Four book readings so far, and so far four times: What's the difference between writing screenplays and writing novels?
Very little, in terms of the doing. I sit in front the computer screen, desperately hoping something I'm writing will require internet research that can kill the rest of the day. There are differences in the form, of course, but these are fairly obvious and I'm saving them for "The 12 Top Secrets of Writing Hit Comedies," the book and Learning Annex course I'm planning once I can't find work anymore.
The real difference is after it's written. You may have heard the old joke:
Q. Did you hear about the Ethnicity-Reputed-to-Have-Low-Intelligence Actress?
A. She slept with the writer.
It's not really a joke.
One story: I wrote a screenplay that later became associated with a film called Duplex, starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore. The script was developed for a year or so with the two stars and the original director, who left six weeks before shooting. Danny DeVito was brought in to replace him. I had one very pleasant conversation with Danny at his very nice house, and then I never talked to him again. I was invited to the set by one producer, and then called back and told that, while I had a contractual right to visit the set, Mr. DeVito didn't want me there. He didn't acknowledge me at the press junket (where the junket reporters were also none too happy at having to talk to the writer instead of cute Drew or hunky Ben or fat Danny). I only glanced him at the premiere, because he was sitting so many rows in front of me.
I should add here that Ben and Drew and their producers Stuart Cornfeld and Nancy Juvonen were mostly delightful to deal with, as was the original director Greg Mottola (who has the surefire smash Superbad coming out in August). But Mr. DeVito's attitude about writers is pretty pervasive: once the script is written, it would ideal if the writer could just turn into a large pizza and a six pack (to steal another old joke).
Another story: I wrote a book for the Ecco Press, which I'm sure is available for purchase somewhere on this page. After handing in the manuscript, I received a long, thoughtful letter from my editor, Lee Boudreaux, describing what she liked and what I could improve. This sentence at the end caught my eye.
"I really don't think you're going to have much trouble with any of my comments but, I hope it goes without saying, it's your book and these are your choices."
You couldn't get that sentence out of a movie executive or director with electrical cables.
And one other thing: Duplex was an original idea, set in the apartment my wife and I then lived, with two main characters in part based on the two of us, and Mrs. Connelly talking a lot like my mom. It's more directly autobiographical than I Love You, Beth Cooper.
Here's the cover of the novel, and the DVD box:
Can you spot the difference?