Featured Book of the Month

This is not a new book. It's just a classic.

Howard Suber is one of the premier film instructors of our time. He's taught scores of courses in all aspects of film at UCLA. He's literally the guiding light and formative spirit of the UCLA film program — and this book illustrates why. The depth, breadth, and scope of his knowledge — from a practical and a critical standpoint, has no equal.

So you might be thinking you're in for some kind of a dry recital of theory and statistics. Well, you'd be wrong. You don't get to Suber's place in the halls of academia by being a fuddy-dud. Suber is a warm, approachable human being with a labile and penetrating mind. Just take a dip into this book to experience the breadth of his erudition on the subject of film.

This book is organized less like a film textbook and more like the  classic Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. It's the Chuang Tzu of Filmology. A light and readable, yet extraordinarily deep, meditation on aspects of film — a treasure house of knowledge and insight into the process, the spirit, the art of filmmaking.

The book's a distillation of over eight thousand pages of handouts, notes and articles spanning Suber's long career. Organized into about 250 titled articles (from ACCIDENTS to WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW), most no longer than a page long, the book walks you through aspects of film that you may not have even considered before.

For example, in PLOT, Suber muses on Georges Polti's seminal Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, and asks himself — if there are only four fundamental forces in physics, and four base pairs comprising every scrap of DNA in the world — might not there be fewer elemental plots? For indeed, most who claim they've devised a new plot do so in ignorance of the vast corpus of legend and myth that stretches back to the time of the Greeks and before.

He sums up with this: "More important than creating an original plot is creating an original character, since it is usually characters — not plots — that people remember." You've probably heard this before — more than likely, whoever you heard it from, they heard it from Suber.

In GROSS, Suber discusses the long pedigree of gross-out drama, going back to Aristotle's lost companion to Tragedy, "Comedy". It's always been disreputable. But, "it continues to appeal to people who don't read books like this". You may still want to make your gross-out comedy, in the vein of American Pie or The Hangover — but now, you'll at least know the long tradition  that justifies the form's popularity.

Then, for good measure, this chapter cross-references to the one on Aristotle, where Suber debunks some of the various "maxims" of drama you may've heard around town. As always, one should think for himself.

That is, after all, the kind of thing heroes do. I was struck by the entry on HAPPINESS, where Suber points out that a hero is defined mainly as one who forgoes happiness, in favor of justice. This got me thinking long and hard, and I think I've come up with a rebuttal to that -- while a hero does forgo happiness, and pursues justice, the ultimate goal is still happiness. Or however one defines the creation of a new, stable status quo.

This is of course, why we have ENDINGS, HAPPY. Yet Suber lists 53 classic films that do not have happy endings. You sure as hell don't need a happy ending if you want to make a classic. So while you and I and the market may clamor for both justice and a happy ending — there are many ways to Classicland, and Suber will demystify a great many of them for you.

That's how this book is. It'll get you thinking and annoy you, and you will learn. It's sort of amazing how these professors — Suber, and Richard Walter, among others — go around writing books and giving away all their secrets! There's a small fee, of course, but there's no tuition, no dorms, no parking...just all the good stuff. And best of all, no exams!

There are a lot of books floating out there that you really should read if you want to call yourself a well-rounded screenwriter -- we try and focus on the ones you really need. This is one of those books.

Below, check out Mr. Suber's video intro to his book. You can learn more at the book's website: The Power Of Film.

StoryPros Verdict:  Recommended
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By Howard Suber
[Michael Wiese, List $27.95]