Emerson faculty Diane Lake, a writer of the 2002 Academy Award-winning Frida, has been hired by producer Tony Greenberg to adapt Thomas H. Cook’s psychological thriller Instruments of Night for the screen.
Instruments of Night is the story of a mystery writer who is asked to write a fictional resolution to a real-life murder so the victim’s mother can die peacefully, 50 years after her teenage daughter was killed.
In addition to Frida, the story of artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek, Lake has written screenplays about such artistic and literary luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler. Her script for Ada, about Ada Byron (Lord Byron’s daughter), considered by many to be the first computer programmer, is under option with producers Revel Guest and Ed Elbert.
This semester, Lake taught a course on Writing the Female-Driven Screenplay.
Emerson News Today asked Lake, associate professor in the Department of Visual and Media Arts, about her latest project. She currently is in France, and responded via email.
How did this job come about? Did your agent hear about it and think of you, or did you hear about it and decide you wanted to do it?
Lake: I heard about the writing assignment through friends before my agent did. That often happens. New writers think they need an agent to get a writing gig – and you certainly need an agent – but often you’ll read of a writing assignment that the studios or a producer are looking for a writer for, or friends will tell you of a writing assignment they’ve heard is open, and that’s how you first hear about it. Then your agent jumps on board and gets you the meeting to pitch for the assignment.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in writing this adaptation?
Lake: This novel is set in four – count ‘em, four – different time periods. This makes it incredibly difficult to adapt – but it’s also lots of fun to work out a way to do it.
How closely do you anticipate following the novel?
Lake: A novel is at least 3-5 times longer than a script. So some things will have to go and others will have to be added to cover the gaps and make it a story you can tell in a little over 100 pages. But Instruments of Night is a brilliant novel, so I’ll keep as much as I can.
What are you most looking forward to in writing this?
Lake: The challenge of bringing all these different time periods alive in one film – and making it work!!
Will this be your first thriller?
I wrote a thriller called Hard Boiled about the life of mystery writer Raymond Chandler that is currently under option. It’s a murder mystery/thriller and was great fun to write.
You write a lot of biopics. What do you love about telling real people’s stories?
Lake: I like writing about people who came from not much, but through talent and perseverance made something of themselves…I’m interested in people who strive for more, in whatever venue, and I’m particularly interested in people who follow their hearts, no matter what the odds.
Apart from superheroes, what do you think producers are looking for in screenplays these days?
Lake: Producers, like studios, are looking for screenplays that will make them money. Not one of them is in this out of charity – they have to turn a profit to stay in business.
Are adaptations “hot”?
Lake: Little-known fact — each year more adaptations are made than originals. For the film industry, it's common sense. If they make a film of a novel they know that it's a proven commodity — somebody published it, thus thought it worthy, people read it, etc. So they feel more comfortable investing millions of dollars to make a film that already has a bit of a track record. But an original? You're going out on a limb and following your gut instinct…and if you guess wrong? Well, you lose millions. So chances are, adaptations will always be hot!
Editor's note: The answer to the last question has been edited from the original to reflect “adaptations,” as opposed to “biopics.”