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What is an Adapted Screenplay?

As someone that has recently entered the film industry or is considering a career in film. You might have heard terms like “adapted screenplay” and “adaptation” before. And wondered what they mean. What does it mean and what is an adapted screenplay for a film? Screenplay adaptations and the determination of what content is original. And what is considered adapted is up to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But how? 


What is An Adapted Screenplay?

A screenplay adaptation or an adapted screenplay represents a screenplay based on information or material that is pre-existing. As determined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

When a screenplay is adapted, the information or material that makes up the screenplay may come from a number of sources. Including books, poems, memoirs, articles, short-stories, or any other previously written works. 

When a filmmaker researches and writes a screenplay on a true story that they personally conduct the background research on, it is not considered an adapted screenplay.

Not Adapted

While the information in this style of screenplay is not technically original as it did happen prior.

As long as the details of the film or screenplay go beyond what was previously individually recorded historically. And there was additional original research into the story? Then the screenplay is not considered adapted.

Characteristics of an Adapted Screenplay

Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards an Academy Award to the best adapted screenplay.

These screenplays must have the following characteristics:

  • They are based on another source.
  • Their sequels are also considered adaptations.
  • The information was previously published or otherwise produced which makes it an adaptation.

So, what is an adapted screenplay?

It’s a screenplay that is adapted or adjusted from another source into a new screenplay or film. Generally, adapted screenplays are made up of information that has been combined from a previous source.

For example, a screenplay might be created with details from a comic book or a past NY Times Best Selling Novel. When either of these are formatted into a screenplay, and the information from the original work is adapted to film, it becomes an adapted screenplay.

For the purposes of an Academy Award, adapted screenplays can include information from previously published material that comes from a novel, short story, television series, or a wide range of other types of scripts.

As long as the information was previously published, and there was an effort to create a screenplay out of the published material, it is considered an adapted screenplay.