Genre: Book (Sci-fi)
Premise: When a resilient and clever astronaut gets stuck on Mars, he must use every trick in the book to get rescued.
About: A computer science geek, Andy Weir, took three years to research his novel before writing it, wanting to make sure the story was as realistic as possible. After being ignored by publishers, Weir offered the book for free on his website, before eventually selling it on Amazon for 99 cents. After the book shot up Amazon’s best-seller list, Crown Publishing came in and offered Weir six-figures for the book. That’s a big leap from 99 cents. This, of course, led to Fox optioning the movie rights, which, it’s been rumored, will have Matt Damon starring and Ridley Scott directing.
Writer: Andy Weir
Details: 385 pages


Okay, remember what we do here on “Adapt This Book Wednesday.” We take a book that’s been optioned by Hollywood and we figure out how we’d adapt it. When you get into this business, adapting material will be your number one source of income, so it’s a skill you’ll want to get good at.

Generally speaking, when you read a book you’re going to adapt, you’re looking for a couple of things. First, you want to find the component of the book that’s going to be the narrative spine. This might end up being the entire story. But other times a book will be so big or so complex, you’ll be forced to tell only a piece of it. Figuring out what piece that is could be the difference between a good script and a bad one.

Also, you’re looking for potential problems in the material and creative ways to solve those problems. In some cases, you can just cut the problematic part of the story out. But there are some problems that are so ingrained in the story that you can’t avoid them. Take the whole Chilean Miner incident from a couple of years back. You had a few dozen men trapped in a tiny mine space. How do you even begin to shoot that story?  How do people move around?  Or will everyone just stay in one spot?  How do you keep that interesting for two hours?  Would it be better to tell the story of the people trying to save the miners?  These are key choices that need to be figured out in the script stage. And while some solutions are easy, there are usually a couple of big ones that make your life miserable. With that in mind, let’s check out The Martian.

Mark Watney is fucked. His team just abandoned him on Mars. It wasn’t really their fault. A dust storm threatened to blow over their rocket. A quick decision needed to be made. And Mark was presumed dead.

So poor Marky wakes up, barely alive, and heads over to his little Advanced Mars Tent where he realizes that his communications satellite was destroyed and he has no contact with anyone. He does some calculations and determines that the soonest NASA can save him is in 4 years.

So Mark starts keeping a journal (which is what we’re reading) chronicling the end of his life. But then Mark starts doing some math in his head (there is a LOT of math in The Martian), and tries to figure out if he can generate enough food and water to last four years. Mark is a botanist, so he realizes that if he uses the square footage in his tent to grow potatoes (of which he has a few frozen), he may get close. And so begins Mark’s journey to stay alive.

Things keep going wrong along the way (he gets communication with NASA only to later lose it, his tent blows up, he loses all his food, he gets stuck outside with low oxygen, etc.) until he and NASA figure out a way to send his crew-mates back to get him, while Mark drives the Mars 4-Wheeler 3000 miles to a future land-sight, and use the rocket there to lift off in a precisely timed one-and-done rendezvous with his ship. I’m not going to tell you if Mark makes it or not. But you can probably figure it out.


Okay, so before we get to the adaptation part, I have to say that THIS BOOK ALMOST DROVE ME INSANE! It starts out great. We’re in Mark’s head, he’s trying to plan out the square footage of farmland he can use to grow potatoes so he can stay alive (he fertilizes it with his own shit by the way). He has no way to talk to anyone. It seemed exciting. How was he going to get out of this???

This “prep to stay alive” section went on for what I figured was 1/3 of the book. Then I looked at the Kindle progress bar. 10%. TEN PERCENT!!!??? How the hell was he going to keep this going for another 90% of a book? It felt like an uncrossable chasm, which is exactly what it turned out to be.

The Martian isn’t so much a story as it is a math textbook. This entire book is math!!! Every single page was some variation of this: “I figured if I tripled the oxygen in the HAB unit, I would decrease the percentage of the neutrons, which would allow me to create 340 liters of water every six days. The problem was, if I tripled the oxygen, I increased the chance of a fire by 32%! Not to worry. By dividing the square footage of the room by 7 and adding the appropriate carbon offset, I would decrease that percentage by 73%, which, while dangerous, was still within reasonable levels.”

The 250 middle pages in the book were ALL like this.

Adaptation Problem #1 – The whole fucking book is math!
Obviously, showing a main character do math in his head for two hours, even if it’s Matt Damon, isn’t going to get anyone into the theater. So this is a pretty big issue. It’s such a big issue, in fact, that you can’t include it. Or you can’t use any math equations that we can’t show visually. I guess we could show Matt Damon counting out potato spuds and planting them. But everything else was percentages and elements and a bunch of math gobbledy-gook. So as difficult as it is to say, for a book that is based almost entirely on math, I don’t think you can include any of that in the movie, other than some throwaway lines to NASA (“I figured if I decreased the hydrogen load by half, I’d have a little more energy”).

Adaptation Problem #2 – Almost the entire story takes places inside Mark’s head
So what do you do about this? Is Mark going to be silent the whole movie? You could use voice over, but listening to Matt Damon speak to us in his head for two hours will get annoying fast. You could pull a “Wilson,” like they did in Cast Away, but it’s a delicate balance to get those things right. You also run the risk of everyone saying, “They just copied Cast Away.” You could pull an “Avatar” and make him use a video diary. That’s probably the best option of the three. — Mark does have a communication line with NASA for awhile, so I guess you could have him tell them what he’s doing while he’s doing it. But the best thing about this story is Mark being alone with no help. What might work is having Mark work silently while cutting to NASA where all the talking happens during their surveillance (they have satellites watching him that are orbiting Mars). It’s sort of a clever way to get into his head without really being in his head. “What is he doing now?” “It looks like he’s packing to make a trip. I think he’s going to try and find the Mars Rover.”

