icon icon

Stephen Cleary's Art and Craft of Adaptation

A still from 'Flake' | Written and Directed by Cyrus Bezyan | Photo: Simon Taylor

Talk to our Admissions team

1300 131 461

Explore Writing Adaptations for the Screen

This workshop with industry expert Stephen Cleary explores how to adapt original material into a screenplay. You’ll learn how to ensure your adaptation tells the story visually as you move away from the source material, followed by a step-by-step guide through some different adaptation processes, illustrated by clips and case studies. Well over 50% of all stories produced for film and TV are adapted from other work, and proportionally, adapted stories win more awards than original ones. Documentaries also wrestle with how you translate real-life events into screen stories. In this course, you’ll learn how to approach adaptation in a way that is organised, sophisticated and creative.

10 most important things to know when adapting from a novel, the theatre or real life.

Finding your writer’s voice vs their writer’s voice.

Adapting for film VS adapting for television – what’s the difference?

Is The Art and Craft of Adaptation right for you?

This course will help you get to grips with the techniques of adaptation and understand the many options available to you in how you approach it. If you don’t get involved in adaptation you are turning your back on at least half the market. Suitable for screenwriters of all levels of experience.

DAY ONE of this course shows you the three key types of adaptation: reconstruction, re-imagining and deconstruction. All adaptations are a variation of one or more of these three types. Identifying what type of adaptation you are doing allows you to identify quickly what technical approach your original material demands. We will explore the different technical approaches in detail. We then move on to the issues that accompany adapting from novels, from real-life stories, from theatre and from mixed sources. We will discover the basic approach to each of those types of material that allows you to clarify the approach you want to take, knowing that adaptation is always an ongoing conversation between the original material and the adapting writer. Alongside this, we will look at the role of the producer, the director and the development executive as they work with the adapting writer.

DAY TWO looks at adapting characters, specifically how to identify and preserve the core of the character from the original in your adapted script. We look at the questions to ask when considering if the lead character in the original must be the lead character in your adaptation. We will explore ways of combining and compressing characters to simplify the original story. And when we look at documentaries we will look at plot-driven documentaries, character-driven documentaries and theme-driven documentaries and the things to look out for in all three. There will be examples and illustrations throughout the two days from both successful and unsuccessful adaptations, but on Day Two we will look almost exclusively at stories with female protagonists and look at how the gender of the protagonist often sends adaptations of genre stories down particular paths with recurring tropes and motifs. We will look at what happens to an adaptation of a thriller if you change the gender of the lead character from the original. And we’ll look at remakes, adaptations of original screen stories, and adaptations of adaptations of adaptations of original stories.

Meet Your Tutors

Stephen Cleary

Stephen Cleary has worked in film and television for over 20 years. His career began at the UK’s national film…

Learn More

What you will need

At the end of the course, you will be emailed a 60-page summary of the course, including all the slides used through the workshop. To get the most out of the Stephen Cleary’s Art and Craft of Adaptation, you will need –

  • An understanding of the Screenwriting process and terminologies
  • An idea for a property or story you are interested in adapting


AFTRS reserves the right to cancel any course for any reason at any time. In the event of a course being cancelled a full refund of course fees will be provided. If you are planning to travel to attend a course, please confirm with us via email that the course will be proceeding before you make your travel bookings. AFTRS is not liable for any travel costs incurred due to course postponement, cancellation, or any other circumstance.

If an attendee wishes to withdraw from a course, they may do so up to 15 days before the course commences and get a full refund. Cancellations 14 days or less before course commencement will incur a fee.

Find out more information about discounts and refunds.