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The Beowulf Screenplay

156 page "Final Draft" as it was registered with the Writers Guild of America in August of 2003
Click on the cover to read or download the screenplay

"The Saga of Beowulf" began its life as a film script, based on many years of research done both in and outside of college English lit courses. The initial draft came in at well over 200 pages, and after several heavy revisions weighed in at 156 pages (the version available to read here). This was later cut down to its "final" size of 136 pages, which many agents even then found too lengthy, even though it is inherently an epic. Screenplays generally run an average of one page for each minute of screen time, so this one would come in at roughly two hours sixteen minutes, although given the amount of action it would probably run much longer.

Reading this you will notice a great many differences from the novel (assuming you have read it as well). The book, of course, was written afterwards, and many of the scenes were further developed and much new material created for it, changing a great deal in the process in order to bring the novel more in line with the original story, since the brevity of the film medium required a great many cuts and alterations. You'll note that there are several major changes in the plot between the two, and even of some major characters. The script was written to fit the tight confines of a movie's running time, so many of the plot elements had been compressed or rejected altogether, whereas the length of a novel gave free reign to expand upon those sequences and themes, and to adhere more closely and respectfully to the original poem.

That said, I tried not to stray too far afield in the script, but a certain degree of leeway was required to make the story work best for the screen. For example, the Frisian Raid sequence is entirely missing from the script: due to time constraints it was just not possible to introduce this rambling side-track from the main plot, with its whole new cast of characters and motivations, regardless of the import of its outcome. Thus, I was forced to find another way to achieve the same end. Several characters were jettisoned, or combined into a composite figure, while the members of Beowulf's crew all had to be created wholesale out of thin air, since only one is even named, and he only in passing.

Ultimately, of course, the film was never made. This was due as much to my lack of skill at screenwriting as to a lack of connections in Hollywood. And just as I was shopping the finished script around it was announced that another version had been bought and greenlit, originally as a live action feature, but ultimately as an unsuccessful animation project. There was also a second and less known independent film made at the same time starring Gerard Butler in the title role, but it was shown in so few cities that almost no one ever saw it.

In retrospect, I could easily have deleted some of the "direction" in the narrative, and let the dialogue alone propel the story. But this was my first attempt at a film script, so it's to be expected. Given that there has still not been a big-budget live action adaptation of Beowulf I have considered doing a new revision, incorporating some of the changes made in the novel. But for now that will have to wait, as there are a great many other tasks that lay ahead.

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