Adaptation Problem #3 – Story Length
The length of this story is really freaking long. It’s somewhere between 2 and 4 years (it’s hard to know for sure because the actual time gets buried in numbers). That’s a really long time to cover in a film. Of course, Tom Hanks gets stuck on that island for four years, but that’s a big beautiful island he can prance around. Mark is stuck in a 75 square foot room for the majority of The Martian. It’s not the same thing. You have options here. You can make the tent a lot bigger. Maybe it has multiple rooms, which would allow you to mix up the visuals a bit. You can condense the time with montages of course. Or you can cut out a lot of the story entirely and just focus on one particular section of the story. I’d lean towards that. There are some escapades that get Mark out of the tent (he goes to get the Mars Rover), but for the most part, he’s in that small room calculating solutions for his current problems.

I think I know how I would do this. The most exciting parts of The Martian are the beginning and the ending. The beginning because it’s that shocking moment when he’s first left alone on the planet. And the end because he’s got to drive this Mars truck thing 2000 miles across bumpy terrain that his vehicle was never made for. He gets stuck in a dust storm. His car flips on its side. He’s got to get to the location in time to be launched up so he can catch the fly-by of his crew-members. This is all visual stuff that we can SHOW on a movie screen that would keep the audience engaged. Nobody’s going to be engaged by a man in a room with a calculator.

So if I were these guys, that’s where I’d start the film, with Mark in the Mars Truck, driving, looking ragged and beaten, like he’s been through hell and back. We may not know exactly what happened to get him here, but his face tells us a lot of it. You can knock this journey down to 10 days, which is a good solid timeframe for a movie (much better than 4 years at least!).

If you wanted to, you could occasionally flash back to how Mark got here, like the original storm that knocked him down, the swirling dust making it impossible for his crew members to see him. He watches as one of his crew walks only 5 feet away but can’t see him. Mark can hear them talking to each other, frantically asking where he is, but Mark’s com is out so he can’t communicate back. I don’t usually like flashbacks, but if you used them to show harrowing moments like this, they’d raise our understanding of how difficult it was for Mark just to get this far, and therefore make us root for him more.

I don’t think Mark should talk in this. First of all, actors love that shit. So Damon would be all over this. You’d get all the exposition you needed by cutting to NASA or the Mars Ship while they watched him. If you needed to know what Mark was doing, you’d have one of them say something like, “It looks like he’s re-calibrating his course. Shit, that’s going to take him right into the storm. And he doesn’t know it!” The rest of the script is pretty self-explanatory and visual (launch into space and catch a ride), and should pretty much write itself.

That’s how I’d approach it at least. What about you guys??

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: A lot of books take place over a long period of time. One of the first things you should try and do is find a way to condense the time-frame if possible. Condensed time-frames are much easier stories to tell. If you’re doing an adaptation of a Martin Luther King biography, for example, maybe focus on one super-charged summer of King’s life rather than trying to bring us through all 39 of his years.

  • koicvjr

    Is it actually any good? Or are we just working completely in terms of commerce now? [It sold so let’s get excited.] I only get excited for something that actually warrants excitement.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    I think adapting a good book (old or new) that didn’t get noticed by Hollywood is a great hack for amateur writers to use. Where Angles Die is a great example of this trick.

    • koicvjr

      I suppose there’s an aspect of being a hack that can be a positive tool, but it should only be a beginning and not an end. It’s like an edge for a way in. But the material must be transformed. It needs to be vital. Exciting.

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        I don’t think I would call the writer of Where Angels Die a hack. It takes skill to turn a book into a screenplay. First and foremost, it takes skill to choose the right book to adapt.

        • koicvjr


          • Guess Who

            What’s going on with Where the Angels die and Alex Felix? Any good news?

  • ripleyy

    You could always show this story backwards. Mark gets rescued at the beginning of the movie and we gradually work our way backwards. He has to get to the rocket. He’s stuck in the tent, we see crops dying, we see them grow. We move backwards, piecing it all together until the last frame is Mark, unconscious, and the crew leaving him.

    • koicvjr

      Why not add some sort of meaning into it that’s relevant to the world we live in today? Why is he even on Mars? Why are we actually (in real life) planning to go to Mars? Use these questions to focus the story in terms of theme.

    • Casper Chris

      I always watch my movies in rewind.

      • BSBurton

        lol. good post. Sorry about the lohan debate the other day

        • Casper Chris

          haha, that was fun :)

  • Steex

    Am I the only one that thinks this is pretty similar to the Val Kilmer classic, Red Planet? Stuck on Mars, presumed dead, low oxygen, re-establishes contact, one-and-done rendezvous with the ship…
    At least Red Planet had a killer robot.

    • Guess Who

      I thought Understand sounded freakishly like Limitless/Lucy and that 1950’s movie starring Ergnest Borgnine. Sometimes it’s hard to know where the line is… I guess concepts can be completely borrowed?

      • mea culpa

        Understand was a hack ripoff.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      I also thought of Red Planet and Mission to Mars which was released the same year, leading to a Deep Impact versus Armageddon sort of showdown.

    • Citizen M

      The difference is this is realistic whereas Red Planet was a load of crap, scientifically speaking. (And artistically speaking.)

      • BSBurton

        double slam hahahah.

  • brenkilco

    Hm, Robinson Crusoe on Mars has been done more than once. The selling point for this seems to be the painstaking and headache inducing realism. Which is what the script will have to pare down or chuck out. Sort of a self defeating project. But if I had to do it, condensing the time frame would be job one. First Act he gets left and he’s going to die. Short second act in which he figures out how to survive. Now the key it seems to me is that we can play with his ability to communicate and there’s a launch rocket on the other side of the planet that he can’t find without assistance. If we’re waiting for a rescue mission from earth the thing takes four years. But what if the crew who abandoned him didnt fly straight home. They’re still in Martian orbit. They can’t re-land but they have a small window of time to wait for him if he can get to them. So there’s a deadline and the clock is running from the beginning. But communications have been lost and unless they can be reestablished he’s dead. When they finally are he has barely enough time to get to the launch site, and any any delay means he’s dead. Cue the sandstorm.

