A Different Kind of Alchemy: From Amazon Studios Development Slate Script to Novel
– by Stephanie Reid-Simons
This is the story of The Alchemist Agenda, written by Martin Jay Weiss, one of the first projects added to the Amazon Studios Movie Development Slate. We asked Marty, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, about the evolution of his story, writing for the page instead of the screen and what his Amazon Studios experience has been like.
Where did you get the idea for The Alchemist Agenda?
MARTIN: I was working on the music for a film in Prague, had a lot of downtime to roam around the historic sites, and came across alchemy symbols and references in several places. Even my hotel bar was called The Alchemist Club. I learned that many Eastern Europeans had very influential (and varying) philosophical traditions involving alchemy, and I thought it would be so cool if they really did have the ability to turn base into gold, and had to protect it during their enormously violent political transitions before and after World War II.
Did you imagine it first as a book, or was it always a movie in your mind?
MARTIN: At first it was a movie. I set the locations in visually striking cities that I had filmed in before, and wanted to return to. But soon after the first draft, I really wanted to explore the characters’ backstories and delve in deeper to some of the plot complexities. I had never written a novel before, and I didn’t really know what to do with it once it was finished—so I stuffed it in my desk drawer and forgot about it. Then the screenplay was optioned by Amazon Studios, and because of the publicity it received, the publisher contacted me to suggest that I write the story as a novel. I told him that would get right on it, and emailed him the manuscript five minutes later. Timing is everything.
Describe your hero, Charlie Rocklin, and how you decided what kind of man he would be.
MARTIN: With a name like Rocklin, he had a lot to live up to. But I didn’t want him to be a superhero. He had to have significant physical abilities in order to overcome the obstacles that he and Ariel (his femme fatale love interest) would face, but I wanted him to have vulnerabilities, flaws, and personal fears to overcome throughout the journey as well. Ariel would fill in for his soft spots, and vice versa. They make a nice couple, I think, except when they bicker. Art should imitate life.
How did writing the script inform your writing of the novel?
MARTIN: It truly served as an outline for the plot, though I did veer quite a bit. Screenplays are sparse in details, which makes them shorter, but not necessarily easier.
How are the two different?
MARTIN: With a novel, you have the freedom to color between the lines, as well as write corny metaphors like that one; I’m pretty sure, though, that clichés are forbidden in both formats.
What advice would you offer someone who has only written a novel, but would like to adapt it into a screenplay?
MARTIN: First, identify where the turning points are: the inciting incident, the act breaks, etc. Screenplay structure is very specific, and having a map will hopefully prevent you from getting too lost. Then pull the must-see moments and most significant dialogue from each character; rinse and repeat. A great exercise is to read a long two-page description from the novel, and then try to do it justice in four or less lines. There’s the proof that screenplays aren’t any easier.
What kind of writing do you prefer and why?
MARTIN: I like grocery lists because there’s usually no rewriting involved. But between screenplay and novel? I’d have to say it’s a tie. I like the visual aspect of screenwriting, thinking in pictures. And I like the freedom of elaborating on details you get with a book. Both forms are challenging. Both make me feel awesome when I’m done.
What are your hopes for the book?
MARTIN: I hope none of my friends call to say they noticed the typo on page 181. I hope people enjoy the story and want to see it as a movie. I hope once the movie gets made, people will want to experience the novel. And then I hope to start working on the sequel. I’m a huge fan of serialized adventurers, from James Bond to Jason Bourne. Maybe there’s something to the initials J.B., but Jarlie Brocklin sounded weird.
You’ve been participating at Amazon Studios since 2010. What would you say to someone who is thinking about taking the plunge?
MARTIN: I’ve been optimistic about Amazon getting into the content business since the beginning. The new ways we view entertainment is one reason. How movies will get financed, produced, and distributed is another. I think with every project, you should be open to all traditional and emerging ways of getting your stories out there. … I’m anxious to see what their first movies will be and I’m grateful The Alchemist Agenda is on their development slate.
Anything else you’d like to add?
MARTIN: The Alchemist Agenda novel is available today at Amazon.com in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. It’s also available wherever else books are sold, but I’m pretty sure only in Sanskrit for the Palm Pilot. How’s that for a plug?
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