Nancy: First of all, how do you know if a story idea has potential as a screenplay?
DM: Screenwriting is really a form of visual storytelling. When I start working on a project, one of the first things I do is determine what form suits the story the best. When a strong visual component is there, that’s a big indicator that the story needs to be told on a screen instead of on a stage or page.
Nancy: Some film or series productions are based on novels, while others are developed directly for the screen. Either way, there has to be a screenplay. What are the main differences between a book and a screenplay, other than length?
DM: There are many differences between books and screenplays, all of which can make the adaptation process difficult. In most cases, when audiences reject a film version of their favorite book, it’s related to the screenwriter's difficulties adapting from one form to another. Novels and screenplays are written so differently that they’re not always compatible when it comes to adaptation. One of the biggest challenges is adapting a novel written in first-person narrative into a cinematic story. In a book, we have insight into the character's internal thoughts and emotions, but translating that onto the screen can be tough.
Nancy: When would it make sense to start with the screenplay instead of a book?
DM: I recommend writing any story in multiple forms and then deciding, as the writer, which form is the strongest choice. Some stories will only work in one form, so the decision is made for you. I often know immediately that a story is a screenplay when I visualize the story more than I hear it.