Featured Book of the Month
The legendary Richard Walter, longtime professor and chair of the Film, Television & Digital Media department at UCLA, combines his seminal 1988 Book Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing with material from his 1997 book, The Whole Picture: Strategies for Screenwriting Success in the New Hollywood. The result? A new essential compendium of screenwriting basics, meditations on the art, and strategies for success.
The main thrust of the book is "screenplay integration" creating a screenplay where all pieces are functional, all parts serve story and theme, and everything, from characters to dialogue, functions as an integrated unit. This is the distinguishing characteristic of all good screen stories.
The book is organized into three main parts: ART, a rundown of practical and useful information on all aspects of screenplay plotting and execution; CRAFT, which deals with the ups and downs of the writing life itself; and BUSINESS, realistic and frank observations on the industry, and practical and intriguing ideas on how to navigate it.
Interspersed with the text throughout are a total of 66 principles, set off from the text in bold italic. This is good, because it saves you highlighter ink, and you don't need to dog-ear the pages. Once you've read the book, you can flip back through and spot these sage pieces of advice and re-read the surrounding text for more info, if you need a refresher. And who doesn't need a refresher now and again?
Walter de-demonizes "seven naughty words" "commercial", "contrivance", etc. which have lost their meaning or had their meaning perverted in the modern age, and brings back their most elemental, populist meanings. He goes on to boil down 30 years of experience into a series of wonderfully lucid and entertaining discussions on the art, craft and business of screenwriting and he includes a host of first-hand anecdotes, including a tale of George Lucas, the Early Years.
In one section, Walter describes the functions of criticism, and shows a marked up draft, with a detailed listing of his most often-scrawled margin notes. This alone is worth the price of admission.
We were struck by the fact that virtually all the advice Walter gives in this book are things that we at StoryPros advise our writers every day! We share his enthusiasm for integration in story construction, economy in presentation, a minimum of frou-frou in short, screenplays with power and focus.
These are not easy to write. As you may have noticed. But the fact is these are the coin of the realm in Hollywood. The most basic requirement at the professional level is a screenplay that's tightly integrated. A screenplay that works, whose parts all function in the service of a well-told story.
As you also may have noticed, not every movie that hits the 'plexes resembles such a beast. Neither does every script that's bought. But they keep looking, because that is the goal of every industry professional searching for a product and if you want to be the supplier of that product, then you need to know how to create such a thing.
Another thread we liked: Walter mentions an idea from Zen archery "you can't hit the target if you're aiming for it". The importance of this cannot be overestimated, if you are interested in creating a deep, lasting, "classic" movie, whatever the form it takes.
It can be whatever you want. It can be violent, it can be weird. Provided you stick to certain key principles, it will not fail to be engaging to an audience.
But the point here is that theme is something you discover well into the writing process. The effective writer should never start with a theme, but should start with a personal idea, write it out, then discover the theme as great writers have done somewhere toward the end of the writing process.
Walter goes even further, pointing out that "all movies treat the same theme: identity" (principle 15). Screenplays are ultimately all concerned with identity, specifically human identity, even more specifically your human identity so he encourages you to personalize your story.
By personalizing your story, you'll be able to generate that relevance and unity, and ultimately find a theme. And, since movies are about healing (principle 12), you'll only wind up healing yourself and making the world a better place.
Richard Walter is a lover of the craft, a stern and fair-minded authority in his field. A true aficionado of film, an encyclopedic resource and a non-tolerator of bullshit. He is the professor you never had, and wish you did...or the professor you did have, and didn't listen to enough...or the professor you revered the most. He describes the ideal criticism as "creative analysis that is not patronizing or destructive but honest and candid and supportive, commentary offered in a spirit celebrating among other qualities the requisite courage writers need". This is the "organizing principle" of his program, and it's a principle we live by here at StoryPros.
A great book to have on your shelf, and one you'll return to again and again.
StoryPros Verdict: Recommended
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Essentials Of Screenwriting
The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing