Making Movies Your Own: Five Things to Think About When You Rewrite Your Favorite Film

Posted by Ian Doescher

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Whether it’s Ghostbusters set in the wild west or Tootsie with gender roles reversed, most writers I know who are also movie fans have, at some point, thought about how they would reimagine their favorite flick. If that’s you, read on for a few tips on what to consider when you’re putting your own spin on a beloved movie.


Pick a direction and pursue it 1000%.

Maybe you’re going to be the first person to imagine Psycho as a love story, or The Sound of Music set at a roller derby, or Saturday Night Fever as a psychological thriller. Whatever you do, commit to it and infuse every page with the concept. When I wrote the first draft of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Lucasfilm (in their wisdom) had me revisit the draft and go even farther with the concept. Suddenly, R2-D2 was speaking in English and stormtroopers were talking about having drinks with Darth Vader at Mos Eisley, and the concept was much better. Go all the way with your concept to make it work.


Genre changes are easy, but sometimes character changes are more interesting.

Setting Rambo: First Blood in space would be interesting, or putting When Harry Met Sally in ancient Japan would be… well, odd. But what if you changed the characters rather than the setting? What if John Rambo had been an Iraqi? What if Harry and Sally were both women? How would the movies be different and how would they be the same with these changes? This isn’t a film example, but when I saw Portland Center Stage’s production of the musical Oklahoma! with an all-black cast (keeping the western setting), the whole musical felt fresh and new.


When it comes to a series, choose wisely.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of William Shakespeare’s Star Trek, but an immediate issue arises: what story to tell? If you’re picking a series, particularly a series with a lot of characters and/or separate stories—think Batman, or Harry Potter, or The Avengers—you’ll have to figure out what story you want to tell. Holding yourself to a single story will be more manageable than tackling a whole series. (Incidentally, the correct answer for a William Shakespeare’s Star Trek adaptation is probably The Wrath of Khan > The Search for Spock > The Voyage Home. You heard it here first.)


Choose something you know well.

This probably goes without saying, but pick a movie you love instead of something you think might have the greatest commercial or popular appeal. Your adaptation will work best if you have a passion for the subject. I know, I know—it’s easy for me to talk about not choosing based on what’s commercially viable, since I picked Star Wars. But Star Wars was a no-brainer for me, since I’ve loved it my whole life. When someone asked me to consider writing William Shakespeare’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I thought, “That’s a great project for someone who knows Buffy. But not for me.”


Get permission.

You probably knew this was coming, and I’m sorry if I’ve just crushed your dreams. It’s vital that before your adaptation goes too far, you get permission from the necessary parties. Major studios have far more resources at their disposal than you do, and you don’t want to run afoul of their copyright attorneys. (Quirk Books and I never considered doing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars without Lucasfilm’s licensing.) If you’re only sharing what you’ve written with friends and family, okay, but once you’re posting something online or self-publishing or searching for a traditional publisher, you’ll want to do it legally.


Beyond those points, I don’t have much advice except have a great time rewriting your favorite film. Even after seven William Shakespeare's Star Wars books, it’s still a joy to sit down and write the books. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably working on the wrong movie or the wrong concept. Have a blast, and best wishes!