Book Review: Alternative Screenwriting: Beyond the Hollywood Formula

Cover

Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: March 13, 2013

“We outline conventions and then proceed to suggest practical ways to undermine or alter those conventions. We use specific examples to illustrate the points we’re trying to make. Our ultimate goal is to help you develop better screenplays. To do this, we talk about form, content, character, and language, while pressing you to develop alternative narrative strategies that prompt you to write the best screenplay you can write… We want you to look beyond the surface of scriptwriting, beyond form. You’ll be surprised what you find.” –Ken Dancyger & Jeff Rush (excerpt from Chapter 1: Beyond Form)

This 5th edition of “Alternative Scriptwriting: Beyond the Hollywood Formula by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush may be the best book on screenwriting that I have ever read. While most screenwriting manuals focus on the traditional three-act structure, this book goes far beyond structure and focuses on many other aspects of the scriptwriting form. The text also challenges the belief that the 3-act restorative structure is the only effective writing method. Other alternatives are presented to the reader, and these alternatives are elaborated upon in vivid detail. We learn what is gained and lost by challenging the traditional form. This book is recommended as a chaser for manuals by Syd Field and Robert McKee. It might make these more traditional texts easier to swallow.

Review by: Devon Powell

Advertisements

Book Review: FilmCraft: Screenwriting

Cover

Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: April 11, 2013

The FilmCraft book series focuses on specific disciplines within the filmmaking profession using interviews from noteworthy professionals in the field. This volume by Tim Grierson features interviews with 15 screenwriters, and profiles of 5 other important screenwriters.

The screenwriters interviewed in this volume are:

Hossein Amini
Guillermo Arriaga
John August
Mark Bomback
Jean-Claude Carrière
Lee Chang-dong
Stephen Gaghan
Christopher Hampton
David Hare
Anders Thomas Jensen
Billy Ray
Whit Stillman
Robin Swicord
Caroline Thompson
David Webb Peoples

The screenwriters profiled are:

Woody Allen
Ingmar Bergman
Paddy Chayefsky
Ben Hecht
Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond

There will certainly be those that question Tim Grierson’s choice of screenwriters, but it would be nearly impossible to include every relevant writer in a single volume. The writers were chosen come from very diverse backgrounds, and this makes the individual interviews unique and valuable. Any reservations that one has about these particular choices are likely to fade once they start reading the book.

Those looking for a manual about script structure or a manual on “how to write a screenplay” will likely be disappointed with the text. The book is meant to be a resource of inspiration. There is a wealth of conflicting information (and advice) related to the readers. The idea that holds the volume together is that there are as many approaches to writing a screenplay as there are screenwriters. The writers interviewed talk passionately about their craft, and engage the reader immediately. The text is illustrated with wonderful photos, set drawings, and storyboards that make the book a visual treat. FilmCraft: Screenwriting is another addictive volume in the FilmCraft series. It will be a treasured addition to the libraries of anyone who loves the cinema, and a wonderful resource to future screenwriters.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure

41gamDLnahL

Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: January 1, 2013

Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure is exactly what one might expect from the title. However, it isn’t quite like any of the other manuals on the market. Its focus is on structure, and it does not digress from this subject (until the last few chapters of the book). The first part of the book is devoted to summarizing a variety of other structure manuals, including Aristotle’s Poetics, Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, and Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. O’Bannon gives thorough summaries of these systems, complete with sometimes sarcastic commentary (and criticism) from O’Bannon. However, O’Bannon’s system is simply a more flexible version of the three act paradigm. There are differences in his understanding of the major turning points, and his view of the nature of conflict, and these differences are addressed in the text.

A large percentage of the book focuses on the structural analysis of various films. These actually contribute as much to the reader’s understanding of screenplay structure as anything else in the book. It also becomes evident that O’Bannon (like so many other manual writers)  judges the merits of a script on whether or not the script conforms to classical structure. This can become slightly irritating. One such example is his take on Lawrence of Arabia.

“It’s clear, though, that by any yardstick, you can’t accuse Lawrence of Arabia of being a typical film. The story is strewn with conflicts, all of them basically incidental. The film really exists, or so it seems, to provide a framework for one maddeningly elusive question: Who was this guy? And it doesn’t even answer it. It just asks it – over and over again, which may be why people have come back to this film for fifty years now. Maybe they’re hoping that this time, the sands will shift in their favor, and the mysteries will finally be solved.” – Dan O’Bannon (Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure)

Perhaps, but it seems much more likely that people come back to this classic film because they find it engaging despite it’s untypical structure. Why do scriptwriting manuals find it necessary to look upon successful films that diverge from their normal 3-act structure as flawed freaks of nature? Why not accept that while the 3-act structure is a useful tool, it is by no means the only method. Many films are loved because of their unusual approach. This fact does not make the 3-act structure any less useful. It is rather unfortunate that these manual writers find it necessary to strip them of their merit based on the mere fact that they not fit snugly into their pre-made box. This is only a small complaint, and O’Bannon is certainly more open-minded than a lot of other manual writers.

This certainly isn’t the most comprehensive screenwriting book, but writers will find O’Bannon’s text helpful as an accessory to the more rigid screenwriting manuals.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work

91n+f11Y+6L

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 15, 2007

J.J. Murphy’s Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work is a study of the screenplay structure used in twelve successful independent films (Stranger than Paradise, Safe, Fargo, Trust, Gas Food Lodging, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Reservoir Dogs, Elephant, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Gummo, and Slacker). Murphy compares the structure of these films to the ‘traditional’ three act paradigm that is taught in the manuals. Syd Field, Linda Seger, Robert McKee, and other notable manual writers are discussed and quoted at length. Murphy often does this in order to compare the structure of these independent films to traditional structure that is taught by screenwriting manuals. These quotes are often associated with the films discussed in the book, but while the manuals tend to explain why these diversions from typical structural paradigms are a mistake, Murphy argues that these diversions are actually responsible for the success of the film. Murphy claims that these unusual diversions from the structure taught in manuals subvert audience expectations in original ways (and actually add resonance to the themes covered in these films).

While this book isn’t a screenwriting manual, it has the potential to serve future scriptwriters by validating the desire to digress from traditional paradigms. It makes a nice companion to the more rigid manuals on the market. This text will also be of interest to fans of the various films discussed in these pages. Before reading Murphy’s book, this reviewer had only seen seven of the twelve films discussed. It created a strong desire to watch the other five films, and managed to raise my appreciation for the seven films that I had previously seen.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class

hitchcockmaster

Image

Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: May 1, 2013

There have been countless books devoted to Alfred Hitchcock. Most are film theory, many are biographies, and others are detailed accounts of the making of a specific Hitchcock film. Nearly every theoretic angle has been covered in meticulous detail. However, Tony Lee Moral had something very different in mind for “Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class.” This book is not intended for scholars. It does not delve into theory, biography, or detail any film’s creation. Moral prefers to offer future filmmakers a text for using the films of Alfred Hitchcock as a tool for learning the filmmaking process. It is really a superb idea. Could there be a better tool for teaching young filmmakers the craft of filmmaking? It is certainly difficult to think of one. The book covers the entire filmmaking process (writing, planning, shooting, editing, and marketing) using easy to…

View original post 374 more words