The Mail I Get

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Feb 2018

The Mail I Get – Grab Bag Edition

Posted by / in The Mail I Get / 2 comments

From the grab bag…here’s a bunch of recent mail that I’ve received and my replies:

I’d like you to adapt my unpublished novel XYZ for the screen or perhaps a TV series. It could also be multiple movies. It’s about XYZ. In the alternative, I hope you will refer me to a producer who might be interested.

I replied: I’m not interested in adapting your book and I can’t think of any screenwriter or producer who would be. Studios don’t buy ideas. They buy the execution of ideas (i.e. who is writing it, who is directing it, who is producing it etc). And they don’t buy books that aren’t huge bestsellers. Since you aren’t a brand-name author, or a first-time author with a bestselling book, there’s almost no chance in hell of anybody reading it or buying it. I don’t say that to be mean, but to give you a realistic view of your chances. Your best bet is to get the book published and hope it does well enough critically or commercially to attract Hollywood interest.

Here’s a question I got about MONK:

 I’m a teenager who has become a HUGE fan of Monk just 8 years too late!!  I grew up watching the show with my Dad. Not so long ago, I discovered that there was a BOOK SERIES. My heart quite literally jumped out of my chest!!  THE CHARACTERS WEREN’T DONE!! Over the next 2 days I went to the library and checked out 10 Monk books, and I can’t stop reading them!!  THEY ARE SO GOOD!! About 2-3 times every book I get teary-eyed because the characters you’ve described in the books are so heart-wrenching.  Why did you write the series from Natalie’s perspective?

If my “detecting skills” tell me anything, you probably chose to write the series from her perspective because the television series is already told form Monk’s perspective.  We get the chance to understand him thoroughly, so it only makes sense to write from the perspective of the closest person to him… literally of course.  

I replied: I wrote them from Natalie’s perspective because I think it humanizes Monk. It gives us a necessary distance and, at the same time, a perspective to frame what we’re seeing. In a way, Natalie’s eyes become the replacement for the TV screen that was between us and Adrian Monk. Also, a little Monk goes a long way. You can overdo the joke and all the obsessive/compulsive stuff. By telling the stories from Natalie’s point of view, we aren’t with him all the time. We get some space, a breather from his shtick, and I think that’s important. It’s also a conscious homage to Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, who were seen as well through the eyes of their assistants.

And, finally, here’s a question I got about screenwriting:

I stumbled across your post Diagnosis Murder & How to Plot a Mystery, while looking for information on adapting a low-budget, niche, middle grade, mystery book series into a TV script of what seems to be 22-25 pages for a 30 minute show? I found a good article on sitcoms, but not a good breakdown for a kids’ mystery series. Is there any chance you can direct me to a script/page-timing outline? Or any information on this specifically?

I replied: No offense intended, but if you are asking about script page/timing, that suggests to me you still have a lot to learn about the principles of screenwriting. There is far more involved than knowing whether a page of script translates to a minute or five minutes of action (it depends whether its a one camera or three camera show and what is on the page — how many locations/sets there are, what action is involved, and how fast characters speak. Page count is not the issue you should be concerned with. There are “hour long” shows with 45 page scripts and 69 page scripts — every series is different). I recommend Richard Walter’s ESSENTIALS OF SCREENWRITING, Pamela Douglas WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES, William Rabkin’s  terrific WRITING THE PILOT, Alex Epstein’s CRAFTY TV WRITING, and SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING by William Rabkin and yours truly.

She wrote back:

Thank you very much for your quick response. I know very little about television scripts. But will get the books you mentioned.

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  • P.N. Elrod

    February 26, 2018, pm28 1:55 PM

    Thank you for the book titles!

    I am interested in learning how to write a script more as a bucket list thing than in any hope of seeing something on the screen. I don’t think my books would lend themselves well to screenplay treatment (too many night shots in the rain) but it is a useful skill to have.

    As for the person wanting you to write the script for them, I would be tempted to say, “Sure, send me 65,000 bucks and I’ll get back to you in a few days. No guarantees. Just send the money.” 😉

  • Doug Snauffer

    March 1, 2018, pm31 10:07 PM

    These messages were far tamer than most.

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