From Indie to Action Comedy

Scriptnotes: Ep. 361
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John welcomes Susanna Fogel and David Iserson to talk about making their new movie, The Spy Who Dumped Me. They discuss the transition from TV and indie film to blockbuster, the collaboration involved in crafting a comic action sequence, and the fun of production overseas.

Susanna and David explain the advantages of spec scripts (this was one), and what it’s like writing with a partner.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 8-7-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Relationships

Scriptnotes: Ep. 360
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John and Craig discuss the importance and basics of developing relationships in storytelling. Characters are nothing without relationships, like Woody without Buzz, Shrek without Donkey, John without Craig…

We then test these ideas about relationships against a fresh set of Three Page Challenges.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 7-31-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


You’d hardly recognize Arlo Finch overseas

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire came out in February 2018 in the US and Canada, but the international editions are only now debuting. And in many cases, the book you see in stores overseas looks very different.

Here’s the book in the US, with a cover by Vivienne To.

valley of fire book cover

Italian publisher Mondadori is the first to offer a translated version — it came out this month. They’re using the same basic artwork for La Valle del Fuoco.

arlo cover in italian

So far, Italy is the exception. In most markets, publishers are creating their own artwork for the cover.

German publisher Arena went with a more comic-book style, illustrated by Helge Vogt. It comes out in August.

German cover for Arlo Finch

The German version also has interior illustrations — the only one so far. Translation is by Andrea and Wieland Freund.

French publisher Milan hired Levente Szabó for their edition, which comes out in September. They’ve stuck with Adam Ladd’s Cheddar Gothic as the typeface, however.

French Arlo Finch cover

In France, instead of Valley of Fire, this book is subtitled The Mystery of the Long Woods. It’s very common for French publishers to rename books; the first Harry Potter is The School of Sorcerers in France.

The French translation is by Leslie Damant-Jeandel. It’s terrific. I got a chance to look through it when doing press in Paris earlier this summer.

The Swedish and Norwegian editions also come out in September. Here they’ve gone for more of a Stranger Things vibe.

Swedish Arlo Finch

The artist is Håkan Liljemärker. The Swedish translation is by Mats Kempe, while the Norwegian is by Tore Aurstad.

The Dutch cover for Arlo Finch: De Vuurvallei is the only one with photographic elements. As I’m posting this, the artwork isn’t finalized, and I haven’t learned details about the translator. It’s scheduled to come out in October.1

In addition to these countries, Arlo Finch is also scheduled to be released in translation for Denmark, Poland, Brazil, Romania and Israel. No word yet on what those covers will look like.

Why aren’t international covers the same as the US?

As a screenwriter, I’m used to seeing some variation in movie posters and video covers. Not only do studios mock up and test various versions of one sheets,2 they sometimes make different choices for US and overseas markets.

In the case of Big Fish, Sony Pictures tried a completely different approach in Japan.

US big fish poster

Japanese Big Fish poster

But for the most part, the one sheet for a given movie is going to look very similar in most countries. That’s because in the age of worldwide marketing, it’s generally the same studio releasing the film in every territory, often on the same date.

That’s not true for books. In most cases, publishers are only buying rights to the book for a single country or language, and the book will come out months after the English debut.

For Arlo Finch, Macmillan is my publisher for the US and Canada, but I have 11 different publishers for other languages. When these publishers bought the book, they only bought the text, not the cover — that’s owned by Macmillan.

Which means international publishers have a choice:

  1. Negotiate to license the cover from Macmillan.
  2. Make their own cover.

Publishers generally choose the second option. It gives them the chance to make their own creative choices about how to market and position the book for their market.

French publisher Milan might have a theory that French girls are less likely to pick up a book without a girl on the cover. German publisher Arena may have data showing that German kids want books to look like comics even when they’re not.3

While rates can vary wildly, cover artists are not that expensive. So it makes sense for publishers to hire their own.

As an author, do you get much say in book covers? Generally, no. You may have some contractual approval, but it’s more akin to giving one’s blessing than actual feedback. They don’t want you to hate the cover, but short of that, they’re fine trusting their instincts.4

Which is the “real” Arlo Finch cover?

Six months ago, I would have said that the US cover is the real cover. It’s still the only one I’ve seen printed on a book jacket.

But now I’m not so sure. I love the French and Scandinavian covers, especially how they seem to push the age up a bit. I’m intrigued by the German cover, even if it’s not my taste.

In the end, book covers serve two purposes. The first is as bait. Does the design convince you to pick up the book? My hunch is that all of these international covers do the trick.

The second function of a cover design is to help frame the reading experience. That’s what I’m most curious about with some of these covers. By showing Arlo’s friends, does it suggest the story will be an ensemble adventure? Does emphasizing the Hag on the German and Scandinavian covers signal too strongly what’s going to happen in the book?

We’ll see. I’m excited to start getting reactions from folks reading Arlo Finch in a language other than English.

Meanwhile, I’ve just gotten my advanced copies of the second book in the series, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon.

arlo finch lake of moon book

Each international publisher will soon need to figure out how they want to handle the cover this time. Do they feature the lake, the monster, the patrol, or another set piece in the book? There’s no one right answer, and just like with Valley of Fire, there won’t be one definitive cover. But this one’s going to be hard to top.

  1. I’ll be headed to Germany, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in October for launch events. More details soon.
  2. “One sheet” is the standard term for movie posters in the US. Classically, they’re printed in reverse on the back side so that when inserted into a lighted display case at a movie theater, the color is vibrant.
  3. I’m making these examples up.
  4. Movies are largely the same in terms of approvals. Filmmakers will be shown a range of possibilities, but the real decisions are made by the marketing team.

Where Movies Come From

Scriptnotes: Ep. 359
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John and Craig welcome Liz Hannah (screenwriter of The Post) to explore where movies come from, be it real life, storytelling social media sites, or all-powerful comic book IP. How do these story sources affect the writer’s relationship with the material and with the audience?

We also follow up on the meaning of “Jackman Shot” and answer listener questions about using accents to indicate foreign language, where low-budget holiday movies fit into a blossoming writing career and the responsibilities of adapting the work of someone with a questionable moral legacy.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 7-23-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Point of View

Scriptnotes: Ep. 358
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John and Craig discuss the power of point of view in scripts and how the choice of which characters have storytelling power changes how we experience a movie. Point of view has a meaningful role in creating mystery, expanding scale, elevating characters, and energizing a story.

We also answer listener questions about “Jackman shots,” renaming a character in the middle of a story, and supporting a child who writes.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 7-17-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


This Title is an Example of Exposition

Scriptnotes: Ep. 357
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John and Craig debate and defend one of the most-maligned elements of screenwriting: Exposition. How do you tell an audience what they need to know without being labeled a hack? We offer tips for getting viewers up to speed without them realizing they’re getting fed exposition.

We also follow up on screenplay competitions, the psychology of toxic fandom, fridging as a trope, and the market for lesbian love stories.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 7-10-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.