    • G.S.

      I like that. That creates the urgency required for film that tends to be absent from novels.

      Also, why not have a Siri-like voice interface computer? Keeping with the realism angle, it wouldn’t be some super AI or anything. But it would at least provide an excuse for some dialogue.

      • brenkilco

        Foreign Remote Intelligence Digital App. Friday for short.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Voiced by Ben Affleck.

    • gonzorama

      One of my favorites as a kid:
      And it’s streaming on Netflix… if anyone is in the mood for a cheesy 60’s sci-fi.

      • brenkilco

        Space ships, volcanoes, death rays, Mona the Wooly Monkey and a pre-Batman Adam West. What’s not to love?

      • klmn

        I’m glad they said that it was scientifically authentic. I wouldn’t have known that an ice cap could be turned into molten lava.

        But now I’ve got that to worry about.

    • Citizen M

      You have to ask yourself, why is the book so popular despite being quite technical?

      I think you put your finger on it: “The selling point for this seems to be the painstaking and headache inducing realism.” Clearly there is an audience out there who want realism, and I think any adaptation would have to respect the reality of the situation.

      Which means coping with passages like this in a filmic way:

      “My best bet for making calories is potatoes. They grow prolifically and have a reasonable caloric content (770 calories per kilo-gram). I’m pretty sure the ones I have will germinate. Problem is I can’t grow enough of them. In 62 square meters, I could grow maybe 150 kilograms of potatoes in 400 days (the time I have before running out of food). That’s a grand total of 115,500 calories, a sustainable avenge of 288 calories per day. With my height and weight, if I’m willing to starve a little, I need 1500 calories per day. Not even close. So I can’t just live off the land forever. But I can extend my life. The potatoes will last me 76 days. Potatoes grow continually, so in those 76 days, I can grow another 22,000 calories of potatoes, which will tide me over for another 15 days. After that, it’s kind of pointless to continue the trend. All told it buys me about 90 days.”

      • brenkilco

        I have to think that the audience who would be fascinated by these kinds of calculations-even though you could argue that such calculations mean the difference between life and death- is pretty small. for most viewers a movie where we watch potatoes grow is likely to be about as exciting as watching potatoes grow.

        • witwoud

          I don’t know … if somebody’s survival depends on potatoes, then the whole subject of potato growing suddenly becomes extremely interesting. He wakes up one morning and finds a new shoot — celebration! The plants start dying on him — despair! Provided we care enough about him, we’re also going to care about his spuds.

          It’s like that sequence in The Killing Fields when they have to fake a passport photo, and there’s a whole sequence in which they rig up a dark room and try to develop the photo using whatever chemicals they can find. Now, usually I wouldn’t find developing photos particularly interesting, but because somebody’s life was at stake I found this whole sequence absolutely gripping. I was in absolute agony the first time I watched it, now knowing whether they were going to succeed or not. So, I bet the right sort of writer could get me interested in the progress of the potatoes too.

          • brenkilco

            Perhaps. In general, I’m not a fan of Man in the Wilderness type movies. Where the enemy is starvation and the elements. Terrestrial or extraterrestrial, whether there’s math involved or not. There’s a point at which suspense ceases to be entertaining and becomes grueling. If this is going to work as a movie, and I have serious doubts, it’s going to have to be more Robinson Crusoe on Mars and less One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich.

          • pmlove

            It’s all execution too. One stand out passage for me in fiction is in American Pastoral where Roth waxes lyrical about the leather making process. It goes on for pages but it’s compelling reading due to the passion and the detail involved.

            I think when an audience is able to learn something, that counts for a whole lot. Something innovative, new, that feels like something that could win a pub quiz and make them feel intelligent.

            I think that’s part of why Dan Brown is compelling. You feel like you are learning all these little secrets about the world, pure pub quiz fodder. It feels exciting and you forgive the writing.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Spot on regarding American Pastoral. I felt like I could make a pair of leather gloves after reading that novel, but more importantly, I knew why it was no longer cost effective to continue to have a leather glove factory in Newark N.J.

          • brenkilco

            In a novel voice and execution are everything. A lot of elements that go into a great novel don’t translate to film. As far as I am aware there has been only one successful movie adaption of a Phillip Roth book. That was Goodbye Columbus and it was forty five years ago.

  • G.S.

    One thing that’s missing from the analysis is character. Who is this guy and why do we care about him (besides general human compassion)? Gravity, for instance, while almost completely focused on the protag’s plight, still has an emotional core. There’s still a character arc, if but a small one.

    If we’re going to be at NASA for part of the story, we’re also going to have to touch Mark’s loved ones – perhaps latch on to an unresolved relationship there and make it the dramatic thrust for his quest to get home. And, of course, there’s the obligatory self-pity/despair scene in the middle where he thinks he’s doomed which is both payoff and setup within the emotional core of his personal story.

    Sometimes this genre gets lost in the technical details and doesn’t establish the personal connection, so we get a lot of flash but we don’t care.

    • Scott Strybos

      I finished this book last week and I have to say the character of Mark Whatney was pretty flat. Not much info is provided about him except he has a mom and dad. But because of his situation: abandoned on a hostile planet, every odd against him, equipment failing left-and-right, with one seemingly impossible, far-away goal in front of him, I bonded with him and wanted to see him survive.

      Because he was an underdog…

      • Somersby

        I haven’t read the book, but even the short snippet posted by CitizenM seems to convey a tremendous amount about him, about his character.

        He’s clear-thinking, he doesn’t get rattled easily, he’s a numbers fanatic (possibly obsessed with them), he knowledgable about thinks other than just science and space (maybe he’s a farmer at heart), and I suspect he’s actually having a mini-adrenaline rush having to figure out how he’s going to get throught this. Somewhere deep in his psyche, this is what he lives for.

