Course Title: Adapt fiction and non fiction work for the screen

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term2 2011

Course Code: COMM5934

Course Title: Adapt fiction and non fiction work for the screen

School: 345T Media and Communication

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6088 - Advanced Diploma of Screenwriting

Course Contact : Program Administration

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 99254815

Course Contact

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Teacher: Jon Stephens

Nominal Hours: 70

Regardless of the mode of delivery, represent a guide to the relative teaching time and student effort required to successfully achieve a particular competency/module. This may include not only scheduled classes or workplace visits but also the amount of effort required to undertake, evaluate and complete all assessment requirements, including any non-classroom activities.

Pre-requisites and Co-requisites

At RMIT, you are required to have completed all first year core competencies before enrolling in this course.

Course Description

The professional screenwriter is likely to work from time to time on commissioned projects, where he or she is employed to adapt pre-existing material chosen by producers, networks or directors. A large proportion of produced screen drama is adapted from pre-existing material: novels, short stories, stage plays and non-fiction books and articles. This course aims to provide you with criteria for the initial choice of source material for adaptation.
You will learn to define that story, to explore how it works (or not) on its own terms in its original form and then to translate that story into another medium, to tell it as a screen drama – as feature film, telemovie or mini-series.

National Codes, Titles, Elements and Performance Criteria

National Element Code & Title:

VPAU665 Adapt fiction and non fiction work for the screen


Element 1 Evaluate fiction or non-fiction work for suitability as an adaptation

Performance Criteria:

1.1 The strengths and weaknesses of story, characters and overall narrative structure are assessed
1.2 Translations or editions together with any previous film versions are compared where necessary
1.3 Potential markets are identified
1.4 Copyright issues are identified


Element 2 Determine the film story

Performance Criteria:

2.1 Essential story for adaptation and suitable genre are identified
2.2 Premise and themes are identified
2.3 Essential character arcs are described
2.4 Story problems are noted
2.5 Additional story development is mapped out
2.6 Story development includes what will be cut, elided or combined in the film script


Element 3 Develop a treatment

Performance Criteria:

3.1 Story structure is developed or translated into a different medium
3.2 Characters are developed
3.3 Problems of time and place are resolved
3.4 Story structure is designed
3.5 Effective sub-plots are developed where needed
3.6 Unnecessary sub-plots in the source material are eliminated

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, you will be able to adapt pre-existing material for the screen

Details of Learning Activities

In this course, you learn through:
1. In-class activities:
• lectures
• industry speakers
• teacher directed group activities/projects
• peer teaching and class presentations
• group discussion
• class exercises to review discussions/lectures
• analysis/critique of students’ writings

2. Out-of-class activities:
• independent project based work
• writing and reading assignments
• online and other research
• independent study

Teaching Schedule


Class content

Assessment dueElements
1Introduction to the course. General discussion of the varieties of adaptation & the problems inherent in adapting various source materials. How to pitch. Form & function of synopses. Your choice of source material. 1/2
2Seminar: adaptation of autobiography An Angel At My Table Part 1. You pitch your choice of source material & the translation to screen drama – and get feedback. 1
3Seminar & discussion of Quiz Show and its source
material: drawing inferences, asking ’why?’ What is the
Setting up 3 POVs. More student pitches
with feedback. Deadline for assignment 1.
 Assessment 1 due1
4Practical workshop with guest seminar leader.
Adapting the ‘true story’ of a murder in Texas. The ‘dramatic’ versus ‘drama’. Whose story is this?
5Feedback & discussion of assignment 1.
Seminar: the specific problems of adapting non-fiction
into screen drama. Imposing a narrative on truth/reality.
The seduction & marketing advantage of ‘based on a
true story’.
But ‘true’ isn’t good enough.
Why tell the story & why tell it now?
6Craft workshop: the importance of POV & the question: whose story is it? Character functions. The specific problems of adapting stage plays: the audience’s contract with the storyteller. 2
7Seminar: The Boys – from stage play to screenplay;
Nnnbaq2changing POV, changing genre. Show don’t tell.
8Seminar: On Golden Pond. ‘Opening out’ a stage play; dramatising process; show, don’t tell.
Deadline for assignment 2.
9Feedback on assignment 2. Opportunity for new
pitches from those who’ve changed their minds on source material.
10Seminar: Copyright, Option Agreements, Assignment of Film Rights Agreements, Releases, Indemnity & Chain of Title. 2/3
11Seminar & craft workshop: the specific problems of
adapting prose fiction.
Retaining the author’s voice. The use of Voice Over
narration. Adapt Mr & Mrs Dove as a short drama in
12Seminar: Lust, Caution. A 48-page story becomes a 179-page screenplay. 3
13Seminar: No Country For Old Men. When the source
material looks like a gift. Making choices. Retaining & dramatising the author’s intention.
14Seminar: Brokeback Mountain. Putting flesh on the
bones of a short story. Converting inner states to observable (filmable) behaviour.
15Seminar: Adaptation. Reconstruction & Deconstruction of a
non-fiction book.
What the author said versus what she really said.
 1- 3
16Lecture & discussion: Dangerous Liaisons. From
novel to stage play to screenplay. Deadline for
assignment 3 – treatments.
Assessment 3 due1-3
17Assessment Week   

