The screenwriter of Arrival on how hard it was to adapt Ted Chiang for the screen


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Also interesting is the fact Final Draft, the expensive and mandatory screenplay production software package, can’t handle images—an unusual but unavoidable requirement for a movie full of alien logograms to be deciphered. Your first thought is probably to marvel at Hollywood’s cultish traditionalism and what happens to software when a market gets locked in. But it strikes me that screenplays are like code or markup, a form of plaintext tightly attuned to an expensive technical process. Embedded graphics would tend to be a disruptive amateurism, at war with functions of the document that aren’t easily visible to observers.

This exactly! Plus, adding those images (or any images) restricts the creative process down the line. What if they’d come up with something more visually engaging in concepting stage? Or (more likely) what if they couldn’t create what’s in the book under budget restraints?

Having just words on a page open to interpretation is often the best way to spark an idea.


I’ve looked into this software a few times – it is $200 at most and $100 if you can figure out ANY way of getting a student dot edu address (which there are several sites that will provide these for free).

There are other apps that do the same sort of thing, formatting pages and timing scenes that are cheaper…but for $200 for something that professionals use? It isn’t all that expensive.

Regardless, the movie was amazing. I didn’t realize this was a Chiang film until about halfway through…I think it has been a decade since I’ve read this and it was a great novel. One of the smartest films I’ve seen in years…almost didn’t go because I didn’t want to see another shitty scifi film…hadn’t heard ANYWHERE that this was an adaptation of his work or I would have seen it in Imax (errrr…was it released in Imax???)


[quote=“beschizza, post:1, topic:90611”]
It’s always fascinating to see how the sausage is made.
[/quote]To take this literally, it is best to actually make the sausage. In my case, the reaction was, “Dear fucking God! Just how long is this damned intestine?” [normal sausage casing, ya know] I think this might well spill over in the metaphor.


I wonder if movie theatres could offer something like peril-sensitive sunglasses - an annoying exposition blocking device of some kind. Maybe like the 3D glasses where the lenses are polarized in opposite directions, except both lenses are polarized the same, and spoilerish exposition is projected with light polarized the opposite direction…


I had the exact same feeling when I saw the film! Removing most of the explanation of what was happening would really propel the movie to 2001-level ambiguousness, and further make this a classic sci-fi movie.


I agree that removing it would do a better job of staying to the ambiguity of the story – I read the story five or six times and always came away with Louise’s shifting tenses about her daughter as being not that she knew what was coming, but that she understood she wouldn’t change anything if she had known. So it would have left open the argument.

But I think providing that reveal has made the movie a bit more accessible as a movie to a lot of non SF fans and I hope it will bode well for making more SF films out of smart SF short stories!


I haven’t read Story of Your Life, but I saw Arrival recently. The narrative of intelligence overcoming xenophobia gave me hope that our culture is finally moving past its post 9/11 paranoia and militarism, even if the government is behind the curve. We need more of this, and less American Sniper.


It made it a lot more accessible to this long-time hard sf fan too. I’m just extremely literal and I need a mallet on the noggin sometimes. I’m grateful it didn’t have the “huh?” factor of 2001, which I think I finally understand somewhat after all these years.

I thought it was the best science fiction film I’ve seen in ages.


I didn’t realize what story Arrival was adapted from until I saw that first circular word on the screen – an idea without a beginning, or an end, or a direction – and I remembered THAT.

Oh, THAT story, I said to myself. That was Ted Chiang?

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