This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 432 – Adapting a Novel into a Screenplay .
Welcome to Episode 432 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer and director and oftentimes producer Keoni Waxman, he just wrote and directed a new feature film called The Ravine. It’s about a murder-suicide and was based on a true story. And then it was turned into a book by two people that were involved with the case. And then Keoni ended up adapting that book into a screenplay. So, we talked quite a bit about that process, the art of adapting novels into screenplays. So, if that’s something you’re interested in this interview is definitely for you. So, stay tuned for that.
SYS’s a six-figure screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Our regular deadline is May 31st, so it’s coming up. If your script is ready, definitely submit now to save some money. We’re looking for the best low-budget shorts and features. I’m defining low-budgets as less than six-figures. In other words, less than 1 million US dollars. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds, we’re giving away 1000s in cash and prizes. This year, we have a short film category, 30 pages or less. So, if you have a low budget short script, by all means, submit that as well. I’ve got a number of industry judges who are producers and are looking for short scripts. Once again, if you want to submit or learn more about the contest, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mentioned in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast. And then just look for episode number 432. If you want my free guide How to Sell a screenplay in five weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address, and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons, I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter, how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material, really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, a quick few words about what I’m working on. Mainly, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently, just trying to understand crypto and the NFT landscape and how it actually could work for filmmakers. I’ve got a couple of interviews I’m working on lining up, there definitely seems to be sort of a movement with the NFT’s and the crypto to try and raise money for a film. Obviously, with my film, The Rideshare Killer is already done so I’m trying to come up with something that I can offer as NFT’s now that the film is done. So that’s really what I’ve been kind of thinking about. And as I said, I haven’t really found a lot of filmmakers that are that into it. I do think that in the future and over the next decade, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities with crypto and NFT’s in the filmmaking landscape, but really in almost every industry, but certainly in the filmmaking landscape. So, I’ve come up with an NFT project that I am going to do for The Rideshare Killer. So, I’m working on getting that ready, might be another month before I can officially start trying to sell these NFT’s for The Rideshare Killer. But I sort of figured out what I want to do. And now I just need to execute on what I’ve come up with. So, stay tuned for that, it’s going to be a pretty big project. So, it’s just going to take me quite a while to kind of get everything up and running. We’re still waiting for our first payment from Indie writes on The Rideshare Killer. So that’s exciting. We really didn’t start till, I think it was pretty late into January. So, we haven’t even had a full quarter here. But we’re just excited to see how much we’re going to get off this first quarter, we really have no idea what it’s going to look like. I think the first quarter will hopefully be something but usually these things start slowly. And then that second, third, fourth quarter, hopefully, some revenue will start to come in. So, we’re definitely looking for that. If you haven’t checked out the film, The Rideshare Killer, you can watch it for free on Tubi.TV, I mentioned that before. They do show ads every 15 minutes or so. And that’s how the filmmakers, we, actually make money is by these ads that they tie to the film. It’s just like watching regular television, you’re going to watch the movie and then they’re going to put in some ads that hopefully some opportune places. Also, to trying to track my own films and figure out where they are playing, I discovered this website just watch.com, you can search for a movie on it and it will tell you exactly where it’s playing among all the streaming platforms. So that’s just a handy tool for any film, any film you’re thinking of watching and you’re wondering, I know I run into this all the time, there’s a movie I want to watch I mean, I have all of these services, Netflix and Hulu. Between me and my kids and my wife, we’re paying for all of these things. I don’t even know some of the ones we have. I think my wife even has peacocks. She watches soccer. So, we have all these things, but you can never tell what is playing where. So, this website seems very, very handy. Again, it’s just justwatch.com. And you can just type in a movie, and it seems pretty accurate. So far, the movies I’ve checked, it’s like, oh, yeah, that actually is accurate. And so, if there’s a movie you want to watch, not just The Rideshare Killer, or my other film that pinches on there as well. But not just those films are not just obscure films. But any film you’re thinking about watching, you can go and just put in justwatch.com and it will tell you where it’s playing, whether that be streaming the TVOD, the SVOD or the AVOD, it will tell you where you can potentially watch that. So hopefully that’s a good tip. So those are the things that I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer and director Keoni Waxman here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Keoni, to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Keoni: Great. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background where you grow up, and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Keoni: The short of the very long story is, I was born and raised in Hawaii, I grew up out there. And then I went to film school in Boulder, Colorado years ago. You know, there wasn’t much of a film school at the time. But there was definitely a film department a lot of avant-garde filmmakers there, a lot of documentary filmmakers. And so let us just kind of be hands on. And so going up from film school out there and going to the camera department, I started working on movies while I was in school. And then I started of course making money on shorts and writing. And I ended up dropping out, believe it or not, and did my first film in Colorado, in Denver, years ago and just sort of moved out to LA and just kept going.
Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So, let’s just talk about that first film a little bit. How did you bring that together? How did you raise the money and get that off the ground?
Keoni: Well, what happened is that again, I was you know, like I said, I was working in the film industry there just while I was going to school as a cameraman, and camera assistant. And I ended up working on whatever films came into Denver. At the time, Perry Mason was the only series there, there’s a small community, but everyone’s milestone would roll through. And so, I would work as an assistant cameraman on that. And the one of the companies I was working for at the time, they saw one of my short films and asked me if I would help them adapt to film, write a script and nothing worked with it. Then I had written something on my own, and they picked it up and said they produce it. And then again, you know, as things go in the industry, Michael Madsen, who had just made this little film that nobody’s seen yet called Brush Work Hawks saw my script, and said he wanted to play it. It was a film about independent Denver, there’s a big jazz community. And so, it was about a tenor sax player sort of loosely based on the life of Chet Baker. And Michael had just played, you know, a killer, Mr. Blonde, and he said, I want to play something different. And so, he came up to out to Denver, and we ended up doing that film there. And from there, I moved out to LA and got an agent.
Ashley: Yeah, gotcha. So, let’s talk about that transition, just real quickly. And then we’ll get into your latest film The Ravine, talking about that transition moving into LA, what were some of the first things you did professionally? You’d made enough contacts? Were you writing a bunch of scripts? Do you have a bunch of scripts, maybe just talk about that, getting to LA, getting settled and getting some of those first paid gigs?
Keoni: You know, it’s always about writing, you know, it’s all about having the script. I always tell everybody that the script is your currency. You know, whether you’re a producer, a director, a writer, all three or just one of them. The script is your currency, because that’s what people initially buy, right? They initially want to see that film made into something. And if you have something interesting, that has a voice, that’s what they’re going to look for. To answer your second question, the hardest film to make is your second movie. Your first film, a lot of people can make the first film and I understand that this stage it’s a lot easier because you’re not shooting on film. I mean, literally, you know, you don’t have to write cameras and crew and this or that you could shoot it on your iPhone, and people will love it if it’s a good script, and a good story. So, for me, a lot of it just became writing, writing, writing, and you just keep writing and you just keep going. And hopefully somebody is going to see or read something that you have. And whether it’s an agent, a manager, or producer, or even someone who just says yeah, that’s really cool. I have a friend who, and you know, every day you write an everyday, you know, the next day, if it’s all crap, you throw it away, and you write again, but you know, you just keep writing and producing and you have a screenplay. And so, it’s just a lot of coming up with new ideas and really sort of being influenced by what you’re seeing around you.
Ashley: Yeah. So, let’s dig into your latest film The Ravine, maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Keoni: Okay, well, first, it’s The Ravine not the Raven. And I say this because it’s about yet but it’s about a designated location. So do you want to just wanted to clarify, when I talk about it, because we’re just going to talk about it. You’re going to understand it that the idea of it is I adapted from the book, and the book was a novel based on real incidents and real incident was a murder suicide that sort of unraveled because the they found a car at the bottom of a ravine at the bottom of the ravine, and there’s a body in the shot by a shotgun and the car was over the edge. And they actually never would have found it except some people, they almost hit a deer swarm on the side of the road and looked over the edge and saw this car out. And then unraveled into this whole real story of a murder suicide. And I was brought to it because it happened to is a real story that happened to the writers of the novel, and eventual financiers of the film, the executive producers of the movie, because it happened to them, it was their best friends. And so, they had tried to struggle through the idea of how do you immunize form this part? So how do you go on living when, you know, it isn’t so much of the trauma that happened? It’s the questions, right, and the guilt and the correct stuff. And why did they do it? And should I’ve seen it that I should have known, and it really almost, so they wrote a book. And when I got the book, it was full of really the journey. But what a great sort of inciting incident and as a writer, you go, that’s a great instinct that you can then you know, I can dramatize, and I can come up with 1,000,001 ways and reasons why someone would want to find this visually interesting. But then, you know, if I started working with them and talking to them, and we started, you know, we shot in New Orleans before, and moving the film to New Orleans, where you have, I don’t want to say any open spirituality, but you have the city itself is rich and deep and storied with all sorts of different kinds of spirituality. And just various ideas of what makes the world go around from music, to culture, to even just the feeling like you’re in the Caribbean when you’re not, you know, so the idea is that, you know, you we put it there in order to imbue the film and the material with something that was a little more universal, and maybe a little bit more on the thriller aspect. So, for me, the whole thing is I was brought a book that resonated with me, and I thought I could make this into a movie that resonates with others.