        To me, that reveals a lot about his character.

        • Scott Strybos

          I guess. But no one, especially Mark Whatney, POPS. It reminds me of a joke on The Simpsons. The one where Homer goes into space. At the beginning of the episode, the family is watching a space launch and the commentator says:

          “Now lets take a look at the crew. They’re a colourful bunch. They’ve been dubbed The Three Musketeers. There’s a mathematician, a different kind of mathematician, and a statistician.”

  • Guess Who

    Just take Gravity. Paint it orange, change a few names and dialogue around and voila adaption done.

  • Citizen M

    My very first screenplay I ever wrote (I didn’t finish it) was an adaptation. It was a book about a real event, a politically-inspired farm murder. I changed the characters around to make it more Hollywood friendly. In reality it was an older couple whose son gets murdered and a male journalist investigates. I had the old man get murdered and the right-wing son go on the trail of the killers and a left-wing female journalist investigate and of course they fall in love.

    I was very happy with my story. What killed me was the dialogue. There was almost none in the original, so I had to make it all up. The problem is, they were rural people in a part of the country I had no knowledge of but is very different from the part I know. There were all sorts of black-white tensions that don’t exist where I am. The dialogue I wrote, that had to reflect social tensions which were the heart of the story, sounded completely fake.

    Eventually I abandoned it. These days what I would do is push on, crappy dialogue and all, and expect to fix it in the rewrite.

  • Citizen M

    Reading the Wikipedia summary of the book, there’s a lot more than just Mark Watney on Mars growing potatoes. There’s a whole kerfuffle back on Earth about sending Mark’s spaceship Hermes on a slingshot orbit back to Mars with additional supplies for an extended mission, and the actual proposed rescue link-up is quite a mission in itself.

    So it looks like Apollo13 might be the template to follow, cutting between Mark on Mars and Mission Control back on Earth, with the crew of the Hermes kicking in at the end. Add a bit of love interest between Mark and the female commander of the Hermes, and maybe some crew fallings-out because they’re stuck with each other twice as long, and you can practically forget the mathematics.

    Maybe the maths can be covered by some cool graphics produced by a “Support Mark” geeky group on Earth who make a computer game to simulate his chances of survival.

    • Citizen M

      Now that I’ve read the bit of the book that’s available on Amazon (there’s quite a lot, actually), I think the main problem will be deciding what to leave out.

      So I’d list all his McGuyver efforts on separate index cards and play around with them until I get a coherent story that will be easy to translate into images and will provide the maximum problems for the protagonist. “Let’s see, I can glue this to that and… shit! I used up all the glue on [whatever], hmmmm, I wonder if I can seal it with snot?…”

  • Logic Ninja

    Time pressure might help. What if, during the first mission, Mark’s wife is undergoing tests at a hospital on earth. He’s worried, keeps checking to see if she’s ok. Keeps bothering Houston about it. And then right before the mission fails and he ends up stranded, Houston informs him his wife has a terminal illness.
    Now Mark HAS to stay alive, if only to say goodbye. Plus, since he eventually loses all communication with NASA, his wife’s health status becomes the ultimate mystery box.
    And what if the ending went like this:
    He gets into the return shuttle. Gets strapped in.
    One of the crew tells him, serious tone, “Mark, we’ve got an update for you on your wife–”
    And he cuts him off with: “I want to see for myself.” Or something better.
    After blastoff, we cut to a perfectly terrestrial, even boring shot. Cars on the freeway. Foot traffic in the city. And among that traffic, is Mark. We follow him into the subway. A shot of him being awkward around so many other homo sapiens. Then off the subway, back onto the street, and into an apartment building. Up the stairs, into the apartment.
    He notices pill bottles on the kitchen table. Medical bills, prescriptions on the bar. The apartment seems otherwise deserted. He looks at the back hallway where their bedroom is. Can’t make himself go in.
    And then his wife walks out of the bedroom, totally healthy, huge smile on her face–
    And, of course, we cut to black.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Crazy idea:

      What if Mark’s wife works at NASA in mission control? This would give any back on Earth scenes a dose of personal stakes and an emotional connection deeper than just a bunch of eggheads sitting around trying to figure out how to “math-a-matize” Mark back home.

      Maybe NASA figures that Mark is doomed and will only do the bare minimum to help him. So the wife has to go around her superiors, breaking protocol trying to figure out a plan to get hubby back. She gets some of the new NASA geeks to help her work on this, in secret. There is always this tension overshadowing them. Will they get caught? If that happens, will these well meaning guys who have been with NASA for only a few months lose their jobs? Jobs that are their dream careers they have worked their asses off to attain.

      Of course, all this is intercutting with Mark’s adventures on Mars. Change the timeframe of this from 4 years to 4 days as Carson suggested. Both Mark and his wife are under the gun to figure all this out and get him home alive.

      • gonzorama

        But having an ill wife won’t create that much urgency. It’ll take 7 months for them to get back to earth.
        It would create a lot of inner conflict, though, which could help drive the movie.
        Also, I think all the math he does could become another character – his Wilson. It seems to me he is constantly calculating things just to stay busy, to give himself something to do and not go crazy. If done right I think it could add to the story.

        • Somersby

          Good ideas all, but I’m wondering how much leeway one has if you are in fact adapting a book.

          I think Carson is dead on when he says the challenge for the screenwriter is to find the narrative spine in the book that’s worth exploring and exploiting.

          I’m just unsure if creating new element such as an ill wife is too much of a leap from the original story. If the book is near and dear to the audience’s heart, then you risk alienating a good portion of them if your script doesn’t properly represent the source material.

          On the other hand, the source material may not be at all filmable, which seems to be the case with The Martian. That said, it seems the author has created enough intriguing elements that any number of them might be explored while keeping fans of the book both satisfied and pleasantly surprised.

