Meet Eric Elfman, screenwriter, author, writing coach and all-round nice guy.
Eric is the author of 10 books for children and young adults, including The Very Scary Almanac and The Almanac of the Gross, Disgusting & Totally Repulsive (both published by Random House, the latter named an ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers); three X-Files novels (HarperCollins); two books of scary short stories, Three Minute Thrillers and More Three Minute Thrillers (Lowell House). He is currently working on a new YA thriller, The Devil You Know.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, several of his books have also been optioned by Hollywood. His Three Minute Thriller series was optioned by Merv Griffin Enterprises, and The Almanac of the Gross has been developed as a magazine-style TV show for kids, THAT’S SO GROSS!
Class Act, an original feature film Eric wrote with his screenwriting partner, Neal Shusterman, is in development at Walden Media with Halle Berry attached to star. The dynamic duo were also hired by Walden Media to write an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, and wrote a sequel to the Curious George movie for Universal Studios.
As a writing coach, Eric has worked with over 100 writers in workshops and one-on-one sessions, many of whom have gone on to be published. For the past six years, he has been on the faculty of the Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop, sponsored by the Henry Miller Library and directed by Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
I had a chance to chat to Eric on my website a little while ago and he had some interesting thoughts on writing novels and screenplays.
ERIC ELFMAN: I’ve got two screenplays I’m working on for two different directors and a YA novel that I’m revising.
ERIC ELFMAN: YA is definitely a hot market right now.
ERIC ELFMAN: I enjoy both, but they are very different experiences. Screenplays are all about the externals, what the audience can see. The motivation or inner life has to be inferred from what they are doing or saying. Plus you are limited by how many pages you have, so descriptions must be kept to a minimum. In a way they’re like blueprints for the director, and the production team.
ERIC ELFMAN: When you’re used to writing novels it’s like having half of your tools amputated. So in that case it’s not easier. But its easier in some ways than writing novels. For instance, in a screenplay you just write “Fred crosses the room.” While in a novel, well, you know how much is involved in crossing a room!
The average length of a screenplay is 120 pages. One page typically equals one minute in screen time.
ERIC ELFMAN: Very similar, although the formatting is different – but it does involve description of action and dialogue.
ERIC ELFMAN: The inner emotions have to be implied by the action and dialogue. Some years ago I was hired by HarperCollins to write a series of X-Files novels based on episodes, and it was kind of eye-opening to me how different a screenplay is from a novel! They gave me the script and a video, and I had to watch in fifteen-second increments, basically, and create the inner lives of the characters, because none of that was on the screen.
I definitely juggle projects. On the one hand, it helps keep them fresh – when I return to one, I am definitely looking at it with fresh eyes – but on the other hand, it’s just the nature of the beast.
ERIC ELFMAN: It definitely helps to have an agent. Unless you are going to produce a low-budget indie film yourself, if you’re going to go the studio route, you definitely have to have an agent, or an entertainment lawyer or manager, or the big studios won’t even look at it.
ERIC ELFMAN: No, screenplays are meant to be seen, not read – except by other screenwriters! Though if you want to read some there are lots online.
ERIC ELFMAN: Absolutely. Though novelizations were a lot more popular in the past than they are now. I think the first novelization I ever read was “Fantastic Voyage: – which was written by Isaac Asimov. Great adaptation of a sci-fi thriller into a novel! He based it on the screenplay, but he brought so much to it, it was like an original novel – which isn’t always the case.
In any case, screenplays are hard to write – but the hardest part is selling it! MUCH harder to sell a screenplay than a novel!
ERIC ELFMAN: Yes, there are really only a handful of studios, basically six markets, where you can sell a big studio film. And unless you’re producing a low or no-budget indie, they’re all studio films.
ERIC ELFMAN: Some of my favorite films are indies!
ERIC ELFMAN: Yes! For those who don’t know, I’ve taught on the faculty of the Big Sur Writers Conference for some years now, and I’m also a private writing coach. The latest development is a series of critique groups I’m leading by teleconference.
The information is on my website, www.EricElfmanCoaching.com
ERIC ELFMAN: Each group takes part in two conference calls a month, where writers share their work and get feedback from me and the group. Each writer has 20-25 minutes of individual time. It’s very similar to what we do in Big Sur at the Big Sur Writers’ Workshop, only by teleconference.
ERIC ELFMAN: Yes, but the pages submitted for feedback are uploaded to the teleconference call’s website so we can all view them in real time, and the call is recorded so that everyone can download a copy when the call is over, which frees you from having to write notes while the call is in progress.
ERIC ELFMAN: My pleasure!
Read more at Eric’s website