Ashley: How did you find that book, originally?
Keoni: Well, okay, so I do a lot of action movies, and the company that I work with, a producer that I worked with, were constantly doing, and looking for movies to shoot that are very different. But Phillip Goldfine the producer I work with, he was given this book by, you know, a friend of a friend gave it to him. And he read it and said, you know, let me give it to me, and if the if he likes it, and that really snowballed into all of us, sort of not just understanding, you know, and really kind of vibing together, but really understanding what the intent was of it. And you know, going from a very plot-driven, genre-driven material versus what an action movie is, which I love. And going into something that was more of an exploration of the character, surrounded and wrapped in a thriller, I thought, okay, this could be really cool. So, it was brought to me and it just snowballed from there.
Ashley: Gotcha. And maybe you can give us some tips. It sounds like you’ve done adaptations before. But maybe you can give us some tips for writing a screenplay based on a book. Are there any things that you ran into that maybe some things you learned, or just some things that you had to overcome while doing it?
Keoni: Well, absolutely, I mean, first and foremost, and this isn’t a big secret, you know, books are in Chapter form, which is closer to television, and episodic than it is to a narrative 3x structure, you’re talking about, you know, if you walk into an hour-long TV show, you have five laps, which was five chapters, which is much easier than that, because you fade out of the commercial, which we don’t have anymore. But you fade out, you come back and you go, God, did you see that tsunami that just came in, you never have to depict what happened, you just pick up with the drama Excellent. In a movie, you don’t do that, right? In a movie, you follow it. So that’s always the first sort of hurdle is going, where do you ellipse time? Where do you ellipse action? Where do you ellipse dramatic import in 90 minutes, you generally don’t write, generally, you have to roll with it. And then the second aspect, when you’re adapting is you look at the chapters and you go well, you know, in a literary form, you can come from different point of views, you can come from different time, you can come from all over. And now, you know, you’re looking at movies now, with such a complex, and I want to say contemporary structure, you know, we jump around a ton a lot now, because people think that way, because, you know, I can sit on my computer and have my iPhone, you know, going and four different screens open on my desktop, and I can still hold the conversation. So, you know, you look at it and you go case that’s very different than your last 3x structure. So, you put all that wrap all that into a book, the first thing you do is you go through and you read line, everything you like, and then you underline everything that seems to stand out to you. And then what I do is I just take it all and I just write it all down. And then I put it in an order that seems to follow a structure and narrative structure. And then you start sort of, you know, building it out from there. So really, it’s a distillation, but it’s also an understanding that you have a little bit more and in this movie in the room and you’ll see, you know, we jump around a ton a lot, you have a little bit more leeway because you’re you are adapting material and people are expecting to maybe react, and then discover why you react later, you know, you’re not necessarily setting up an act 1 to pay it off and act 3. You know, you may be paying it off in act 1 and setting up in act 3. That’s just the contemporary structure these days.
Ashley: Yeah. And just, you know, obviously, this is sort of sensitive in the sense you’re getting the book from people that really were involved in this. And so, what sort of obligation do you feel just to be to be sensitive to, you know, the reality and what really happened versus being dramatic and trying to make the best movie? Where do you see that line falling?
Keoni: Well, you know, that’s a really good question. Because I think you always have to be in you have to start with, you always have to be in the always have to start with the idea of your being respectful to whatever base material, right, because at the end of the day, that’s, you know, you’re not going out there to vilify and pester. But at the same time, you also have to then, you know, kick yourself in the face and say, okay, but I’m dramatizing. And real life maybe a lot of things, but half the time, it’s super boring. So, you have to take real life and you have to dramatize it in a way, we’re looking at the same maybe your ellipse in time, or maybe your ellipse in action. But the idea is, is you’re you are trying to say that, you know, at the end of the day, right, you know, objective-objective equals conflict. And that’s drama. Right? So, you have that conflict. And so, you look at it, and you go okay, so how can someone who’s based maybe based loosely on a real person, but you don’t want to say that, you know, they’re a bad person, but how do you make that conflict happen with your protagonist without putting him in a bad light? So, it’s a difficult thing to do. But I think you also have to bear in mind that, you know, you’re you do have to be respectful to the base material and where it comes from.
