Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On adapting... and adaptations. And screenwriting.

Adaptation. It's a philosophy I try to live by. Adapt to things. Find solutions.

I recently adapted Patriot-1 for the screen.

I shouldn't say recently, I've been working on it for years, and really intensely over the past year and a half or so. It's a very meta experience, honestly, to adapt your own work.

So why did I do it? Simple, because I truly believe that Patriot-1 is a marketable property that could do well at the box office and beyond. Really.

I'm also really possessive of the character and world I've created, so if anyone was going to ever do it, I wanted to make sure I was going to be the first.

Now first and foremost, I'm trained as a screenwriter. My bachelor's degree from Ithaca College is in Cinema & Photography with a Screenwriting Concentration. Mind you, that was nearly 10 years ago, but I still write cinematically in all my scripts, whether comics or not. My two main screenwriting professors, my advisor Professor Elisabeth Nonas and Ithaca's resident Los Angeles screenwriting guru Steve Ginsberg, both had a profound effect on my love of storytelling. I've also been told by a couple of artists that my writing is "cinematic," so I guess that's some credibility to the argument.

I've written about a dozen screenplays, many more treatments and jotted down even more ideas. Some of the screenplays are being molded into comic form, some aren't that great and some are just for me. But Patriot-1 is my signature character, and one I feel has a great deal of marketability in various mediums.

I also don't work in Hollywood. I live in Connecticut in the New York City Metro area and I work for an entertainment company doing mostly digital content. That's my own choice, I spent some him in LA during college, I didn't go back for a myriad of reasons, mostly because those just weren't the cards dealt. That doesn't mean the goal changed - it never changed - I just don't think I'd be the writer and creator I am today had I taken a different path. It's possible, but I’ve long said that I felt I needed to do things “my way.”

In 2008, I was two years out of college and I was doing reviews for a comic book website. There was an issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" that I reviewed and it really struck a chord with me. I reached out to the issue's writer - Marc Guggenheim - to tell him how much I enjoyed the issue and asked him for advice. What he told me was simple... "break the rules" and to have “innate understanding of my own story.” This wisdom is what REALLY made me want to focus on Patriot-1... it was the story I needed and wanted to tell.

So with the book completed, my focus now -  at the very least- is that I'm really determined to at least try and get a Patriot-1 movie made. I know who I'd cast in the lead male and female roles and everything!

Anyways, the real reason I wanted to write this is simple: I wanted to talk about the experience of adapting my own book. It was a very interesting experience that I feel made me both a better comic writer and screen writer.

The current version of the script, and the one I am legitimately "shopping" is the fifth or sixth draft. I do feel it's the strongest version, but of course, I could be wrong.

To preface briefly, I initially came up with the Patriot-1 concept in 2007. It was an amalgamation of some previous concepts and characters, yet I finally had the mold I wanted. He was meant to be both a modern, powerless, "real-world" hero and a throwback to the olden days of patriotic heroes. But I didn't want him to be a chest-beating jingoist. In fact, I didn't want that at all. I wanted a character that was stalwart in what he believed in and doing the right thing, the purest form of American ideals not muddied by politics or what not... a Captain America for today's world.

After having the artwork completed, I ran a successful Kickstarter to raise money to print the book and I finally published Patriot-1 in 2014 and 2015 (there were two editions). It was picked up by Diamond Distibutors, won a bronze IPPY Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel - Drama/Documentary, I'm working on expanding into larger retail stores like Barnes & Noble and overall, I'm really happy with how the book turned out.

I am currently working on the sequel, hoping to have the script finished this summer and (hopefully) production to start right away. This is where things get interesting.

The original draft of Patriot-1 the book was called "U.S.Avenger." It featured a very colorful cast of characters and it was a little bit over-the-top. When I made the decision to do the story as a self-contained graphic novel as opposed to a serialized monthly, it became a much more mature and I think better.

