“The Screenplay in English-Speaking Cinema : The Invisible Visible Text”

In a society with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for “behind the scenes” tidbits, where DVDs are regularly reissued (and purchased) according to their bonus features, it is unsurprising that the screenplay has gained new recognition in academic circles. This increased interest is obvious to publishing houses, as can be seen in the publication of screenplays of popular films in collections like “Newmarket Shooting Scripts” or by large publishing houses like Faber& Faber ; it is obvious to the artists themselves, as evidenced by the deliberate choice made by Nobel prizewinner Harold Pinter to include his screenplays in his “Collected Works”, or in documentaries or works of fiction focusing on the phenomenon (Tales from the Script, 2010, Adaptation, 2002, Le Professeur de scénario, 2009). Finally, the creation of a new academic journal, The Journal of Screenwriting, in 2010, suggests that the study of screenwriting is finally considered an academic field worthy of study in and
of itself, thus going beyond the practical “how-to” books or the personal memoirs that have dominated the area until recently.

That is not to say that the study of screenplays is without its difficulties ; the co-editor of The Journal of Screenwriting, Ian Macdonald, lays bare the problem of its ambiguous status : “[It has been considered] an awkward and peripheral subject […] sidelined because of its problematic relationship to the apparently more concrete final ‘text’ of the film. Considered as rough sketches or the ‘blueprint’, or as incomplete or transitional, who would not look at the screenplay in its various forms as somehow inferior ?” For this one-day seminar, we seek to highlight both the complexities and the richness of the screenplay as text, while always keeping in mind its problematic nature as a text that is not meant to be read, whose function is clear but whose status is not.

We invite papers that deal with subjects including :

-The theorization of the screenplay :

• Defining the term “screenplay” : is it the simple retranscription of the final film, of the final version of the script (the “shooting script” to which Newmarket’s series refers), or of previous versions (for example in Harold Pinter’s decision to publish his original script of The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Indeed, what can be made of screenplays that were never filmed, like Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay, or only partially filmed, like Nabokov’s screenplay of Lolita ?

• To what extent can the screenplay, as an essential tool for the construction of a film, lay bare the narrative techniques of film or literature ? What are the narrative specificities of the screenplay ?

• Is it possible to study a screenplay without studying the subsequent film ?

• Should the screenplay be studied as one studies manuscripts, as a form of textual genealogy, or as a source text, similar to film adaptations ?

-Case studies that highlight essential elements of the relationship between the screenplay and its resulting film :

• Examples of transposition (or lack thereof) of the visual nature of film in the written text of the screenplay.

• Examples of fruitful or difficult relationships between screenwriters and filmmakers and the impact of these relations on the film.

• The relationship between the screenplay and the source text in the case of the adaptation of a novel, a true story, etc.

• The problems with credit (and copyright) for one or several screenwriters after successive rewritings of a screenplay.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive.

Proposals (250 words or less) accompanied by a short biography should be sent to Shannon Wells-Lassagne and Isabelle Roblin before June 30th 2011.