    • BSBurton

      Ninja, I read the opening 15 to your script and enjoyed it. I didn’t have time to take any notes down as I was in the doctor’s office. I didn’t read any of the others though so I didn’t want to cast my vote having only read one of the scripts. Are you gonna be submitting an update draft soon? What’s next for you?

      • Logic Ninja

        Hey Burton, thanks for reading! I got some really great notes which require, if not a page-one rewrite, at least a polish with a sandblaster. At the moment, BROKEN has returned to The Board (which my wife has kindly permitted in the living room once again) to be vivisected.
        But to be honest, BROKEN is my first script out of four (I submitted one other to AOW, but I think BROKEN’S logline won the day), so, while I still love the premise, at the moment it’s on the backburner. I’ve just finished up a “final” (yeah, right) draft of a thriller called CROSS MY HEART, and am starting a new thriller called GOOD OLE BOY.
        Anyway, that’s me in a nutshell. What’re you working on these days? And by the way, if you need someone to read something you’re working on, send ‘er over to jaybird1092 at Seriously, I sit at a desk all day pretending to work, while I read scripts and write, haha! I’d love to give whatever you’ve got a read!

        • BSBurton

          Love thrillers! I’ll email you some stuff and you can send me one of your drafts when you’re ready. And pretending to work sounds awesome!

  • Linkthis83

    If it could be done well, I’d love to see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series turned into film/TV. Absolutely loved The Gunslinger. I’ve read that at least three times. (I’ve only read the first four books)

  • successor

    One of the biggest problems I had with the novel is that it has way too much humor. Watney makes a joke out of nearly everything. Now I’m not against humor–I really like jokes. But the non-stop, jokey tone of Mark’s voice and the snark from the other characters undercuts much of the tension. It would certainly have to be one of the first things to go if the book were adapted. Plus, the book’s ending is a ripoff of Red Planet’s climax. It would have to be substantially altered to avoid looking like you’re stealing from the previous movie.

    Carson’s flashback idea is really bad. It wouldn’t work because you constantly undercut the story’s tension by jumping back and forth in time. In addition, it would get confusing trying to figure out what point he was at–which means you’d have to have constant have titles telling you what day he’s on. It’s more interesting, I think, to see the character figure out a way to work through a crisis than simply showing he got through it and moving backwards. Imagine Raiders if we saw Indy escape from the Well of Souls ahead of time, then flashed back to how he did it. Yawn.

    I think it would be much better to do the story in a linear fashion and simply cut out everything except the main crisis points (injury, hab leak, airlock explosion, race to get to escape module, etc.) Using lap dissolves and cuts to calendars, clocks or even just “day: whatever” superimposes could work better, along with cuts to mission control analyzing Watney’s status. Also, you could use the time stamp on his video diary to show the passage of time.

    As for the ending, have Watney’s escape module fail, then have him race to get to an alternate crew landing point before his oxygen runs out. Again, if you do the novel climax with an outer space rescue, people will accuse it of being a Red Planet ripoff–and that’s one movie you don’t want to be associated with.

    Actually, given the failure of nearly every Mars movies, I probably wouldn’t touch this adaptation with a ten foot barge pole. But it’s nice to ponder.

    • Scott Strybos

      Yeah, his smart-ass, sarcastic quips bothered me a little too, mostly because I didn’t find them that funny. And, like you said, all the snark from every character was exactly the same and from all angles. I think it would have worked better if only mark was the smart-ass.

      • Citizen M

        Gallows humor is a common response to desperate situations. I didn’t mind the snarkiness in the bits I read.

  • Logline_Villain

    Instead of adapting another’s book, one might consider writing his/her own book and then holding firm on scribing the adaption (e.g., Gillian Flynn – “Gone Girl”). Granted, the work has to be scooped up first, but that is always the requisite for breaking through in any writing platform.

    Has it reached a point where penning a novel may be the aspiring screenwriter’s best opportunity to break through with ORIGINAL material? With self-publishing, the ‘net and Amazon, there are more avenues than ever to promote one’s novel – it worked out swimmingly in the case of today’s featured “The Martian”…

    I suspect a market correction will come one day – where spec scripts are again in vogue – but is it worth crossing one’s fingers until then? I know, if it’s the next Chinatown, it will sell as a spec…

    In the meantime, what’s more important? The end result or how one gets to the end result…

    The egg must figure out a way to become a chicken. And the lion’s share of these adaptations are going to established chickens…

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

    • Linkthis83

      *Gillian Flynn :)

      • Logline_Villain

        Thanks Link… was obviously in the midst of an X-Files flashback when writing that.

        • Linkthis83

          Had I not just finished reading that book 2 days ago, I would’ve missed it completely.

          • Logline_Villain

            What did you think of Gone Girl? Think I’m in the minority in that I liked the ending as written; apparently, the ending has been changed for the movie…

          • Linkthis83

            For that story, and what the writer created, I wouldn’t say I loved the ending, but it’s the most appropriate. It makes the most fucked up sense. It truly does.

            **possible spoilers**

            It’s kind of a dual ending of “what’s the worst that could happen to Nick” but also “what does Nick really need to happen to stay Nick.”

            I was really enjoying it until the first big twist reveal. And while it works, and is necessary for this story that Gillian is telling, I was at first disappointed that this was the direction we are going in.

            But you have to appreciate the uber thoughtfulness that had to go into making the angles and motives possible, from different perspectives. That’s a very impressive accomplishment. I also liked reading through the Acknowledgments to see the experts she consulted and who gave her endless help. That’s truly important. That’s what I want to do when I’m developing/creating, I want to talk to experts in these fields and have conversations with them. Since I’m a hack right now, it always feels a bit foolish, but I know it’s necessary too. I want what I’m writing about to have credibility. Gone Girl feels credible. That’s hugely important for this story to be as successful as it is.

            What were your thoughts on it?

