And I’m feeling pretty great about it. I’ve always had an issue with running out of steam when it comes to longer projects (BA dissertation, my final Journalism portfolio for my BA…), so I decided to prove to myself that I could write something of length and stick with it. And, for the most part, the process was pretty painless. In two, eight hour, writing sessions over two nights, I wrote a near feature length screen adaptation of Ed Brubaker’s ‘The Winter Solder: The Complete Collection‘.
I got the idea from the frustration I felt that there wasn’t any current plans in the MCU for a Winter Soldier film, and that Black Widow had never really had her time to shine (plus I wanted to give Hawkeye some really badass moments). So I decided to write a screenplay of my own, based on the graphic novel and subtly craft it to keep true to the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The approach I took to actually writing this came, mostly, from my journalism background. Taking the word count I’m aiming for, and breaking it down into ‘features’ (1,500 word segments). After I’d written one, I’d have a break, go back to my big ‘beat sheet’ (the big sheet in the image above) and look at where I am in my story. Then, I’d make another cup of tea and go at it again. In total, I wrote an act and a half each night – three acts. I found that planning my beat sheet as I read the graphic novel (littering it with SO many post-it notes) helped to keep my story tight, linear and made me think about how I accentuate certain important plot points in my story. I also kept in mind the Russo Brothers’ love of ensemble storytelling and their desire to give each character a satisfying story arc; with that, I made a spreadsheet with my characters on one axis and my beats on the other and filled it in with where each character is emotionally and literally. That just provided me with a point of reference for cutaways from the action. If I have to be critical of the story, though, I’d say that it does lack a strong B-story that runs beneath the whole thing, but when you take into consideration the fact that the source material is largely told from the first-person perspective of Bucky Barnes, the point is kind of moot. But, if I worked on the screenplay a little more, I could definitely get more creative and craft a B-story.
Perhaps one of the biggest aides to my creative process, actually, was having a ‘space’ to work in as well. I’m usually one of those people who just does dribs and drabs in different locations – mostly coffee shops. But we just got a new kitchen table, so I had a surface to spread out all of my materials, and I sat and wrote there. It helped the process, kept me focused and made me work faster (I had a clock facing me, and a kettle behind me). The writing process also helped me to understand when I’m most productive. I’m a raging insomniac, so the whole thing was done from 7pm until 3am. Writing this screenplay was a huge source of accomplishment for me, but also the opportunity I needed to actually learn about how I work and when I do my best work.
One of the biggest challenges I faced with this screenplay was figuring out characters that could work within the wider MCU. Because currently, Marvel don’t have the appropriate rights to the ‘X-Men‘ characters (so no Wolverine) and Jasper Sitwell is, I assume, dead in the MCU. And so I had to supplement. And you know how much I love badass female characters. So I’ve utilised Maria Hill even more than she is in the original work, and written Sharon Carter into the story. I’ve also used Sam Wilson in place of Wolverine. And taken out the whole Daredevil twist. I’ve also changed a lot of names of our Russian operatives, but that was more borne out of finding myself writing – for a brief time – without having the source material in front of me.
Additionally I’ve also cut a lot of the stuff from ‘The Longest Winter‘ and used a much simpler plot point to set up the film, with no mention of Doctor Doom and Latveria.
But perhaps the biggest aspect I had to downplay was the romantic element between Bucky Barnes and Natasha Romanoff, because it just doesn’t sit well in the MCU. There’s been no mention of Bucky training Natasha in the Red Room in the MCU, let alone them having the same extensive history that they do in the comics. Plus, Bucky’s in his nineties in the MCU… it’d be messed up, in my opinion, to have them madly in love with each other. In my screenplay, we kind of see them bond over their shared Soviet past, their search for redemption and their experiences of being brainwashed to operate against the United States. That’s not to say it lacks any emotional ‘drive’ for Bucky; by the point in the screenplay where Natasha is taken, Bucky feels like he’s found another person with shared life experience – much in the same way he feels towards Steve Rogers. She’s one of the only people in The Avengers who actually understands what he’s been through, and so it still packs quite a punch for Bucky.
Perhaps the biggest challenge I encountered when I wrote this was that I wanted to make it ‘work’ in the MCU, but, I have no clue what Marvel are writing for ‘Infinity War‘ and its subsequent movies. And so I had to get a little bit creative with what I hope happens in these other films. In my mind, it would be incredible for Bucky to be placed on this path to redemption in ‘Infinity War‘, perhaps even briefly taking up the Captain America mantle and ‘dying’ in the process, and then going off to operate in the shadows amidst calls for him to face justice for his work as The Winter Soldier. So that’s kind of what I went with, because it sets up Ed Brubaker’s work perfectly.
It was also in my mind about how best to end the screenplay and how best for that ending to reflect the MCU’s seemingly more ‘space-oriented’ future. And so, without giving too much away, we do venture into Ales Kot territory at the end, which could set up future films in a series.
Of course, this isn’t going be a film that’s actually going to get made, but I found it to be an incredibly valuable exercise to go through on my journey to learning to write for the screen, because I’m working with stories and characters that are familiar to me. I’m using what I know about them from the source material and from existing films to craft something that could work right now. That’s a lot safer to me right now, at the beginning of my journey (this is only the second, whole screenplay I’ve ever written), than crafting an entire world of characters and running with it for 10-15,000 words.