‘Arrival’: From Short Story to Blockbuster

One story’s two-decade journey to the big screen.
By  · Published on June 16th, 2017

Last year may have been full of terrible movies based on preexisting material, but Arrival shone much brighter than the rest. Based on the beloved short story Story of Your Life, written by Ted Chiang as part of his 1998 anthology Starlight 2. Fast forward almost two decades and it has been adapted into one of the most affecting and human sci-fi tentpoles ever made by director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer.

Now, when a 33-page short story is turned into a 2-hour film, a lot of changes are made. While the plot and themes of the story have remained intact, an international crisis plot line had to be added, as well as higher stakes for the characters to give the story scale. But the film keeps it together due to its dogged commitment to its main message – that communication between people is the key to survival – as well as its higher concepts of free will and time itself.

That’s the subject Lessons from the Screenplay has picked for their new video essay. Breaking down the film by its choices in writing, editing and performance, it examines how Villeneuve was able to stay true to the story of the film and, in effect, make a stronger film.

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21. Filmmaker. Writer for Film School Rejects. Featured on MTV, Indiewire & The A.V. Club.