          • Logline_Villain

            As Gone Girl had vetted well – credit to Carson’s review of it which provided the impetus for me to read – I was impressed with this tale of dual narrators who take us on quite a few detours along the way. Really dug Amy Dunne – her traits are ones that we typically see reserved for male characters…

            The first BIG twist is one that’s memorable… and should play well on the screen for those who haven’t read, especially in the capable hands of Fincher.

            Well-said as to properly researching whatever it may be that we are writing… if we skimp on the research, we’re all but asking for our work to get dinged.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          When does Mulder’s book come out?


    • pmlove

      I remain unconvinced. We can spend our lives chasing our tails over a breakout novel or script, either way it’s still tough to be the goose that lays the golden egg. There are so many $0.99 self-published books it’s hard to see the wood for the trees – I’d want more compelling evidence to say that self-publishing a novel is more likely to lead to a screenwriting breakout for original ideas.

      I’d say you might be barking up the wrong tree.

      • Casper Chris

        There are so many $0.99 self-published books it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

        Sometimes when I’m out jogging in the forest and a hot chick passes me, I can’t see the trees for the wood.

        • pmlove

          >The egg must figure out a way to become a chicken. And the lion’s share of these adaptations are going to established chickens…

          >There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

          I took this as a metaphor-off. I think maybe I lost.

  • Scott Strybos

    I just finished reading this book last week. The book’s concept was amazing and I did want to keep reading to see if Mark would make it. to see what would happen next. The book had stakes, urgency, and conflict in spades. So in that respect the book was a success. But…

    I love fiction that gets into the technicality of things. Where characters speak about things I don’t understand but that they enjoy and clearly understand very well; however, this book took it way too far, like Carson said. The farther I got in the book the more passages I found I was skipping. I was skipping chapters, which were all relatively short, and not missing out on any story at all.

    Secondly, all the characters–Mark, his fellow astronauts, the people at NASA–all sounded exactly the same. I couldn’t really distinguish between them.

    While this book had its faults I would still recommend it. It was a ride that I enjoyed. For me it would be a “Worth the read”. But I agree, the adapting will take a heavy hand.

  • gazrow

    “I don’t usually like flashbacks, but if you used them to show harrowing moments like this, they’d raise our understanding of how difficult it was for Mark just to get this far, and therefore make us root for him more.”

    Agreed Carson, it would certainly make us root for him more. But by opening with “with Mark in the Mars Truck, driving, looking ragged and beaten, like he’s been through hell and back.” You’re sacrificing most of the tension and suspense you would achieve by opening with Mark being left for dead by his team.

    Showing all the harrowing moments in flashback would be far less exciting IMO because however exciting and edge of your seat you tried to make it – by opening with Mark in the Mars Truck we already know he survived all that shit!!

    Personally, I’d open with the dust storm and Mark being stranded. He’s determined to survive – does the farmer thing – re-establishes communication with NASA – is given a possible lifeline – we introduce the ‘ticking clock’ – Mark embarks on his treacherous journey across Mars.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson, not always, but often, after I read the first bit of your review, I’ll skip down to WIL. Yeh, sometimes I want dessert first.

    Today’s WIL is a classic. And not just for what it says specifically about a good way to adapt a years-long story.

    If you’re doing an adaptation of a Martin Luther King biography, for
    example, maybe focus on one super-charged summer of King’s life rather
    than trying to bring us through all 39 of his years.

    The essence of that applies to so many elements of a screenplay.

    • BSBurton

      Good post Igor, I think you hit it on the head.

  • Randy Williams

    I don’t have a problem with a character verbally doing math calculations out loud to themselves. I hear lots of people doing that all the time. Myself included, and I usually have to use my fingers to calculate.

    I guess James Franco and “127 Hours” didn’t leave such a great impression on me because I don’t remember hardly anything from that movie about that guy stuck on the rocks, but didn’t the character talk out loud there? Didn’t it also have flashbacks?

    I would keep the character speaking out loud, doing all the math. I’d make that math conversation be a conversation between the character and God. Someone once said, if the universe is mathematics, then there’s nothing, in principle, we can’t understand. I’d add, nothing we can’t escape.

    • BSBurton

      Yeah, 127 hours he talked a lot to himself. He was filming it though, as a goodbye video to his family for when his body was found. That was the basis for the convo. I had to turn my head when he cut off his arm. Man that was rough.

    • IgorWasTaken

      Then there’s the joke about the guy who was arrested for indecent exposure when someone asked him to count to 21.

      • klmn

        Took me a minute to get it.

        • IgorWasTaken

          Thanks. It may have been a Buddy Hackett joke. A number of his jokes entailed someone pulling out his dick. (No, not a guy pulling out Hackett’s dick.)’

          Anyway, that joke always comes to mind whenever someone – such as Randy Williams did, above – mentions using his fingers to count.

  • kenglo

    “So if I were these guys, that’s where I’d start the film, with Mark in
    the Mars Truck, driving, looking ragged and beaten, like he’s been
    through hell and back. We may not know exactly what happened to get him
    here, but his face tells us a lot of it. You can knock this journey down
    to 10 days, which is a good solid timeframe for a movie (much better
    than 4 years at least!).”

    Exactly. Start later and condense it. That’s all they can do.

  • Linkthis83

    This is fun: pitch your story solutions to a story you’re only familiar with via someone else’s interpretation/summary. Truthfully, Carson, I don’t think you asked your story enough questions before you started providing angles/solutions. However, let’s say I’m in a room and Carson is sitting across from me and gives me the synopsis above, including what the studio sees as adaptation problems, and tells me to pitch my angle to see if I’m right for the job. The following will be based on doing zero research and going off the article:

    First, I’d want to read the story. For myself. To see what I identify with and where I think the core of this story is that will get people invested. However, the external elements are enough to get people into the theater. I love the premise of being a lone man on a planet counting on myself first, to create an opportunity for my own survival. Assuming that every action and effort I make is being matched and exceeded by others trying to find me (and save me).

