Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)

Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
Creative Writing Screenplays Using Heroes & History (+ Essay Study Guide)
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A Writer's Journey: How to Find Your Heroes

Essay + Author's Study Guide


"Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood"

The Making of a Novel and Its Screenplay Adaptation

Essay by Cynthia Buchanan

Bonus: Study Guides from "The Scarlet Spaniard" screenplay
and the Spanish Civil War

Novelist, playwright and essayist Cynthia Buchanan's adventures reach far beyond the day Lily Tomlin optioned Buchanan's first novel Maiden for film and Columbia Pictures bought the story rights.

Apart from the sale to the studio, Buchanan's own company Comadre Productions is now developing Maiden for a television series, with a producer attached who teaches at the graduate school of film and theatre at UCLA.

With him Buchanan is also developing her Latino/multicultural screenplay "The Scarlet Spaniard" she adapted as a novel, too. It all began in Spain under her old Fulbright grant in Creative Writing awarded by the U.S. State Department. She returned frequently to live in Spain for her research and quest as an artist.

• Yet Buchanan's criss-crossing back and forth from fiction to film to television projects dates to Lily Tomlin, who has her own development company.

After Columbia Pictures acquired Buchanan's novel Maiden as film rights, Lily Tomlin commissioned the writer to create scripts for the iconic actor's film and television ventures. Most of all, Buchanan wrote characters Tomlin innovated on Broadway, on TV and as live performance in comedy clubs and for her one-woman show on tour. Buchanan's characters also appear on Lily Tomlin's DVDs.

Besides receiving a special Tony award, Lily Tomlin was eventually named an honoree by Kennedy Center for the Arts. All this was added to her multiple nominations for the Emmy and Oscar and in 2017 she won the coveted lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.

So what does the luminous Lily Tomlin have to do with Spain?

• Great actors love to portray unique powerful characters, whether on stage or screen. Hollywood stars seek heroic roles, state-of-the-art stories shaped for them by writers of fertile imagination.

Like Lily Tomlin, movie star Antonio Banderas of Spain had a production company, too, in Los Angeles.

So when the president of Banderas' company learned that Cynthia Buchanan had lived in Spain and in the U.S. had published short stories set in Spain, Banderas' company invited her to L.A. to pitch a story as a potential "star vehicle" or so the industry calls these screenplays after development or adaptation.

Because Buchanan had a university education--a B.A. in English and Theatre--and earned an M.A. in Creative Writing, she found it easy to create characters for Lily Tomlin since the writer's imagination was primed by literature. As well, the writer had mastered the craft of writing for print, stage or screen.

Universal metaphors, storytelling and dialogue of the powerful kind are a magnet for actors, directors and producers. There are no short cuts to writing for Hollywood. Social networking sites or Twitter or photos or video going viral from a cell phone or You Tube is not an education in creative writing.

• Everyone in Hollywood knows, "Story is king." And for Buchanan, story means the written word.

• Story from "cross-over" as fiction or nonfiction can be adapted as script or script as a novel.

Living in New York as a professional writer, when Buchanan published a short story she expanded as a play, her talent agency International Creative Management sent her play to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. that had a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for New American Playwrights.

Buchanan sent her script to Lily Tomlin in L.A., who immediately wanted to play the lead and did so with tremendous impact on the audience. Years later, Buchanan turned the play into a novel of the Spanish Southwest, one of two new ones she finished which now have "value added" in the form of polished screenplay adaptations that save Hollywood years of investment and toil. Such content becomes "king."

As an expert in the field of Spain in the Americas (including Mexico) the writer cashed in on her unique, bicultural education when Antonio Banderas' company invited her to pitch her fiction in Hollywood.

This pitch was a piece of cake. Buchanan knew the type of complex "hero" the Spanish star would love. A universal hero. A Joseph Campbell type hero. A hero "with a thousand faces." But one with both a tragic and a comic bent. Buchanan's instinct is what studying literature will do for you.

• In opening the doors to Hollywood, story is king. Literature is the key to the heart of the king.

