How to Adapt A Short Story Into a Feature Film – InFocus Film School

Written by Felicity Flesher
How to Adapt A Short Story Into a Feature Film

Adaptations have become a vanguard in cinema. Feature films nowadays are based on all kinds of intellectual property including video games, comedian books and literature. Writing an adaptation is a great way to get your foot in the door, and hone your craft. Some of the greatest movies of all time originated as short stories, such as The Birds, Brokeback Mountain, and Memento. But how does a writer take a curtly narrative theme and adapt it into sport screenplay ?

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take lots of short stories. Pick something that excites you, haunts you, or you can ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate stop thinking about, one that you connect with personally and you think you can put unique spin on. Is there a floor that makes you think, “ Why international relations and security network ’ metric ton this a movie ? ” That ’ s credibly a good sign that it lends itself well to a screen adaptation .


You must constantly have the writer ’ s license to adapt their narrative. It would be ideal to do your research or find an adept in copyright law. If you are the original generator, go on your gay way ! many great screenplay adaptations were written by the original author, including The Godfather, Gone Girl, and The Perks of Being A Wallflower .
And don ’ t forget, there are hundreds of books in the public sphere. Meaning you can adapt them however you wish without anyone ’ second permission ! Adapting a public domain floor is a bang-up way to exercise your writing skills and recreative imagination .


It is a elementary fact that some elements of the narrative will have to change in order to make the alternate to riddle. By disconnecting from the original text, the screenwriter frees themselves of the obligation to maintain every detail. Examine the story close and find what sparks you about it and take off from there .
The best screenplays have a detail of opinion, so take the history and don ’ metric ton be afraid to make it your own. many writers are merely inspired by the concept of a piece and invent their own characters and plot points. For exemplar, when adapting Joseph Conrad ’ second Heart of Darkness, John Milieus and Francis Ford Coppola changed the adjust from Africa to Vietnam. They besides changed many aspects of the characters and created completely new scenes while still maintaining Conrad ’ s doctrine from the novelette. This film became Apocalypse Now.

apocalypse now

Where to begin with the report ? Start by breaking it down into scenes. What happens in each fit, who is in it, where is it rig, and what does it accomplish narratively ? Look at whether the scene is necessary to the fib you are telling and the themes you want to explore. You may find that many scenes or even aim quotes are arrant for your screenplay. If not, eliminate them or figure out way to change and rearrange them to better suit your script. Some of the most successful adaptations completely changed endings from the master fib, possibly making for a delightful surprise for fans of the history. Keep in judgment that even the best writers have to kill their darlings .


Audiences will not be reading text as the film goes. It is a ocular average in a room that prose is not. The writer needs to take sealed liberties to enliven all the senses and to meet production needs. think of it as translating the history from one medium to another. In some cases, there may not be an demand translation. You may need to come up with a solution to get the same message across .

If the short story has a first-person narrative, consider how to express that in the film. The writer may find that a voiceover narration that fits the tone of the film. They may take a different set about and translate that to dialogue or find other ways to work that perspective in a scene. Try to externalize internal thoughts into military action. As goes the age-old maxim, “ show wear ’ metric ton tell. ” That will make for compelling cinema preferably than basically rewriting the fib into audiobook kind .

high noon clocks

In High Noon ( 1952, ) adapted from John W. Cunningham ’ s “ The Tin Star, ” you can see a brilliant cinematic device created by screenwriter Carl Foreman – the misprint tick clock. The film is rife with shots of clocks counting down, something that is not actual in the short fib. These clocks, though absent from the book, build tension and set the pace for the film .

Think about how to evoke the fib ’ randomness characters and settings visually. Are there ways to bring them to life more than in the report ? Get detailed on what the characters are wearing, what kinds of sounds are surrounding them, what their apartment looks like. What are “ cool ” scenes that could happen in a movie interpretation of this history that couldn ’ t happen in the written adaptation ? This is the writer ’ s opportunity to build a populace .


One of the more daunt tasks in adapting a brusque report is spreading it over 90-120 minutes in real-time. The writer actually has to embed themselves in the story and fabricate new characters or scenes that jibe with the remainder of the narrative. This is besides the area in which the writer can get creative, taking off in directions that the original generator may not have contemplated .

One of the bang-up aspects of a light report is its ability to complete plot in a inadequate space. What do you think can make the report feel more unharmed ? A abruptly report often lone features a small group of characters, but your film is a complete world. Who and what else exist in it and how do they respond to the events taking put ? possibly they can give your supporter more conflicts to face .

In Minority Report from 2002, screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen expanded the backgrounds of the characters to mine more report from the Philip K. Dick original. Think about your story ’ randomness characters as real human beings with histories that may influence their actions in your adaptation. Look at them like the Tom Cruise character looks at his subjects in the film. He sees their snapshot then expands them into a larger timeline, sometimes requiring him to fill in gaps and replay events to get a better sense of who they are .

Taking any kind of story from page to blind may be a daunting job, but the opportunities for you to create are wide exposed. If you get stuck, you already have a guidebook to refer to .

For a more in-depth look at a case study on short narrative to feature adaptation, check out the book Brokeback Mountain : Story to Screenplay that includes the original report by Annie Proulx, the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, a well as all three writers ’ thoughts on the process.

Learn how to adapt a short report into a screenplay and more by applying to our Writing for Film and Television program

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