April 25, 2024
Alan Roth Screenwriting

Screenwriter Alan Roth Discusses His Approach to Adapting Books for Film

Alan Roth, screenwriter, graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey with degrees in History and English Literature before pursuing further studies at Emerson College in Boston, earning an MFA in Creative Writing. Alongside his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he contributes to academia as an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Fairleigh Dickinson’s School of the Arts. Among his achievements is the coveted Nicholl Fellowship Academy Award (the Oscars) for his exceptional original screenplay, “Jersey City Story.” In the following article, Mr. Roth elaborates on his process of adapting a book into a screenplay.

Roth’s Methodical Approach

Adapting a book for the screen is a meticulous process that demands attention to detail and a deep understanding of both the source material and the medium of film or television. Alan Roth approaches this task with precision and creativity.

The journey begins with a thorough examination of the book, conducted with a keen eye for preserving the author’s original vision. He emphasizes the importance of honoring the author’s intentions, especially in genres like memoirs where the narrative is deeply personal. The goal is to translate the essence of the story onto the screen while staying true to the author’s intended message and themes.

The Reading Process

During the reading process, Roth carefully considers which storytelling devices will be most effective in the visual medium. Questions arise about how to handle story exposition and convey a character’s inner thoughts without relying on narration, a luxury afforded by the written word. These considerations are pivotal in crafting a screenplay that captivates audiences while staying faithful to the source material.

Alan Roth Screenwriting

Creating a Logline

A crucial step in the adaptation process is the creation of a logline, a concise summary that encapsulates the main elements of the story. This serves as both a pitch tool for producers and a guiding framework for the screenwriter. In the case Jersey City Story, the logline succinctly captures the essence of the narrative, teasing the central conflict and characters in a single sentence.

With the logline as a roadmap, the screenwriter proceeds to create a beat sheet, outlining the sequential plot points or beats of the script. This serves as a blueprint for the story, guiding the narrative arc and character development. Each beat is meticulously crafted to ensure cohesion and momentum throughout the screenplay.


Throughout the adaptation process, collaboration with the author is key. In his own process, Roth delivers new pages weekly, engaging in discussions and feedback sessions to ensure that the screenplay remains faithful to the spirit of the book. This collaborative approach ensures that the final draft honors the author’s vision while effectively translating it into a visual storytelling format.

Deciding Between TV Series and Feature Film Adaptations

When faced with the task of adapting a book into visual media, screenwriters often grapple with the decision of whether to pursue a movie or a TV series adaptation. Each format presents its own set of challenges and opportunities, requiring careful consideration of the story’s nuances and potential audience engagement.

Alan Roth Screenwriting

Making the Right Choice

Alan Roth notes that adapting a book into a TV series allows for more extensive exploration of character development and narrative depth. With the luxury of multiple episodes, storytellers can delve into intricate plotlines and provide viewers with a deeper understanding of the characters’ journey. Additionally, episodic formats lend themselves well to creating suspenseful cliffhangers, enticing viewers to tune in for the next installment.

Conversely, some stories are best suited for the more concise format of a feature film. Grand, epic narratives with visually stunning landscapes and a clear story arc can captivate audiences within the confines of a 90-minute runtime. For these stories, stretching out the plot over multiple seasons may dilute the impact of the narrative, making a theatrical release the preferred option.

Strategic Time Management for Screenwriters

Organizing writing time efficiently is essential for screenwriters juggling multiple projects and deadlines. Adopting a methodical approach, Roth prioritizes tasks by working backward from the final delivery deadline. This strategy allows for the identification of key milestones and the allocation of time for reading, writing, and even contemplation.

By maintaining a dynamic schedule, screenwriters can then adapt to changing project demands while ensuring consistent progress toward their goals. This structured approach not only fosters productivity but also instills discipline in adhering to the planned timeline. Additionally, scheduled meetings play a crucial role in the collaborative nature of screenwriting, providing opportunities for feedback and brainstorming sessions.


Through careful consideration of storytelling devices, creation of loglines, and crafting of beat sheets, Roth ensures that each adaptation remains faithful to the essence of the book while engaging audiences on screen. His collaborative approach, involving regular feedback sessions with authors, underscores the importance of maintaining the integrity of the narrative throughout the adaptation process.

Moreover, by prioritizing efficient time management and maintaining a structured schedule, he demonstrates how screenwriters can effectively juggle multiple projects and deadlines while maximizing productivity.

In essence, his methodical approach serves as a guiding light for aspiring screenwriters, offering valuable insights into the intricate art of adaptation. As Roth continues to leave his mark on the film industry with his storytelling prowess, his contributions to the world of screenwriting will undoubtedly endure for years to come.