I was originally going to adapt “The Ice Palace,” but after reading The Martian Chronicles, I decided it would be better suited to the mini-series treatment than the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Because I have limited time to execute this proposal, I won’t be writing an entire mini-series. I chose to adapt a single story, and I knew immediately that “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” was the perfect one to adapt. So cinematic! The perfect length!
I figured the best strategy for me would be to take a stab at adapting it straight through before doing the field research this time. (There was already a different mini-series, only three episodes long, in the 80s, and I didn’t want to be too influenced too much by it.) So I sat down with the story and wrote it down, essentially word for word, just to get the gist on paper. I made the necessary accommodations to get it from page to (screen)page, but I otherwise left it pretty untouched. I tried to include as much of the original detail as I could, though I did limit how much I allowed characters to vocalize their inner thoughts. Part of the beauty of film, I guess, is that the actors have to do some of the work to communicate those things. So yes, it did feel like plagiarizing. It’s just a draft. Please don’t ex-comm me! I wanted to stay entirely true to the spirit of not just the story and the characters but also of the writing, before putting my novice spin on the words and world of Ray Bradbury.
But a direct adaptation obviously presents some problems. The story was written to be read, not performed. The moments when the captain talks to himself would be hard for an actor to pull off. (Even if that actor is Michael Shannon, like it is in my head.) Spender’s speeches are loooong and not all that subtle. The pacing needs work, and it would benefit from explicit act breaks. The chorus of men is flat and useless. There are three characters and one gets shot pretty early. I’ll want to beef up some of the background characters. This will make the procedural stuff more interesting, and it will solve for the problem that these men don’t seem to know each other all that well even though they traveled to Mars together. There were also things that I hand-waved the way Bradbury did in the stage directions (e.g. “The men split into groups.”). I don’t necessarily think I’ll stage all of these micro-moments, but I still need to go back and investigate.
The major challenge will be finding the balance of letting Spender and the Captain voice their ideologies vs. represent them. Audiences are usually more alert than readers, and it could feel melodramatic to have the two men say everything out loud that they say on paper. I think a lot of their conflict can be and is implied. I’ll play around with it.
In terms of the structure of my entire series proposal (as opposed to just the one episode adaptation), I think each episode would be two different stories. I’ll lay out more details about the series in the proposal!
So I went back in and put in all of Captain Wilder’s thoughts as mumblings to himself. I’ve added back in parts I left out and tidied some of the speechifying. In my final draft I’m going to bulk up the background men like I said I would in the first update. I just spent too much time playing around with having the captain talk to someone else or talk in voiceover, but every conceit felt cheap and was too Film-y for a pretty gritty (or, sooty? dusty? sandy?) story. Better to have him mumbling to himself. Yes, I agree that his mumblings can’t be quite as ~literary~ as his thoughts are in the story, but I’ll write them to serve the same person. It’s situations like these that prove—Hey, see? Direct adaptation is not always the way to go.
I’ve also been doing more on the paper part (rather than the performance). It’s an exciting time for Ray Bradbury adaptations with a new Fahrenheit 451 coming out on HBO in May (with Michael Shannon, no less! What a weird coincidence!). I’m getting a little burnt out on tinkering with this script on the sentence/word-level and I’m looking forward to writing about some more of the macro details.
So the updated checklist for me right now is this: 1) Cut down on some of the overly literary elements, 2) beef up the roles of the background players, make it more of an ensemble, 3) maybe fill in some more world building details? I might also include some specific shots that I’m envisioning even though that is not standard practice for screenwriters. Whatever, in the world of Performing American Literature, I’ve decided I’m the writer-director, and I get to frame the shots if I want to. Ha. Plus, right, 4) write the 10 page paper on the expanded version of the project, tied to my field research and literary analysis. Cool. Will do.
Okay so I just finished a final draft that I’m happy with. The workshop was super helpful. Though I didn’t take all of the ideas, even the ones I didn’t take helped me solidify my thoughts on the way the episode would work within the series and how I wanted to build the world.
There’s another version of this episode that has a lot of heavy worldbuilding and some more of the sweeping, establishing shots, but that’s the Stand-Alone Assignment version of the episode. I think someone suggested that when Hathaway first comes to camp I write in some shots of the dead cities, but in my ideal world, the audience would have that context from the first couple episodes. I didn’t want breathing room, and I think sweeping cut-aways divorces us from Spender’s perspective, which is what we need for this episode. This episode feels like an early climax in the series, and I wanted it to be a super tight focus on characters rather than the world. I’ll write about this more in my final reflection paper, but the first couple episodes would spend much more time creating both the Martian world and establishing the Earth missions. They establish the time period—2001 as envisioned in the 50s.
Even with the highly specific, sci-fi time period, I wanted to soften some of the language a little bit. Some of it felt a little too dated to keep in. This involved changing mostly syntax and cutting verbally awkward lines like “Getting a meteor in our bulkhead or having one of us die.” If I couldn’t picture Michael Shannon saying it, I cut it.
Another thing that came up in the workshop was that there should be more emphasis on the parallels between Native Americans and the Martians, but I didn’t want Cheroke to have to come in with a “Chicken pox you say??” line just to try to remind the audience. I think, just like Bradbury, we have to respect the audience enough to believe they’ll understand. I ended up adding something to the exchange between Spender and Cheroke when Spender kills him, so it’s a little bit more explicit without undercutting the subtlety of the initial revelation. I also (based on the workshop) foreshadowed the captain’s transition a little more. I tried to show that had his doubts and discomforts from the beginning in his talk with Hathaway.
It’s still an extremely faithful adaptation (which we also discussed a little bit in the workshop), and I’m not exactly sure how to feel about it. When is adaptation just stealing? I’m really proud of the episode, but it feels like I transcribed it more than I wrote anything all that original. Though I wrote the stage direction, I didn’t write 90% of the dialogue. I’ll explore this more in the final paper, but I am really happy with the episode!