Ted Chiang lecture on interspecies communications

Avi Solomon writes, "Author Ted Chiang (previously) discusses the making of The Great Silence as well as other works addressing interspecies communication, including 'Story of Your Life,' the novella which was adapted into the 2016 feature film, Arrival." Read the rest

Stephen Wolfram teched the tech for Arrival

Mathematician Stephen Wolfram and his company do a lot of consulting for Hollywood. But he doesn't often do it on an urgent basis because a movie is about to shoot and they neglected to "tech the tech."

When I first started looking at the script for [Arrival], I quickly realized that to make coherent suggestions I really needed to come up with a concrete theory for the science of what might be going on. Unfortunately there wasn’t much time — and in the end I basically had just one evening to invent how interstellar space travel might work. Here’s the beginning of what I wrote for the movie makers about what I came up with that evening (to avoid spoilers I’m not showing more)

He builds a convincing technical and scientific backstory for space travel that informs the movie production rather than being dumped on the viewer. But he also offered suggestions on fixing little howlers (“You shouldn’t say the spacecraft came a million light years; that’s outside the galaxy; say a trillion miles instead.") and found that the process of line-editing screenplays reminded him of software design. (“cut out any complexity one can, and make everything as clear and minimal as possible.”)

He also created, at short notice, a whiteboard covered in physics jibber-jabber when the filmmakers were doing reshoots. Irony: he's not used one in decades. Read the rest

The screenwriter of Arrival on how hard it was to adapt Ted Chiang for the screen

Eric Heisserer adapted Ted Chiang's novella Story of Your Life as the screenplay Arrival. Both are brilliant, but in different ways. It wasn't easy.

In all my draft work on the adaptation, I spent the most time on the intellectual and political challenges of the story. But if I ever encroached on the intimate, emotional through-line of Louise’s journey, the story fell apart. Other scenes could be sacrificed, reworked, moved, or cut to the bone. But director Denis Villeneuve and I found a bare minimum of steps to Louise’s personal journey, and that became our Alamo; our hill we would die defending. Denis had a knack for visuals that spoke on an emotional level while also dovetailing with the intellectual challenges our characters faced. Marrying those two, sometimes in a single line of dialogue or image, made the film come alive. It made us feel the story. And at the end of the day, what drew me most to Ted Chiang’s story was the way it made me feel, and above all else we wanted to transport and share that feeling with audiences

It's always fascinating to see how the sausage is made. Screenwriters must write for several audiences--the author being adapted, producers, directors--at different stages of the process, while keeping moviegoers in mind all along. You can see here how a master makes his script align with each on its journey to the screen, somehow without alienating everyone.

Also interesting is the fact Final Draft, the expensive and mandatory screenplay production software package, can't handle images—an unusual but unavoidable requirement for a movie full of alien logograms to be deciphered. Read the rest