    I love exploring the concept of a man determined not to be the first man to die on Mars. True he’d be immortalized and memorialized but…he wants to get home and he’s up for the challenge.

    Since I don’t know the ending and where this story is headed, the story as I see it right now lies in his determination. And while his overall goal is to survive, against all these crazy odds, his FIRST major goal is to find away to let NASA, and his fellow astronauts, know he’s alive. Then it becomes goal setting and situation assessing to address his immediate needs/challenges to accomplish this.

    Problem #1 = The math

    Make the math visual. SHOW the process in his head. Not only show the equations and errors being made in the math, with erasing and filling in different solutions, show what the physical results of these equations means. Short term + long term. Like if he’s working out how many potatoes he can yield by doing certain things, show a solution giving quick, abundance, but long term failure. So then he recalculates to until he gets a more desirable outcome. Things like this. Make the math visual.

    Problem #2 = Mark is all alone

    I don’t mind characters talking to themselves. I don’t think they need a Wilson. If I’m alone on a planet, I’m going to have conversations with myself so I have that SOUND. That familiarity with being human. Social interaction. But I love the silence too. You need to nail that shit. Plus, if there are storms on Mars, wouldn’t that mean they are silent? That would be a difficult juxtaposition to pull off on screen, but also something cinematically gorgeous too.

    If you absolutely have to have an object for him to talk to, have a little fun. Have him save a few of his first potatoes. They will be his children. You can call them Mr. Potato Head and Spudnik. Who’s gonna judge him, right :)

    Problem #3 = story length

    This is when I’d truly have to dive into the material and the research of the science to know. You can do the easy thing and just give yourself a set window of time for all this to take place in. But that’s where knowing what the heart of the story is I think decides the length of time the story exists in. And then you decide do you tell it in layered stories. Like, you make the main thread him in the early start of his 3000 mile journey, and along the way, you tell the story of how he even got here. So when we start, we think he’s going somewhere, but don’t know where or why. Then we start with the events and jump back and forth. It also matters what role you want NASA to play in this. Is it more dramatically appealing, and engrossing, to see others having a plan for a guy they can’t communicate with and then seeing the guy thinking/believing things that counter to what it could mean for his survival. It’s like a love story. Can these two connect in just the right way to have a happily ever after. This is where more questions need to be asked of the story, but I think I’m the man to ask them.

    Thank you for this opportunity. And one final thought, just for fun, I can see opening in space. Nothing unique, I know. We are looking at Mars. We are absorbed in the silence of space looking at this red planet. We descend all the way to the ground level. In the distance, we see an object coming at us. we see the dirt and dust being kicked up behind the vehicle (if the science allows for that), and then slowly, as the vehicle is coming into range, we hear music. We hear Holiday Road from National Lampoons Vacation. It’s over a modified radio system. It’s coming from our astronauts iPod.

    I’m out :)

    • Linkthis83

      The Martian by Andy Weir Google Talk:

      • Casper Chris

        That reading… so… mechanical… so… lifeless….

        • Linkthis83

          I was relieved to hear that he didn’t provide the narration for his audiobook :)

          • BSBurton

            I like the author’s voice, just not the intro guy

        • BSBurton

          I clicked it and leaned back to relax. HONESTLY, I THOUGHT IT WAS STEVEN HAWKING’S VOICE MACHINE lol. So damn close!

      • kenglo

        Someone mentioned communications transmission times when speaking of GRAVITY, I forget who. Is that really something to bring up to the general audience? In order to make it believable to scientists (the minority)? Hmmm….

        • Linkthis83

          Actually, I think transmission times were brought up during the amateur review of Ximan’s script DARK MATTER. That script opens orbiting above Mars and the character is talking to Houston.

          For the science inclined, it’s a major problem (I think anyway).

      • BSBurton

        Fun video, really enjoyed listening. Would rather listen than read.

    • kenglo


      • Linkthis83

        I totally think this can be done (and sort of has with other movies). If it had that feeling of legitimacy like GRAVITY, I’d love to see this in the theater. And for me, I didn’t need the backstory for Sandra’s character.

        I truly believe it’s okay to put characters into situations and to see how those situations play out. I think it’s important for the writer to know the history of the character, because that is what will drive their actions and reactions, however, I don’t need you to tell me. I can make my own assumptions. Some situations are awesome to see how people handle. I’m one of those people who always imagines being in the situation of the characters. I don’t need to know she lost a child to care if she makes it back home. Or that this has a bigger overall internal resolution for her. Being the only person in a situation like that is already epic and to see her attempt to overcome that would be just as satisfying (I think anyway – I’m also open to the possibility that I don’t have the ability to understand how GRAVITY impacted me and maybe that’s why I liked it).

  • Cfrancis1

    Sounds like it has a lot of potential. Also sounds a lot like Gravity but on a planet. Gravity did it really, really well so this film would have to top it.

  • E.C. Henry

    Garbage. The basic idea of this story is garbage. I HATED “Cast Away”, and this story sounds even worse!

  • James Lion

    Use 10-12 pages to get him stuck on Mars. Get to page 25 by showing how he survives. Video diary works. Some contact with NASA that comes and goes too. Start Act II with the trip across country. As to all that math, it’s usable. Reference the British TV series Sherlock Holmes. They show his mental calculations with words and formulas and ideas that move across the screen. You don’t know exactly what he’s thinking. You don’t need to know that. All you need to know is that he’s thinking, and to make it visually interesting. Check out Sherlock Holmes. It works really well.

  • BSBurton

    Carson and SS Crew:

    Anyone know how many TV Pilots will be featured in the special AOW? WIll it be the same as usual or a huge collective since pilots are faster reads than features?

    Thanks, BYRON

  • Scott Strybos

    This main question of the novel IS how Mark Whatney will survive (not if) as well as what else will go wrong;

    however, his abandonment on Mars is not brief.

