Archive for July 16th, 2012

July 16, 2012

Book Review: Screenplay Form and Structure

I was recently asked to review a new screenwriting book that will hit the shelves (digital and otherwise) in August, 2012. The book, Screenplay Form and Structure, is composed of posts taken from a private online forum discussing such concepts as audience bonding, the proper use of scene cards, and marketing strategies.

The book is edited by Alan von Altendorf and built out of posts from over a dozen contributors, some of whom are clearly students of screenwriting looking for their first big break and others who seem to have years of experience in the industry, though none of the main contributors have IMDB pages — not a great sign. I decided to give the book’s contributors the benefit of the doubt, because (1) options and uncredited rewrites don’t show up on IMDB and (2) you don’t have to be an outwardly successful screenwriter in order to be an excellent teacher. Just look at Robert McKee and Syd Field.

Screenplay Form and Structure has a scattering of useful tidbits and ideas, but overall the book is, ironically, lacking in useful structure. The forum format translates to conversational entries that can build upon each other, but too often includes page after page of contributors building up each other’s egos without providing the reader with any sort of useful instruction. Quite often throughout the text the contributors disagree with each other or fail to understand each other’s points. These conflicts sometimes lead to further elucidation on a topic, but more often than not made me wish the editor had picked up his red pen much more often when collecting these posts into a teaching text.

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July 16, 2012

Joss Whedon’s Ten Rules of Screenwriting

Joss Whedon is one of my screenwriting idols. The creative mastermind behind such cult classics as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Whedon has also written and/or directed such hits as The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Toy Story and Serenity.

Several years ago Joss listed his top ten writing tips:

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

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July 16, 2012

Quote of the Day: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Most directors make films with their eyes; I make films with my testicles.