• Tanya Wright
  • Wanna turn your BOOK into a MOVIE? Here's my two cents...
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Wanna turn your BOOK into a MOVIE? Here's my two cents...
Written by
Tanya Wright
April 2011
Written by
Tanya Wright
April 2011

Next month, I will share with the world my directorial debut, BUTTERFLY RISING! It is a hugely important moment in my life, a culmination of 7 long, hard and –at times-- excruciatingly joyful years. I made the movie BEFORE I wrote the book --a little backwards, I know, LOL-- and...

Well, lemme back-track a bit.

My name is Tanya Wright. I currently play the role of Deputy Kenya Jones on HBO's TRUE BLOOD. I have always been an actor but, what most folks don't know, I have always been a writer, too. Truth be told, I was a writer BEFORE I was an actor! I scribbled in journals on movie sets, in my dressing room, in the make-up chair-- every time I could get a chance. Slowly but surely, I amassed a stockpile of material-- screenplays, plays and all the rest. One was a semi-finalist in the Nicholl's Screenwriting Competition (AMPAS-- the folks that do the Academy Awards!) and a play was work shopped at the Mark Taper, Los Angeles' answer to Broadway. These encouraging notices in a tough, tough town gave me the confidence to go on and reassured me that I was, perhaps, not a TOTAL hack!

I wrote a screenplay based on my Nicholl's semi-script, then made the movie. Then, I waited. Something was...well, incomplete. Why wasn't I ready to throw my film out to the sea of other indie films? I couldn't put my finger on it. Then, it came to me: the creative process wasn't complete yet. Oh, no. I still had more to do. I had to write. A book.

A BOOK???? AH!!!

Alright. Truth is, I always had envisioned writing books (is that plural????) but I always thought it would be much later on in my life. Say, at age 70 when I had seceded from the Union that is Hollywood (LOL!), wearing straw hats and walking to my local farmer's market in Italy (Tuscany, specifically) trailed by dogs and butterflies. A movie AND a book! Never thought it would happen to a gal like me. It's crazy but it's true.

Someone told me how rare it was for an author to also write and direct the screenplay to the book she wrote. I can't tell you how incredibly GRATEFUL I AM for this extraordinary opportunity, and so, I thought I'd share with you writers/authors a few things I learned about turning your words into pictures!

  1. Which brings me to TIP #1: WRITERS usually THINK in terms of WORDS. But SCREENWRITERS/DIRETORS need to FEEL in terms of PICTURES. Get it? The most important distinction to make is that a film is a succession of PICTURES and a novel is a succession of WORDS. Also, writers of novels and the like can really get into detail about a character's internal life whereas, in screenwriting, the internal life of the character is best left to the ACTOR to create while you want to focus on what it LOOKS LIKE. The RESULT of what the actor creates. You feel me?

  2. Writing is (or can be) SOLITARY and INTERNAL; filmmakking, on the other hand, is an external art that is, like it or not, TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY COLLABORATIVE! You'll have one person for sound, another for costumes, still another who takes the pretty pictures-- it can be daunting and, when you're in the midst of it, you'll long for the quiet, solitary space you know as a writer. WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE with all these opinions and ideas? If you're smart, you'll listen to every one of them. Take what you need to make a good picture great, and leave the rest. But not before telling the folks who gave you their advice a hearty and sincere THANK YOU:)

  3. If you're a writer who wants to direct what they've written, that's great! I am a firm believer in that more writers should direct their own work. Who better knows what that pillow you agonized for the words to describe than you? Also, if the movie comes out like s*(^, you've got nobody to blame but yourself. After all, you're the director--it's your vision-- and at the end of the day, you call the shots (or does your financier? Well! That's another story...). Here's the thing, though: writing and directing require VERY DIFFERENT SKILL SETS! Writing requires you to spend bouts of time alone, observing others and, well, the less talking you do, the better. I don't want to generalize, but in my experience, I find most writers to be introverts. They see the world in their own, special way and comment on it through that lens. Directing, on the other hand, requires that you not only be collaborative, but that you are expert at communicating your ideas to many different people! For example, you might need to use a different vocab for your DP (Director of Photography) than you do your actors. Are you an EXCELLENT MULTITASKER? This is essential, I think, to competent directing. While you're shooting, there are so many things going on at once it can make your head spin! Are you level-headed under pressure? If not, learn to be-- quick, fast and in a hurry-- 'cause it's YOU who'll set the tone for the entire shoot. Yes, my dear. YOU. People—well, everyone, will be looking to YOU for DIRECTION. Can you handle that?

These are the three most important tips I can give to an author/writer who has visions of seeing their words—uh, pictures! --on the big screen! Wanna know what I have in my bag o'tricks on screenwriting/making movies? Here's some “stuff” that's been helpful to me:

The Hero's Journey, by Joseph Campbell: Essential. Simply a must.

The Foundations of Screenwriting, Syd Field: Simplistic, but the title says it all: a FOUNDATION.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting—by Robert McKee: I haven't read this one, but it's pretty much a well-regarded staple.

The Comic ToolboxHow to be Funny even if you're Not! by John Vorhaus: I tell everyone who wants to write ANYTHING funny, including my corporate- executive- brother-in-law turned-stand-up-comic:)

From Real to DealEverything you Need to Create a Successful Independent Film by Dov S-Simens you won't need this one if your aim is to make it with a big Hollywood studio. If you're doing it the down-and-dirty-indie way, you must have this book. MUST!