Learning Resources

Prescribed Texts


You are advised to look at the course Blackboard site for ongoing updated information.

Other Resources

You will require access to a computer and to the internet

Overview of Assessment

Assessment for this course is on going throughout the semester. Assessment tasks include participation in class exercises and the completion of written assignments.

Assessment Tasks

To demonstrate competency in this course, you will need to complete the following pieces of assessment to a satisfactory standard. You will receive feedback on all assessment.

Assessment 1. Choice of source material.
A short (maximum 1,000 words) report, including a one-paragraph synopsis of the source material, setting out the reasons for your choice of source material (prose fiction, stage play, non-fiction work) for adaptation. The report must argue the suitability of the source material for screen adaptation – that is, the strength of its story and characters – but also set out the problems to be addressed in translating from one medium to another. It must also identify the likely or possible audience, noting a guesstimate of production budget against a guesstimate of box office. Reference should also be made to the distributors of similar films since distributors largely control what is produced. 30% of marks. Due: Week 3.

Assessment 2. Determining the film story.
A series of ‘short documents’ including: a one sentence synopsis of the film story, a formulation of the story’s premise & theme(s), an identification of the principal characters, their arcs & dramatic functions, an indication of any research required, and finally a one page synopsis – including an ending. (No teasers!)
30% of marks. Due: Week 7.

Assessment 3. The treatment: minimum 15 to maximum 30 pages.
A thorough setting out of the story translated into a film or television drama, delineating the A-story, the B-story, etc, cause and effect (set-up & pay-off), the passage of time, character development and a satisfactory climax & resolution. (No teasers!) 40% of marks. Due: Week 16.

Your assignments will be graded. Grades used in this unit are as follows:

80 – 100% HD High Distinction
70 – 79% DI Distinction
60 – 69% CR Credit
50 – 59% PA Pass
Under 50% NN Fail

Assessment Matrix

The assessment matrix demonstrates alignment of assessment tasks with the relevant Unit of Competency. These are
available through the course contact in Program administration


Other Information

You will receive both spoken and written feedback on your work. Where appropriate, this feedback will also include suggestions on how you can proceed to the next stage of developing your projects.

Academic Integrity
Academic Integrity is about the honest presentation of your academic work. Presenting work that fails to acknowledge other people’s work within yours can compromise academic integrity. For further information on academic integrity and plagiarism, please refer to the following URL.;ID=kkc202lwe1yv

Late Submissions
All assessment tasks are required to be completed to a satisfactory level. If you are unable to complete any piece of assessment by the due date, you will need to apply for an extension.
Please refer to the course blackboard site for information on late submissions and on applying for an extension.

Special Consideration Policy
Please refer to the following URL for information on applying for special consideration:;ID=qkssnx1c5r0y;STATUS=A;PAGE_AUTHOR=Andrea%20Syers;SECTION=1;

Course Overview: Access Course Overview