Ashley: Yeah. And were you in touch with the authors? And did you get feedback from them? Was that part of this process of developing the script?
Keoni: Absolutely. All the way, not only did I get feedback from them, but they were produced their executive producers and movies, they were on set every day, when we went to locations were certain things that happened to them in real life. You know, there’s been murder that takes place, infected them, if a husband-and-wife team and Kelly didn’t want to go on the location. And, you know, Bob went in, and he said; Yeah, this feels pretty much how it felt, you know, so you go with that, you change things with that. And like I said earlier, you know, a big part of the novel was that it was a sort of a healing process for them. And so, you want to be respectful and putting some of that aspect into it. But again, you don’t want to be slave to that. Because if you do that, then out of context, people might be like, what is this? Why is this here? So, they were there, you know, they were there from beginning to the end. But at the same time, you know, I think that they themselves they had to, every once awhile, say; Okay, I have to step back because we’re not making a documentary, we’re making a dramatizing events that affect.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, I always like to, to wrap up the interviews by just asking the guests if there’s anything that they’ve seen recently, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, anything you’ve seen recently that you thought maybe it’s a little under the radar that you could recommend to screenwriters.
Keoni: Well, you know what, I don’t know if it’s very thinking about it. I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve seen, it’s too under the radar that people haven’t seen. But I do have to say, when I did watch Power of Dog, what a brilliantly written screenplay. Now I then read the book and talk. And you know, it’s embarrassing, because obviously, we’re talking about me adapting the book. I didn’t read the base material. So, I don’t know how well how much she stayed to look at that. And you have a driving plot, and you have a you know, you’re constantly making a left turn, but everybody thinks you’re going to go on a right turn. It’s something to look at. And then you know, again, and another thing that’s not under the radar, but it’s everywhere, right now is everywhere, you know, everything everywhere, all at once. You’re a writer, and you tried to write that script? I don’t know, you know, again, I don’t know much about it, other than I thought I saw my kids and they loved it. I don’t know how you put them on paper and have people understand it. And if you look at the performances, they you know, all the actors understood complete and what was going on. So, in terms of writing, the specificity that they must have put into that was pretty incredible. So, you know, in Powers of Dogs, it’s so opaque. But see, but it’s directed in a way where you’re like, I totally get it. And everything everywhere all at once is so specific. And they pulled it off that I would love to rebuild those screenplays, even though they seem to be miles apart.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Perfect. Those are great recommendations. How can people see The Ravine? Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like?
Keoni: It’s coming out on May 6th. It’s going to be everywhere. It’s going to be on I’ll tell you right now, you know, from Prime Video and Apple TV, you know, to Google Play everywhere you look it’s going to be coming out. Take a look at it. I think if you like what I said you’re going to like a movie.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up for the show notes.
Keoni: Instagram, you know, Instagram is, you know is the best way I whenever I’m on a show or whenever I have something to talk about, I put it up there. Check me out.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, we’ll round up for the show. Well, Keoni, I really appreciate you coming on talking today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your feature films as well.
Keoni: Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you. Bye.
A quick plug for the SYS’s screenwriting analysis service. It’s really economical way to get a high-quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack, you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films, and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website, and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors Concept, Character, Structure, Marketability, Tone, and Overall Craft which includes Formatting, Spelling and Grammar. Every script will get a great a pass; consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proof-reading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So, if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product.
As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS select program. Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis. So, it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly best of newsletter. Each month, we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material. So again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So, if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants. Again, that’s sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Philip Todd, he is a Scottish filmmaker who just did a family film based loosely on an old Scottish myth about a girl who meets an elf in the woods. He turned it into a modern day, you know, sort of a reimagining of that myth in his new film called Jessie and the Elf Boy. We talked through his writing process how he got this film produced and as I said, this is based on a Scottish myth that he had heard about, and he’s very much into sort of Scottish mythology. So, we talked a little bit about that to sort of where he gets these ideas for some of his films. It’s kind of just interesting and to hear his thoughts on that. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.