Writer/Screenwriter Rex Pickett, whose unpublished novel became the basis for the screenplay Sideways (and then the novel got published) is out with the sequel novel, Vertical. Pickett is thrilled with Alexander Payne, but not thrilled with the book’s original publisher. To get hopelessly depressed about both the movie industry and the publishing industry, read about his travails in the Yamhill Valley News Register. (Yamhill Valley is Oregon wine country and apparently part of the new novel.)
Screenwriter Pen Densham writes about writing, the business, and how to get through in his new book “Riding the Alligator, Strategies for a Career in Screenwriting (and Not Getting Eaten)”. Like Kung Fu Panda, the answer is, “there is no secret ingredient.” Densham includes essays by various screenwriters. TW puts this in the “probably worth the read” pile. [Via Larchmont Chronicle.]
Prolific horror writer William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist among other novels, returns to his comedy roots with Crazy, a faux memoir about an old screenwriter. Via Washington Post.
Today, how about a Marxist book review (are there really still Marxists?) of a new tome about brilliant (communist) American screenwriter John Howard Lawson. If you do not know Lawson, consider that his book Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting (1949) today sells used on Amazon.com for $225. It is a seminal work on dramatic writing and much more thoughtful than the still ever-popular Lajos Egris book The Art of Dramatic Writing (1946). However, you can get Egris’ book for less than $15 new. Sounds like a socialist plot.
Instead of crabbing that you will never break into Hollywood because of the strike (which is bunk), spend the time writing and reading! Both Universal and Miramax are allowing you to download screenplays for their Oscar-hopefuls.
Miramax has pdf versions of: “No Country For Old Men”; “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly”; “Hoax”; and “Gone Baby Gone” available here. When you get to the Miramax site, you have to dig the scripts out by clicking on the poster and looking for the link.
Don’t wait. Who knows how long they will keep these up? This is a terrific collection of scripts that cannot do anything but help you write. Download them, read them, all. (I will do the same.)
Seeing into the minds of actively working successful screenwriters is often insightful. Two such screenwriters currently have books out in which they discuss their theory and process of screenwriting.
Blake Snyder, whose credits include “Blank Check” and “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot”, is still actively writing and selling specs to Hollywood. His book, Save The Cat: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, is a breezy, feel-good how-to-write-scripts-any-studio-executive-must-buy book. At 195 pages, it is a quick and painless read. And it has a few good ideas. Anyone who actually regularly sells scripts to Hollywood must have a few of them. His forte is conceptualizing the story through title and log lines, the so-called “high concept” theory. He distinguishes the principal with complete clarity and leaves the reader feeling he or she can also come up with these crisp, saleable ideas, and thereby have a writing career. He then breezes us through his story theory, from his ideas on structure to building dramatic tension to resolution. This material is less convincing, in part because he could easily have spent three times the pages discussing it – he barely touches on most areas – and in part because his theory feels as if it has enormous holes in it. If you match it up to your most respected mainstream box-office successes, you may feel it just does not hold up. On the other hand, if you look at Snyder’ body of work, his forte is definitely clean, crisp conceptualizations, not depth. Based upon his strong explanations about how he achieves this clarity, the book is worth adding to your arsenal. However, it should be but one of many arrows in your quiver – and not “The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.” (He also has companion software, discussed below.)
Writing Drama: a comprehensive guide for playwrights and scriptwriters comes from European television and motion picture screenwriter Yves Lavandier. His book (translated nicely from French to English by Bernard Besserglik) is, in a sense, the antidote for Snyder’s. It is thoughtful and detailed, rethinking traditional Aristotelean story theory in modern terms, fully updated with loads of contemporary examples from both American and European cinema. Most Americans will be unfamiliar with some of the foreign examples, but the concepts are sufficiently laid out that this should not be a hindrance. Lavandier covers all of the key areas of story theory – including act structure, dramatic irony (a key element missing from the work of many beginning writers), how to build proper obstacles, characterization, dialogue and more. It is a complete course in writing. His ideas on the purpose and uses of the third act differ somewhat from most American theorists and the book does have a broader perspective on film that the strictly Hollywood point-of-view, but different perspectives are important and the basis for doing what you must ultimately do, namely painstakingly develop your own clear and effective story theory, something that happens only with experience and a strong drive to perfect your craft. Lavandier’s work is a fine addition to your writer’s library and a terrific tool towards developing your own craft. The book can be hard to come by in the United States, but can be ordered from the publishers, Le Clown & l’enfant, who were kind enough to send me a review copy.
As mentioned above, Blake Snyder has companion Save The Cat story development software, which includes templates to force you to conceive a title and logline, the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” which includes a series of preliminary beats he believes every story must have, and a story board where you fill in the rest of the beats and play around with your story. I spent several days conceiving a story using his software just to get a feel for it. I enjoyed the exercise and might press it further. If you have sixty bucks to spare and enjoy computer toys (as I do), it’s worth playing with. If you’re a starving writer, buy index cards instead.
Enough. Now go write….
Jasen from California asks:
I’ve been trying to find a decent screenwriting magazine to subscribe to, but I have no idea where to start looking. Would you have any suggestions that I might want to take a look at?
Read what working writers read: “Written By” magazine from the WGA. (Once at the WGA site, click on “Publications” and “Written By”.) You do not need to be a WGA member to subscribe. Annual subscriptions are currently $40. The website publishes selected articles for free.
I’m in that daze that follows completing an intense draft – excitement, concern, and feeling the natural let down. Right now, the draft is “in the drawer” for a few days to give my writing partner and me a little distance before we decide whether it’s really finished. (We usually decide it’s still a mess when we look at it again – but in this moment, I’m feeling pretty damn excited.)
During these infrequent lulls in writing, I spend time revisiting my books and thinking about the basics. I’m hoping that it will help get me out of the particulars of the story so I can have a fresher look when I get back to it. I’d probably be better off going fishing.
Tonight, I took a look at one shelf in particular. There’s some great stuff in there, but I was surprised to see how much utter crap I’ve accumulated in the mix.
Here’s what I think of these books: Continue reading “A WRITER’S BOOKSHELF”