Film or Live Production vs. Text: Differences, Similarities & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Following or Changing…
  • 1:05 Romeo and Juliet
  • 5:30 Comparing Anne Frank Plays
  • 8:51 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

When someone takes a text or script and turns it into a play or film, it can change a great deal or only slightly. In this lesson, we'll analyze a few examples, evaluating the choices that were made.

Following or Changing the Script

Sticking with a text or script, changing it slightly, or completely taking it in a new direction can make or break a filmed or live production. Sometimes, we as audience members love it when a director and actors closely follow a script or novel, while other times we may feel that not changing it even a little meant it lacked a unique take on an old text. In order to effectively analyze a filmed or live production versus a text, we need to compare and contrast the original text to the live or filmed version by:

  • Recognizing how the filmed or live production preserves the original text by noting what stays the same, be it specific lines of dialogue, scenes, choreography, costumes, props, or the setting.
  • Noting how the actors and/or the director stayed true to or strayed from the text's original characters and plot.
  • Evaluating whether the changes made alter the text's message and if the changes made positively or negatively impact the audience and why.

Romeo and Juliet

For centuries, adaptations of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet have been performed around the world. In 1996, Australian film director and screenwriter Baz Luhrmann adapted Shakespeare's play into a modern re-telling of his romantic tragedy. Luhrmann made some bold changes, but he also mirrored Shakespeare in a few interesting ways. Shakespeare often incorporated jokes into his scripts that were popular at that time. He also often mentioned royalty and referenced historical events. Similarly, Luhrmann makes pop culture references. Let's discuss a particular scene in which he does this to really analyze the two versions.

In Act One, Scene One of Shakespeare's original text, Sampson and Gregory, who are Capulets, are bantering back and forth. Sampson says, 'A dog of the house of Montague moves me,' meaning that he's easily provoked to fight when it's a Montague because they're enemies. Some guys from the house of Montague show up. Gregory says to Sampson, 'Draw thy tool.' Sampson responds with, 'Quarrel, I will back thee.' Gregory says that they should frown in their direction, but Sampson disagrees saying, 'Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them if they bear it.' 'He bites his thumb.'

'ABRAHAM: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?'

'SAMPSON: I do bite my thumb, sir.'

'ABRAHAM: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?'

They begin to fight until Benvolio, a Montague and Romeo's peacemaker friend, shows up. He tells them to put up their swords, but then Tybalt, a Capulet, arrives and encourages the fighting.

Lurhmann's film version of this scene is very different. Benvolio and his friends, known as 'the Montague boys,' are driving in a yellow convertible, laughing wildly, and one of them looks right into the camera and says, 'A dog of the house of Capulet moves me!' Then they go to a gas station. Benvolio goes inside and Tybalt, a Capulet, drives up with his friend. Tybalt goes inside, but his friend and fellow Capulet glares at the Montague boys, and the Montagues shake in fear. He laughs at them until one of the Montague boys bites his thumb to insult the Capulet man, and then the fighting begins.

Not only has the original text of Shakespeare's scene been changed, but the choreography has as well. Luhrmann decides to portray the Capulets as the aggressors in this scene, and the Montagues are at first fearful but become combative. Luhrmann uses popular music, modern costumes, like Hawaiian t-shirts, and modern props, like guns instead of swords. He also uses popular film elements, such as including slow motion action shots and clips of Old West music and stylized shooting tactics.

Visually, Luhrmann's film is a far cry from Shakespeare's 1600s Elizabethan Era and the original play's setting of Verona, Italy. Instead, it is set in a booming city with high-rise buildings that seems a lot like Miami, but is called Verona Beach. Regardless of who starts the fighting in the opening scene, the point of the scene is the same in both Shakespeare's and Luhrmann's versions. It shows that these two sides, who act a lot like gangs, are at war with each other, and that this ancient grudge between Lord Montague and Lord Capulet has been passed down to this younger generation.

Though Luhrmann drastically changed the opening scene along with many others, he does stay true to certain lines, such as the famous thumb-biting line, and he also has the actors say the word 'swords' rather than changing it to guns as a way of preserving pieces of the script. He also has the actors speak in the Elizabethan language from the original script, showing his respect for Shakespeare, yet his desire to revamp it and make it edgy, ultra-modern, and relevant. Luhrmann still holds onto the messages of love over violence, the power of grudges and revenge, and the need for forgiveness and peace.

Some may appreciate his adaptation for its innovation and creativity, while others may find it too drastically different with its jarring camera movements, loud contemporary music, and flashy scenes. People who dislike it may prefer a softer film version that sticks closer to the script, the time period, staging, and costumes.

Comparing Anne Frank Plays

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a famous journal that belonged to a Jewish girl who died in the Holocaust during World War II (WWII). Her diary was converted into a play in 1955 and an Oscar-winning film in 1959 by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Goodrich and Hackett's play and film versions were exactly what audiences wanted at that time: a feel-good approach to Anne Frank's heart-wrenching experiences as a young teen hiding from the Nazis.

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