    Initially the plan is to stay alive for four years until the next Ares mission which is four years away with supplies for only a year or so. So time is a factor. I think he is rescued ahead of schedule, but he is still on Mars for months, close to a year, if not more.

    And he does develop a way of life to which he becomes accustomed. Until the midpoint rocks his world just as a midpoint should. Because he was becoming too comfortable and the story was getting comfortable with him. Which is death to a story.

    I think if he remained too comfortable, was able to indefinitely extend his life support, and became too secure on the planet there would’ve be no more drama.

    The urgency and conflict in the story is derived from the fact that he has to leave or he will die. Without it the story would be deflated.
    But the story might have been better if a rescue mission was not, as believed, impossible and he did have to survive for a longer period of time on Mars, the full four years.

  • Citizen M

    I watched Red Planet a couple of months ago. There are some nice visuals. I really felt as if I was on Mars. But the story… no. I thought to myself, what is the point of going to all this trouble building sets etc for something that would only earn a B as science fiction?

  • Casper Chris

    I don’t know if Andy Weir is gay, but even if he is, it would be weird if someone gave him the D.

    • Guest

      Pretty clever joke

      • Casper Chris


  • gonzorama

    Another flaw could be that he’s a procrastinator – maybe that’s why he was too far away when the shuttle had to launch. He’s stuck in a life or death situation because he took his time to check on something.

  • jw

    Would being on a planet like that for an extended period of time cause hallucinations? If so, I almost see it as man battles the elements battles himself. He’s trying to stay alive and he’s trying to get home, but the further he gets the stronger the hallucinations become. Unfortunately, NO ONE and I mean ZERO people can relate to this topic. It doesn’t even reside in the farthest corners of the mind, which makes it a huge sell. Gravity was ALL about the visuals. The story was garbage from the opening, but that was “forgiven” because it was likely the best shot film of the last decade. If Gravity just looked like Apollo 13 then it wouldn’t have half the box office, nor half the accolades. For what it’s worth, this very topic would likely define the success of this film. Either shoot it in a bad-ass way that’s going to take the next decade to create, or go low budget on it, sell it on star appeal and hope the return is there.

  • Scott Strybos

    What is theme of The Martian? There are three groups in the story working towards the same goal. Saving Whatney. So if there is theme it will be present in all stories.

    Whatney himself is fighting impossible odds to extend his life a little longer so he can survive. Overcoming one roadblock after the other, never giving up;

    Scientists at NASA work hard 24rs a day to put a mission together in an impossibly short amount of time.

    Whatney’s crew-mates turn their ship around to come get him at their own peril with a rescue plan that has such a narrow margin for error that their success seems… impossible.

    So there is on idea: overcoming the impossible. But that isn’t a theme yet.

    Another reoccurring motif in all stories is community. Whatney is successful without NASA’s help, but does work better once he is in contact with them.

    Back at NASA, hundreds of scientists work together to come up with a plan. The entire world stands in support of Whatney. And the Chinese even donate a rocket to the effort.

    Whatney’s cremates work together and risk their lives to save their friend, Whatney.

    So the idea of community is also present.

    So theme, I think has something to do with community as well.

    So if I had to take a guess, the theme would be something like: The impossible becomes possible with the support of a united community.

    • Adam W. Parker

      Great. With that said, also the main question could be “Is one man’s life worth risking millions of dollars and multiple lives for?”

      So the focus of the story (in the movie) should also be about the other characters as much or more than about what’s going on with Whatney.

      • Scott Strybos

        “Is one man’s life worth risking millions of dollars and multiple lives for?”… This is mentioned briefly in the story but is quickly shot down. Support for the rescue of Whatney never really wavers. Because the entire world is holding their breath, NASA is given a blank cheque.

        But, yes, the film will probably work best if it is about the other people, on Earth and the main ship, as much as it is Whatney. That is how it tries to be in the book.

        Which is too bad because the solitude of one man abandoned on Mars, fighting to extend is life, literally by days to reach that seemingly impossible date, has a charm and purity to it, an almost romanticism. But is nearly impossible to pull off.

        • Adam W. Parker

          Also, If you haven’t seen “All is Lost” check it out. It’s as close to ‘Pure Survival’ Man vs. Nature as you can get without going Non-Narrative or Experimental.

  • Mary

    Is it a paid upfront gig or one of those write for free we’ll pay you if it gets picked up deals?

  • fragglewriter

    Great what I learned Tip. But focusing on the super charged moments of the character, you’re able to move the story along fast while covering more ground.

  • jw

    Clooney’s character was ridiculous all the way around and the only reason he did the film was because he knew the look was going to be kick-ass!

  • jw

    The Hangover in space!! They leave Doug behind thinking he’s dead, get half-way back and realize Doug actually survived! Now they need to get back and save him before he dies! Brilliant! And, I for one would love to see Heather Graham in a space outfit!!

    • Unfinishe

      I was thinking more like the huge, international box office record setter SPY GAME (my instincts on this adaptation thing are crap). They should definitely go the Hangover route.

  • A Tall Cool Glass of Water

    I’m thinking Bradley Cooper. The way his bronzed body contrasts with those ice-blue eyes — like a young Paul Newman.

    I like how you think, Mr. Barnes.

  • Citizen M

    That’s a nice scene for an actor — eating a potato you’ve just dug out of your own shit.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    It’s the bar you need to surpass in order to get noticed.

  • JakeMLB

    This sound a lot like ALL IS LOST but on Mars and I wonder if that film helped to get this optioned. Going the ALL IS LOST route is certainly a possibility for this story. Condense the timeframe and eliminate the talking. Just one man’s battle against the forces of Mother Mars. Seems like the most doable option and would require the team who abandoned him still in orbit as others have suggested.

  • klmn

    Guess Who, you’re a great band.

  • Petr Hrubý

    Some other books you could check, mate:

    Influx by Daniel Suarez
    Lexicon by Max Barry
    Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews