Writing a screenplay is an art that few writers master, and it’s even harder when the writer has to adapt the work of another writer, especially when that work is a well-known and award winning story. That was the case when Eric Heisserer had to adapt Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” for the movie Arrival. In a long article in The TAlkhouse, he explains how he did it and what he learned.
“Story of Your Life” stuck with me. It shadowed me by day and hovered over me when I slept. I knew I wanted to translate to screen, but I had no idea how, or with whom. I just knew I had to find a way.At this point in my career, I had written 13 spec screenplays. Six of those spec features were science fiction. The only horror script I’d ever written was the one that sold, and I soon discovered this was all I was trusted to write. Whenever I’d present Ted’s short story to producers, I was met with a not-insignificant level of suspicion. “This is heady stuff. I was hoping for Stephen King or something.”
It took years of searching and writing non-horror material before I found the right producers to champion the project: Dan Levine and Dan Cohen, at 21 Laps. The Dans fell in love with “Story of Your Life” like I had, and finally, after years of carrying around a dog-eared copy of Ted’s book in my car, I had my shot. I formed my take on the material and we pitched it around town.
It did not sell. Not a single bite.