What starts as a movie script, morphs into a trilogy of books, segues briefly into a short story, rises again as a movie script, and aspires to be a TV series? The Tankborn Trilogy.
First came the movie script, Icer. I’ve been a science geek most of my life. I studied math, physics, and computer science in college and grew up reading and watching science fiction. During a UCLA Extension course on screenwriting I started my first feature length script, Icer, an SF story that revolved around genetic engineering.
After I finished Icer, I wrote other scripts and the occasional novel. But screenwriting is a tough business, so I decided to focus just on novels, and I published my first book in 1998. I wrote mainly romance novels, ten of them for Harlequin. After 16 books, I hit the wall with romance and decided to switch to young adult.
But what to write? I still loved sci-fi. And I had this great sci-fi story in Icer. What if I adapted it as a book for teens? I jumped into the project feet first, moving the Earth-based story from Icer to the planet Loka and changing my main characters from adults to teens. The result was Tankborn, which became a launch book for Lee and Low’s brand new Tu Books imprint.
Over the ensuing years, I completed the trilogy: Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion. The three books didn’t follow the original movie script exactly. A feature script is usually only 100-120 pages and the trilogy ended up comprising more than 1100 pages. I had to expand far beyond the story of the script. But each of the books contains bits and pieces of Icer’s story. Step 1 was complete: movie script → book trilogy.
Then in September 2016, I had an opportunity to attend an event sponsored jointly by the Alliance of Women Directors and the Writers Guild of America. At the time, I had a number of polished feature scripts I wanted to pitch to the women directors I’d be meeting. Of course, one of those scripts was Icer.
With every intention of pitching Icer, I also brought along a copy of Tankborn. I had no feature film credits to my name, having only had a few short scripts produced. I thought showing the directors a published book might impress them.
It worked, although not necessarily the way I thought it would. Several of the directors I pitched were more interested in the three books of the Tankborn Trilogy than they were in Icer. They kept referring to the trilogy as “IP” (which I eventually figured out was “intellectual property”) and peppered me with questions about them. Three requested copies of the books.
One of those three was director Regina Ainsworth. She’d requested autographed physical copies (I’d sent the others ebooks), and a few months later she contacted me to let me know she wanted to chat with me about my work. We spoke in January 2017 by phone. Regina proposed a feature film (maybe a trilogy), but by then I’d had a real vision of the Tankborn Trilogy as a television series. I made my case, and Regina agreed.
So how was I going to adapt the big, complex plot of Tankborn to the visual medium of television? Especially when I admittedly have a love affair with internal dialogue and tight POV. Being in a character’s head, thinking their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes, might work in a novel but it’s a non-starter for film or television. An actor has to be able to act out (make visual) everything a character does.
I could have cut all those internal dialogue/tight POV scenes. But sometimes there’s important information in the character’s head that the audience needs to know.
Having written both scripts and books, the challenge was an intriguing one. It was reminiscent of when I was a software engineer and had to modify and debug computer code. Maybe more like translating a program from one computer language to another.
To demonstrate how I translated some of the internal dialogue into a visual scene, I’m including a couple of examples from the novel & pilot below. But first, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Tankborn to give you some story context:
Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are created in a gen-tank, programmed with a particular ability or skill called a sket, and enslaved from birth. As part of GENs’ gestation in the tank, gene-splicers install circuitry in their bodies and brains. This includes an interface on their cheek that allows “trueborns” to upload or download new programming, or to erase GEN identities entirely during a reset.
On to the examples. Here’s some text from Page 1 of the first book, Tankborn.
An actor could show Kayla hunched on the river bank with a disagreeable look on her face showing that she’s unhappy to be there. I could have written some dialogue between Kayla and her nurture-brother Jal to reveal what Kayla’s plans had been for the day. But there was more subtext that needed to be included besides just Kayla’s grumpiness. I really needed to rethink this scene to make it work for a visual medium.
So I created a new scene that hadn’t been in the book. I placed Kayla and her nurture-mother, Tala, at a worship service. Kayla’s and Tala’s argument about why Kayla has to go to the river with Jal is woven in with the worship prayers.
This bit of dialogue serves three purposes. 1) Introduces the GEN faith which is based on servitude. 2) Sets up Kayla having to go to the river with Jal. 3) Teases Kayla’s “sket,” the special ability that the gene-splicers programmed into her while she was in the tank. Her sket will be revealed in the river scene.
In another new scene that follows the worship service, I include the subtext of Tala’s real reason for sending Kayla to the river to accompany Jal.
Once I finished the pilot and outlined the entire first season of the Tankborn series, I felt I was close to getting the pieces of a “series bible” together. Then Regina introduced a new wrinkle: we needed a short film, set in Tankborn’s world, to be part of our pitch. We needed a “visual” to sell our concept.
I proposed we base the short film on an “outtake” scene from Tankborn that didn’t make it into the final version of the book. Regina loved the idea, and I went to work on the script. While the pilot was 50 pages, the short film had to be only 5-7 pages. Writing short is tough, but after some back and forth, we locked down the script. We nailed down a title too: Recombined. Step 2 was complete: book trilogy (a fragment of it anyway) → movie script.
We’re now on to the next phase of our short film, crowdfunding. That’s where we’ve asked our friends, and friends of friends, and people who don’t even know us if they can pitch in a little bit to help us make Recombined. Click the picture below to check out our campaign.Regina and I are very passionate about this project (as is Neobe Velis, our producer). We’re especially excited that Recombined will be a inclusive production, with a diverse cast and crew. With a particular commitment to gender parity in front of and behind the camera.
But we can’t get it done without help from others. And by “help,” I mean donations. If that’s something that inspires you, check out our campaign page. Any amount from $1 on up will be greatly appreciated. Even better, donations are tax deductible. And every one will help us complete Step 3: Movie script → TV series.
Want to share about the campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Also very much appreciated. Here’s a sample post:
I found this fantastic campaign to support – written, directed & produced by women. Join me in amplifying an awesome story! Donate here: https://www.hatchfund.org/project/recombined_a_sci_fi_short_film #diversity #inclusion #femalepower #scifimovie
And going back to the beginning of this blog post, you might remember I mentioned that Tankborn segued briefly into a short story. That story is “Sacrifice,” set in Tankborn’s world and featuring new characters. “Sacrifice” is for sale on Amazon, but if you donate any amount to the Recombined campaign from $1 on up, forward me the receipt at karen at karensandler dot net and I will send you a free copy of “Sacrifice” as a thank you.
This post originally appeared on Fantasy Cafe.