Tag Archives: star wars

The Best Screenwriting Books in the world… possibly.

I was recently asked what are my favourite screenwriting books. So here they are:

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder 

It’s impossible to ignore this one, even if you disagree with the formulaic approach. There are tons of terrific lessons here. But best saved for the more advanced screenwriter.

Story by Robert McKee

The guru of screenwriting, McKee’s book contains pretty much everything you need to know about storytelling.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler 

Breaks down every mythic story and archetype. Very easy to read and full of great examples. It clarifies a lot of what other people say.

Screenplay by Syd Field 

The beginner’s guide to writing a script. Contains all the basics on structure and format. Goes into character creation a little too much for my liking, but then he was also an actor.

Raindance Writer’s Lab by Elliott Grove 

A great practical guide that touches upon the business as well. Essential reading.

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman 

Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and many, many more. This is a frank memoir about screenwriting in Hollywood.

Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman

More memories and advice from the veteran scriptwriter, with more attention to things like writing for budgets.

Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hague 

The first book I ever read on screenwriting and one of the best. Hague gives you the basics in a way that’s simple to understand.

Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder 

The sequel offers more fixes for common problems as well as a very useful section on Act Three.

Save the Cat Goes to the Movies 

Can’t recommend this highly enough. Some truly great insights into different movie genres and the rules they follow.

The Devil’s Guide to Screenwriting by Joe Eszterhas

The infamous scribe of Basic Instinct gives you a very funny look at the flipside of success in Hollywood. Read it to feel empowered as a writer. This is the stuff they didn’t want you to know.

How to Make a Good Script Great by Linda Seger 

A very good fix-it guide when your screenplay lacks that little something.

Tales From the Script by Various 

Frank and fascinating interviews with many major screenwriters. Learn from the people who are working in the trenches.

The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier

Contains all the formatting instructions you need to avoid being seen as an amateur.

Breakfast With Sharks by Michael Lent 

Be warned. The swimming pool of Hollywood is not for the faint-hearted. Learn to recognize and avoid the sharks with this great guide. Contains some terrific practical advice on writing and negotiating your career (or lack of one). Wish I’d read this years ago.

500 Ways to Beat The Hollywood Script Reader by Jennifer Lerch 

Basically a list of common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Rewrite by Paul Chitlik

This is my go-to guide when I’m beginning, guess what, the rewrites! The best thing about this book is that it gives you a structure and a plan to approach your rewriting with. If, like me, you require structure to do anything, this is the book for you.

Bladerunners, Dear Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Deeley 

Veteran British producer Michael Deeley gives you his rather candid insight into the business.

Screenplays 

Lots of them. Any you can find. Especially good ones. Especially produced ones. Notable ones for study are: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Basic Instinct, Speed, The Fisher King, Jaws, The Terminator, Aliens, Chinatown, Casablanca, Die Hard, Network,The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alien, Living In Oblivion, Near Dark, The Hitcher, Reanimator, Deliverance, The Godfather Part II, Superman the Movie, Taxi Driver, The Dear Hunter, The Thing, Altered States, Ordinary People, Annie Hall, Groundhog Day, Back To The Future, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, and many, many more.

Once you dipped into some of these you’ll never look at Transformers 4 in the same way again.

There you go. I’m adding to my on library all the time, so I may well update this post at some stage. If I missed any, let me know. Maybe you have your own favourites or stumble across some gem while browsing around. But these are the books that have helped me the most.

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The Death of Cinema?

At Cinemacon recently, studio heads tried to wrap their minds around why theater ticket sales are declining. Various factors were blamed, from DVD sales to online channels and ticket prices. The answer? A new “delivery method”. A way to get movies streamed instantly into peole’s homes, via the Internet.

After all, the Internet will solve everything.

In my opinion, this view fails to understand the fundamental reason why ticket sales are declining. I can only speak for myself and the people I know. But when asked why they don’t go to the movies, they invariably say “because there’s nothing worth watching”.

I would submit that this is the fundamental issue. It’s a simple cost/reward ratio. People don’t want to shell out a hefty £8 or $8 to sit in a  theater and be bored for 2 hours by a mediocre movie.

The real culprit, folks, is “Tentpole fever”. This can be traced back to the 1970s and the rise of the summer blockbuster. Spielberg’s “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and Lucas’s “Star Wars” were both phenomenal successes. Together the pair created another franchise: the Indiana Jones films. And Hollywood has been chasing that golden ticket ever since.

It’s no surprise that Disney studios (Remember when they used to make charming family animation films?) has announced they plan to release a new “Star Wars” movie every year.

“Star Wars” was released in 1977. Yes, it was a global cultural phenomenon. But that was then. Thirty-six years ago. Since then we’ve had two sequels and three pretty poor (and universally panned) prequels. Do we really need more?

Recently some huge tentpole movies have bombed.  “John Carter” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” for instance. Why?

Let’s contrast these movies to the far more successful, “Tron Legacy”.

“Tron Legacy” does a good job of updating the original which was Disney’s way of tapping into the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. The light cyces are cooler, the world bigger, the SFX more polished. The acting is solid in most places. And it has a great atmospheric score by Daft Punk. But it also has something else… soul. At its heart, this is a father/son story about estranged parent/offspring reuniting, bonding, and letting go.

However while “John Carter” may be a love story, there is no real sense of the romance between the two leads, and any sense of reality is blown away by the ever-escalating and frankly ridiculous plot devices (wait, it’s aliens, Martians, more aliens, different Martians AND magic?) which destroy our sense of disbelief early on.

The point to all this ?

These are STORY issues.

Yes, Hollwyood is still capable of making great movies. 2012’s “Avengers Assemble” and “The Hobbit” to name a few.

But by focusing on STORY and less on SFX, Hollywood could reach more people, deliver more satsfying stories, spend less cash per picture, and make more money.

Nowadays, studios make only about a dozen films a year tops themselves. Each one is stuffed with SFX. It’s an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket strategy. And if a film flops, the results can be disastrous. Disney lost $160 million on “John Carter” alone. But in the golden age of Hollywood, studios churned out hundreds of movies.

You do the math.

My take? The Internet will not solve the problem of why fewer people are watching films. I would argue that the demand is still there. People will always want an evening of magic, living vicariously through 40 foot high technicolor  images on a silver screen. The real question is one of supply.