The graphic novel was released, response was positive, it's still out there and readily available. Before I started the real work on the sequel I took roughly a year and moved to the next step - the screenplay.

Some of the best advice I ever received was from Marvel's Craig Kyle. I've said it tons of times before, but I'll never forget sitting in Marvel's old office and Craig breaking down his philosophy about storytelling. "It doesn't matter how you tell the story - comics, TV, movies, video games - what matters is the quality of the story." That bit of advice always stuck with me.

Considering the response, the IPPY Award and many other accolades I received for the book, I directly adapted the book. I've adapted stuff before, I  have a Superman "treatment" of sorts on this blog, I adapted Green Lantern in college and I'm always coming up with adaptation ideas for my favorite comic characters. My philosophy for those characters is something I learned as an intern at Marvel Studios (before it was the powerhouse it is today) - take the best elements of those characters, the strongest storylines and make a product where story and character come first.

Of course, at first I didn't follow my own advice. With such a positive response to the book, I made the first draft of the 2015 version of the Patriot-1 screenplay a bloated direct adaptation. It was both a mistake (and I totally knew it) and it was also the best thing I did. Rule of thumb and one of the first things you learn about screenwriting is that the cardinal rule is a screenplay should NEVER be more than 120 pages, especially for a spec script - and even 120 is pushing it.

I put the first draft on The Black List as opposed to looking for traditional notes because the feedback provided by The Black List not only was critical of the script itself but also provided insight into a script's marketability.

The initial feedback wasn't great from a critical standpoint - again, this screenplay was FAR too long and WAY over 120 pages, though from a content and "ability" perspective there was solid material.

Knowing it was far too long I started cutting. When adapting comics, you can't really go direct panel to screen, it just doesn't always work. There are also moments in the book that work very well for the book, but they just wouldn't work on the screen. With that in mind, I cut down significantly to 120 pages and put it on The Black List again.

This time I received much better feedback on the pacing, the action and the tighter writing. But this is when new notes started to pour in focused on the characters. They needed more development. I completely agreed. In the comic, I could get away with not focusing a lot on backstories for each character because the action and the protagonist's actions moved the plot along. That and the fact that I have extensive character files for just about every character that plays a major role in the book. I can't get away with that in a screenplay.

There are relationships and character points in the book that are implied and can be ascertained through the reading and the artwork. But some of these relationships needed stronger development for screen. Some motivations needed a extra kick.

I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture, looked at the history and developed world for each character and new elements came into play. Motivations changed, relationships were altered and I did away with some cliched tropes of the action genre and added a few twists and morally ambiguous plot points. The core of each character remained and ultimately after two more drafts, I ended at 118 pages that I am really happy with.

The most intriguing aspect of this endeavor was the way that the screenplay has now heavily influenced the comic sequel. There are some new character beats, backstory elements, plot points and twists that I wish I had incorporated into the book. On the same token though, there are things I cut out of the screenplay from the book that I wish could be left in. Some of these decision, alluded to in the book but fleshed out in the screenplay, are directly influencing the sequel.

It's also really neat to see my own progression as a writer, transitioning between comic writer and screenwriter on a whim and the decisions that need to be made in order to tell the story in the best possible way for each respective medium.

And honestly? I think it's really good. I think it's strong enough that I submitted it to a reputable screenwriting competition, I truly believe that with the right eyes on it, it could be green-lit and pushed forward.

No matter how the competition goes, I'm going to keep pushing this screenplay and property because I really believe in it.

My biggest takeaway from adapting my own graphic novel into screenplay form has been that it was one of the single greatest exercises I've ever undertaken as a writer. I think I came out a better writer with new ways to explore my story and characters. I really believe my future comics and screenplays will greatly benefit from doing this and I hope the overall success of Patriot-1 presses onward and upward.

Oh, and most importantly... never, ever give up.

You can grab a copy of Patriot-1 on Amazon or my online store.
You can also read Patriot-1 in webcomic form at 

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