Buchanan's passion for Spain and the soul of the southland Andalucía, home of Antonio Banderas, was the driving force behind "The Scarlet Spaniard" both as a screenplay and now a novel. Her journey is the core of this essay "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood."

Long steeped in the history of the Spanish Civil War because of her trilogy novel in progress, Buchanan knew the high-octane culture--"the Spanish genius" shaping Banderas' country and his life as movie star.

But how had Spain entered the life of Cynthia Buchanan? Her essay "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood" elucidates a writer's journey as does the bonus study guide with unique textures and depth.

Beyond Cynthia Buchanan's life in the Spanish Southwest--Arizona, California and Texas--and her adventures as a writer in New York, Spain, Mexico and along U.S.-Mexico borderlands, this creative artist had read all of Ernest Hemingway's works, from those the Nobel prize winner wrote about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises, all the way through his monumental novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

"Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood"

The Making of a Novel and Its Screenplay Adaptation

Essay by Cynthia Buchanan

Plus Study Guide from "The Scarlet Spaniard"

Cynthia Buchanan's journey as a writer propelled her beyond the bullfight milieu of Mexico when she was awarded a Fulbright grant in Creative Writing in English to explore Spain as cultural exchange.

Her essay now tells of James Michener befriending her at the running of the bulls in Pamplona the year he published his nonfiction book on Spain, Iberia, though it his novels which became movies and plays.

Michener, who later considered himself Buchanan's mentor, was only one writer in Buchanan's life, who loved Spain. In New York, she met Dr. Gregory Hemingway, son of the Nobel Prize winner whose books inspired her to apply for a Fulbright grant in Spain.

Other Hispanophiles are now cited in her new essay that serves as stimulus and prompts for creative writing and the evolution of a story adapted as a script and how that, in turn, expanded into a novel.

• Such a professional "rabbit trail" is not unusual. Movies or television programming adapted from books or short stories have frequently originated as screenplays that were left to idle as orphans.

• Author Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove began as a screenplay he wrote to star John Wayne and Henry Fonda. When its development met stasis, McMurty put the script aside and one day wrote it as a novel of the saga of Texas and the American frontier that won the National Book Award in 1985 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1986.

• As an Emmy-winning TV miniseries adapted from the novel, "Lonesome Dove" was filmed where Cynthia Buchanan lived on the Texas-Mexico border. CBS Television invited her to the set on a ranch on the Rio Grande for her to write about the miniseries for magazines, which she did.

Bear in mind Lonesome Dove is an historical novel and Larry McMurty invested years of research about the American West and its Texas cattle drives and Indian savagery.

Cynthia Buchanan's life and travels in Spain to battlesites of the Spanish Civil War all began with Ernest Hemingway's love affair with Spain, long before he was a war correspondent during the Civil War.

So to grasp the benefits in Buchanan's essay, consider not only the bullfighting world Hemingway made his own but his profound involvement in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939, "the last great American cause." Historians also take it to be the "dress rehearsal for World War Two."

• The Spanish Civil War's 80th anniversary 2016-2019 opens up the idea in this essay "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood" to serve American literature, European history and film.

• The essay and its study guide may also stimulate critical thinking for "studies abroad" programs and Fulbright scholar applicants. Their own essays are the caveat and ne plus ultra of the U.S. State Department's program in distinguished cultural exchange.

Meanwhile, the demand globally for multicultural literature in English is vast yet underserved. And whether the category "Latino/multicultural literature" embraces Spain in that label of "Latinidad" is according to choice.

Beyond the Spanish Conquest of the New World and Spanish Colonial civilizations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this essay implies peninsular Spain and "Hispanidad" as La Raza and "Latindad."

That said, the parsing of categories is not for the scope of this essay or its tangents that include screenwriting and adaptations.

However, "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood" as essay banks on Multiculture, internationalism and Hispanic heritage, the seminal impact of Spain through the centuries, a heartbeat for humanity that inspired Cynthia Buchanan's screenplay adaptations from her own short stories and two new novels.

