‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Screenwriter’s Five Biggest Challenges

With Kelly Marcel tapped to pen the script, we look at the obstacles in adapting E L James' best-selling novel.

Will screenwriter Kelly Marcel be any match for Christian Grey and his Red Room of Pain? That’s the question on fans’ lips following the Monday announcement from Universal Pictures and Focus Features that the “Terra Nova” creator will adapt E L James’ best-seller for the big screen.

Producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti were won over by Marcel’s storytelling strengths, saying in a statement, “Kelly’s work demonstrates her flawless structural technique and passionate commitment to emotion, humor and depth of character which is particularly visible in the celebrated screenplay for the upcoming ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ ”

Yet, as skilled as Marcel may be, she will have to overcome a number of obstacles in order to bring lovers Christian and Ana to life (the least of which will be weathering Bret Easton Ellis’ wrath). Let’s look at the five challenges Marcel faces:

The Sex
Don’t pretend you weren’t thinking about it! It’s erotic fiction, after all, but the last thing the producers want is a pornographic film. Marcel will no doubt have to collaborate closely with the yet-to-be-selected director in order to find the sweet spot between silly smut and sound storytelling. After all, audiences will only tolerate so many instances of fade to black…

The Plot
Boiled down to its basics, the main conflict in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is whether Ana will sign the submissive contract Christian places before her. That’s not a lot of story to pin an entire screenplay on. The tenuous plot works mostly in James’ novel because, well, all that sex is rather distracting. But it sounds as though producers want to craft a meaty narrative, not relying on all that kink-ery as a crutch. It will be tantamount for Marcel (likely in collaboration with James) to bring a bit more storytelling savvy to the script.

The Emails
Christian and Ana are at their most vulnerable not while rolling around in the sheets but when exchanging multiple back-and-forth emails throughout their work days. The relationship development that occurs through these surprisingly open and honest missives cannot be chopped without, in turn, cutting out much of this story’s heart. That being said, who wants to sit through 20 minutes of email recitations? Marcel will need to puzzle out these exchanges without producing another Google Chrome commercial.

The Antihero
Christian Grey is, without question, one of the most damaged love interests in recent literary history. Abused as a child, his earlier traumas have left him cold, menacing and sadistic. Yet, somehow millions of readers have fallen in love with the brash billionaire. Whether that same adoration attaches to the big-screen iteration will depend on two things: Marcel crafting a redeeming character and the chosen actor transcending the vile and become the victorious.

The Audience
This is probably more of a wish than an obstacle, but wouldn’t it be nice if the film appealed to both men and women, despite the novel’s reputation as “mommy porn”? We have a feeling the adaptation will be a success regardless (mark our words), but here’s to a titillating tale we can all enjoy.