When I was a kid, I loved reading science fiction, and one of my favourite authors was Isaac Asimov. Asimov was a prolific author who wrote hundreds of books. I read his popular Foundation trilogy twice by the time I was fourteen.
Since the trilogy was published in the early 1950s, there was a lot of talk of making it into a movie, but because the story spanned a thousand years and half the galaxy, it didn’t lend itself to film adaptation.
At long last it’s been adapted for a different screen – television. You would have already been able to see it on Apple TV+ if it weren’t for the pandemic.
Back in 2017, when I first heard that the Foundation trilogy might be developed into a TV series, I decided to take a crack at writing the first two episodes as I might conceive them.
That led me to reread the first novel in the trilogy.
I have to admit that I noticed all sorts of problems with the book that I’d overlooked as a fourteen-year-old: characters without much depth, Asimov’s tendency to tell rather than show, and his utilitarian pulp fiction style.
But I also recognized what drew me to his work as a kid, and that was his big imagination and talent for tackling bold, galaxy-spanning themes in entertaining ways.
It was fun adapting his book for TV. The essence of the story remained the same, but I took the opportunity to update it. I reinterpreted Asimov’s ideas about religion and technology through a post-9/11 lens. I fleshed out the cast of characters and reassigned some of the juicier roles to women. I also sharpened the dialogue and ramped up the suspense and intrigue.
This was a bit of a homecoming for me in a couple of respects. First of all, I was revisiting a story of my youth as a fifty-something author with three literary novels under my belt. But I was also coming back to screenwriting after an absence of about fifteen years. I actually learned how to write novels by taking a couple of screenwriting workshops. Even though the two formats are quite different in many respects, they also follow many of the same storytelling principles.
The teleplays of my two Foundation episodes now occupy a folder in my filing cabinet. I thought they were good enough to be produced, but I soon learned that, given the huge stakes involved in a project this big, a Hollywood unknown like myself had absolutely no chance of getting one of his scripts considered.
I’m still waiting to see when the Apple TV+ series finally airs. I’ve seen some trailers, and it looks very different from what I came up with. I’m sure that if I watch it, I’ll be comparing the two versions. I suspect I’ll continue to have a soft spot for my own adaptation, though.
If you’re curious, you can read my two episodes here.
Never read a screenplay before? There aren’t a lot of words on each page, which makes it very quick to read. Each page represents about a minute of screen time. Hence, the script for a one-hour episode is typically sixty pages long.
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