Final Draft: a 'visual writer's' must-have software. Easy to install, there's a version for a MAC and one for a PC. You can write screenplays, plays, soaps, TV series, etc. Automatically comes out in the correct format! YEAH!

Here's to writing in pictures!

XO Tanya :)

Tanya Wright will premiere her movie, BUTTERFLY RISING, at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival on Sunday, May 8 at 6PM. It's the PERFECT movie to take your mother to on her special day. ALL ARE WELCOME! 


For tickets for the SEATTLE, WASHINGTON WORLD PREMIERE of BUTTERFLY RISING, go towww.butterflyrisingthemovie.com

Follow Tanya on Twitter! http://twitter.com/tanyaTTwright

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  • Tanya Wright

    Katherine!  PLEASE make sure you come say hi! I think Judith vanPraag will be there too (see post below). LOVE to see all my shewrites.com friends!  Will make my day that much more special:)


    Nonqaba: Thanks for that:)  Actually, I just submitted to the Toronto International Film Festival  few weeks ago!  Would LOVE for my film to have its International Premiere there-- my dream, actually. Fingers (and toes) crossed!  Thanks for the well-wishes. PS: your 'Sweetness' looks fascinating...

  • Katherine Jenkins

    Wow...Seattle writer here! I'm putting it on the calendar..looking forward to it!

  • Thanks a lot Tanya for the words vs moving pictures' truth.  Oops! you let the cat out of the bag.  Yes, writers are introverts.  Good luck on May 8.  Butterfly Rising will definitely rise.  I hope you do festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Montreal.  You can make fruitful connections there.



  • Tanya Wright

    Hey, guys! K. I got no friggin' idea how to reply to each of your posts individually (LOL!) so here we go...

    Hi, Barbara! Checked out your site. Looks like your book is non-fiction, no? I'd suggest maybe taking one story (or several stories and putting them together) about the subjects (people) in your book. Here's the thing: I think you get ANYONE to look at ANYTHING by being A TERRIFIC SALESPERSON. OFFER folks something that they need (or something they didn't know they needed--even better). That said, I don't know if I'm the best person to give advice on getting someone to read your material. I've always found the best approach works where you MAKE SUCH A BIG FAT NOISE about your work, then folks have no choice but to come looking your way! How can you INNOVATE your story? What makes it different? WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO SEE THIS AS A MOVIE? Ask yourself these hard questions, get the answers, and then start TELLING PEOPLE (everybody) what you're doing and what you want within your own network. Be relentless and keep your goal in mind. Also, do you have an agent? Try there, too! If you're relentless (and, yes, I mean relentless. The right person will seem to have "magically" come along-- but know that it was YOU calling them IN the entire time. GOOD LUCK! :) PS-- also, do you have an agent?

    Phyllis: Thanks for this!! :)

    Lorena: Do you have any friends who are producers? I'd say, again, start by TAPPING THE RESOURCES YOU ALREADY HAVE. Most of us don't realize we got everything we need in our own backyard. I've got all the producing projects I can handle at the moment, but thanks for asking!

    Chrsitine: I appreciate that. Thanks! Worked long and hard on this project. Sacrificed much and many and now...here I am!

    Judith: LOVE to see you (and any SHE WRITER-ERS) in SEATTLE! And yes, I will be there! There will be a reception and post movie Q&A afterwards. Make sure you come and say hi! Dress sounds gorgeous! I will look it up...

    Isabelle: Ah, yes! That distribution deal. It's a coming! I can feel it...

  • Isabelle Gregson

    Hi Tanya, thank you for sharing your experience so generously with us. (I'm a big fan of True Blood as well although we are a few seasons behind here in the UK.) Congratulations on what is a truly fantastic accomplishment. I look forward to seeing it on DVD or even better on a cinema screen in London when you get that distribution deal! xxx

  • Judith van Praag

    After seeing the trailer I think it would be wonderful to see you in Luly Yang's Monarch butterfly dress! If not at Langston Hughes then at least at a red carpet event in Los Angeles :-)

  • Judith van Praag

    Hey Tanya, Congrats with all these accomplishments! Your path makes all the sense in the world to me.  Are you going to be at Langston Hughes? I'll come wish you toi-toi-toi or afterward double congrats! I'll see if I can round up some more Seattle SW members. Thanks for sharing your story here on SW!

  • Christine Bartsch

    Fantastic advice and the trailer looks fantastic! Good luck at the festival!

  • Lorena Bathey

    Thanks for the insight. Love TRUE BLOOD!

    All my books come to me in my mind as a movie...I just write what I see.  So looking down the road to movies...and women producers Ahem...maybe you?? 




  • Quite an inspiration!  Thanks for the hints and for sharing your successes and goals.  Always keep a goal out there!

  • Dr. Barbara Sinor

    Hi Tanya,

    Yep, I have a book that many feel would make a great movie!! My question is: How do I get a producer or screenwriter to take a look at it???

    Check out the book if you like: "Addiction: Inside a heroin Treatment Program" on my website.

    Inspiration for Recovery

    Thanks for any feed back you can give me!

    Barbara Sinor, Ph.D.