That’s the secret I think, a balance between writing for the pleasure of it, but keeping in mind that it needs to have professional principles too.

Anyhow, that’s enough for now. Next time I’d like to chat about keeping true to history – Writing about Jack the Ripper meant dealing with real events and real people in a very emotive way. A process that tested my conscience against the need to make a story a good one.

Until next time….


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