Sunday, January 2, 2011

Adapting "The Big Deal"

I have a deep admiration and appreciation for a great book.  When Michele Serros gave me the OK to adapt “The Big Deal”, one of the chapters from her LA Times Best Seller book, How To Be A Chicana Role Model, I was flattered, grateful and scared. I wanted to make an adaptation that was true to the story Michele wrote.

I’ve reluctantly come to understand the need for a screenwriter to change things to make a book more cinematic, visually stimulating and/or to tell the story better. As a filmmaker, I had a responsibility to tell the story in the best way possible and as a fan of the book (one of my favorite books of all time) I wanted to see a film that was true to the story in the book. 

I wrote about 10 drafts of the screenplay. The first few drafts had Michele’s voiceovers (as they appear in the book) and in the last 5 drafts I did away with them. Everyone who gave notes on the script told me to get rid of the voiceovers and figure out another way to convey that information. It was hard to get all the juicy tidbits in the script without those voiceovers.  So I made the first change.

I added a short scene with the characters of Auggie and Benny interacting with Michele and Alma.  This scene establishes all the characters in the beginning of the film.  In the book, Benny and Auggie appear in a few lines, in the middle of the story, in a short script (12 pages) it didn’t work. I either had to do away with them or bring them in earlier.  The dialogue I wrote for them was based in Michele’s voiceover.  During the shoot I decided to let the actors improvise the scene based on what I had written. The result was magical.

Another change I made was in casting choices. In the story, Auggie and Benny are probably Michele’s younger cousins. I asked the real Michele if I could cast Benny as older. I remember her saying “it’s your story now, do what you think will work”. Even with that validation, I ran everything by her.  I cast Daniel Zacapa as Benny and told him to play the role as Alma’s husband and Carlo Alban, the actor who played Auggie to play it as Alma’s & Benny’s son.  This was a choice I made to give the actors a playable relationship.  That was it for my changes. I was skeptical about making them but they were necessary to make the story stronger.

“The Big Deal” is about family.  Michele wants her Tia Alma’s approval badly and she wants her new boyfriend to be accepted by the whole family.  I had a strong foundation to build from and it became the base for the script and for the film.

Congratulations to Michele Serros on her engagement to Antonio.  Her future husband is Mexican and vegetarian! Her papa gave the blessing over Christmas dinner.

If it’s one thing that you can take from this blog is that with hard work and perseverance you can achieve your goals no matter how unattainable they seem.
Thank you all so much for reading the blog and following my tweets. I hope you all have a wonderful new year.

Stay tuned – the next blog entry will be about how I work-shopped “The Big Deal” and got it ready for production. 

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