Her purpose in the essay is to share how "the Spanish genius" marked the lives of writers and how the craft of writing fiction and screenplays is served.

Bonus Study Guide: AMERICANS AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR (1936-1939)

• The Spanish Republic was backed by Communist Russia after Spain's revolutionary democratic elections in 1931.

• When Spain's exiled General Francisco Franco and rightwing co-conspirators led a military uprising in 1936 to overthrow the libertarian government, it erupted into "the Spanish holocaust."

In Franco's bloody invasion of Spain, he led crack troops from colonial Spanish Morocco to spearhead the coup d'état that exploded as the Civil War. Inside three years the generalisímo claimed victory, thanks to his Axis partners Hitler and Mussolini, who supplied troops, weapons and aircraft that won Franco's war for his Nationalist usurpers.

• The slaughter of Spanish Republicans by North African Muslim troops under Franco is a horror to consider.

• After the war, when despot Franco was Chief of State and "El Caudillo de España por la gracia de Dios," his repression and executions were a sustained violence in a totalitarian era in Europe.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Buchanan's essay "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood"...touches on 1937...and the volunteer Abraham Lincoln Brigade, that consisted of two separate battalions recruited by the International Communist Party to defend Spanish democracy. American volunteers did battle alongside those from dozens of countries, who also had rushed to the bleeding Republic and were known collectively as the proud International Brigades until the war's realpolitik slammed in with its miseries.

• Trenchermen in the Jarama Valley, the Lincoln Battalion entered combat at the Battle of Madrid.

• When Hemingway was a war correspondent visiting this Jarama front outside Madrid, he was using the experience to gather information for a novel. Later, the hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls was modeled to a certain extent on Robert Merriman of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.

• The truth is, hundreds of U.S. volunteers to the legendary, collective Abraham Lincoln Brigade sacrificed their lives at the Battle of Jarama and on other Loyalist fronts.

• Meanwhile, the portrait of Communist advisers to the Republican Army creating political chaos is actual history and that their chaos sent International Brigades into combat as "cannon fodder."

Six months after the fall of the Spanish Republic in 1939, Hitler's conquests in Europe kicked in with the invasion of Poland. The Third Reich's new Nazi war machine had been tested in Spain, and for this reason its Civil War is regarded as "the dress rehearsal for World War II."

• Fighting the tyranny of Franco and Hitler, International Brigades were "premature anti-Fascists."

As a dictator for nearly forty years Franco--last of the Axis potentates--left a vile and cruel legacy that included thousands of unmarked mass graves discovered recently. Spain's Chief of State died in 1975 but only now is declared guilty of "crimes against humanity," in the same vein as Adolf Hitler.

Cynthia Buchanan and her Fulbright grant in Creative Writing when she lived in Spain made her one day investigate the historic Battle of Jarama. It would become one of her fields of expertise; her hands-on knowledge of the sacrifice and combat was most vivid when she visited the old trench line, where "Yankee" blood was shed to defend human liberty. The American volunteers fighting alongside Spanish Republicans, left their "story" as relics. Boots. Shovels. And .50 caliber machine gun shells.

In the U.S. she interviewed veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and today her archives include her collection of correspondence from Lincoln veterans, interviews and exchanges and with scholars in Spain.

Because the Spanish Republic was backed by Russian Communism, most Lincoln Brigade veterans were accused of "anti-Americanism" after they returned to the US in 1938.

After World War II then came the "witch hunts" for Communists, the Congressional "round-up" for hearings under Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee that pursued veterans of the Lincoln Brigade. Also persecuted and blacklisted were scores of Hollywood writers, actors, directors and filmmakers who had so passionately supported the Spanish Republic.

The Spanish Civil War left more than a million dead and half a million Spanish Republicans in exile. Now, Cynthia Buchanan's imaginative narrative "Not the Spain of Hemingway or Hollywood" offers a challenging literary lens through which to examine that tragic war in Spain, one of the most devastating conflagrations in twentieth-century history.

* * * * *

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