From silver screen to bookstore

If we accept screenwriter and best-selling novelist Ioanna Karystiani’s opinion, then «the last draft of a screenplay which has gone through several rounds of editing is like a good first draft of a novel.» Greek readers appear to be looking at the screenplay of «Brides» in this light, as the published version of the screenplay for Pandelis Voulgaris’s box-office hit has already sold 25,000 copies since October. The screenplay for another Greek cinema hit, Tassos Boulmetis’s «A Touch of Spice,» has been on bookshop shelves for just one month and has already sold 6,000 copies; the numbers alone prove that cinema audiences are eager to buy the publications once having seen the film. And what’s more, these are good-quality publications; they include all the lines, the director’s notes, the screenwriter’s comments and visual material. What the reader ends up with is a hybrid of prose and image, the writing style of a novel in the structure of a play, separated into scenes and complemented by technical directions, such as filming locations and off-camera noises. «The screenwriter has absolute freedom,» notes Boulmetis in the introduction of «A Touch of Spice» (published by Ellinika Grammata). «There are no limits at the onset of a screenplay. It is total chaos. Anything goes.» The director poses an interesting question regarding the public’s interest in purchasing the printed screenplay of a film: «Why do we need a book of the screenplay when everything the screenplay wants to achieve is encapsulated in the film?» He answers his own question: «The screenplay of ‘A Touch of Spice’ would have been published whether the film was made or not. It would just have a subtitle that would read: ‘A screenplay for a film that never was…’ «Another reason to publish the screenplay,» adds the director, «is to put down some of the ideas and experiences that never made it onto the screen. The book is very much a conscious but forced separation – a way for me to distance myself once and for all from the creative residue of the film.» When Boulmetis was signing copies of the book, along with one of his lead male actors, Basak Koklukaya, at Eleftheroudakis bookstore on December 10, the public flocked to have their copies autographed. The majority of the attendees hailed from Istanbul and admitted to having bought the book so that they could have a lasting reminder of a film that touched them so deeply. There is little doubt that the people who purchased the published screenplays of both «A Touch of Spice» and «Brides» had seen the films. The 1.5 million tickets sold for «A Touch of Spice» and 700,000 for «Brides» set in motion the ensuing publishing activity. In the case of «Brides» (published by Kastaniotis), the signature of Karystiani – an established and popular novelist with a broad readership – was a sure herald of success. Double life period The screenplay for Theo Angelopoulos’s epic «Weeping Meadow» has been on the shelves since November and has sold just 1,000 copies. Pricier and somewhat heavier than the abovementioned publications, this melancholy and thought-provoking screenplay is no easy read. It is esoteric, fragmented and not a bit depressing as Angelopoulos’s language reflects the tone of his imagery. «The time that precedes the writing of a screenplay,» notes the director, «is fluid, with strange fluctuations and seemingly unexplainable emotional shifts – from scatter-brained thought to total precision. It is a period when you lead a double life. The noisy part of yourself goes on as usual, while the silent part of you weaves secrets with invisible materials, piecing that which will mature and surface, at the most unexpected time, to tear across all the filters of reality with surprising ease.» (Translated passage from the director’s prologue in «An Eternity,» by Petros Markaris.) Can a screenplay really prove a gripping read? «Yes and no,» says Boulmetis. «Yes, for those who read screenplays frequently and are acquainted with the audiovisual community. Others simply have to push aside the technical comments that interrupt the flow of reading.» «Screenplays are not less important pieces of writing than a novel,» notes Karystiani. The dialogue reveals the atmosphere, the characters, the story itself even, as do the silences and the screenwriter’s notes to the director: «Nikki trails her thimbled finger over the wavy hair in the photograph…» However, the screenwriter stresses, the final screenplay is rewritten on set «by the producer, the cinematographer, the set designer, the costume designer and more than anyone else, the actors and the director – the captain who leads the images on their journey.» The attraction of the screenplay is that it takes readers by the hand and leads them through this journey, through the writer-screenwriter-director relationship, through their world, their emotions, their perceptions, «from one moment to the next, one emotion to the other,» adds Boulmetis. In the printed version of «A Touch of Spice,» the director has added a short story of his own. Titled «A Diary of Spices,» it chronicles a trip he took 10 years ago to Istanbul to visit his place of birth. This was the trip that inspired the film. «Just before I nod off to sleep, I see the video I shot. The images in this video condense the feelings of 30 years and recall other images that begin to acquire a meaning. And when these images begin falling into place, they automatically become the pieces of a story that must be told. But how, when and in what manner?»

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