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Just come back from the bookshop where I found a bewildering array of books about screenwriting etc. Having flicked through most of them, they all basically seemed to regurgitate the same info - show don't tell, the three act structure, blah blah blah. Stuff you can either figure out through common sense, or find out by actually reading produced scripts.

So instead I picked up a book on the business side of screenwriting, agents, contracts, how to actually sell the damn thing, rather than being baby-talked through how to write.

Have I made a mistake? Are there any great, great books on screenwriting that will give me information I can't get elsewhere?
Story by Robert McKee
there are 2 books I always pull out and re-read when I get ready to write a new screenplay

1. Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434
- It is just another how-to book, but I find the exercises he recommends to be perfect when getting me into my story. They seem to help me get into the world of my characters and really helps me flesh them out. I re-read it everytime I write something new.

2. The Writer's Journey by/Christopher Vogler
- I don't read this as much as Hunter's book, but it is really a great read as well.

I do not read these books to tell me how to write. I read them to help me get to know as much about my stories world as I can. I need the hand holding to get started, because getting started is always the hardest part for me.

Story by Robert McKee is good too and so is Making Movies by Sidney Lumet.
Having purchased and enjoyed screenwriting books but having never sold a script, I can only assume that the books hurt and not help. Stay away. I agree that it's got to all just be common sense, just like neurosurgery or microbiology.

Not necessarily screenwriting, but

The Hero with a Thousand Faces - by Joseph Campbell
Quote:

Dan Whitehead:
Have I made a mistake? Are there any great, great books on screenwriting that will give me information I can't get elsewhere?

No you haven't made a mistake at all.
When i first started writing scripts i went and bought a couple of screenwriting books and while they gave me some good pointers here and there i don't think they really justified a purchase.

Two books that i do revisit, more for the stories of the industry and insights are the William Goldman books: Adventures in teh Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell.

By the way whats the title of the book you bought Dan?
<img src="http://images-eu.amazon.com/images/P/0440502446.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg" alt="" />

It is solely dedicated to explaining the legal side of things, plus the often arcane traditions of pitching and selling a screenplay.

There are a few books about moviemaking that I own and enjoy but, like you say, it's usually because they're written by people I admire and enjoy seeing their perspective.
Quote:

Dan Whitehead:
It is solely dedicated to explaining the legal side of things, plus the often arcane traditions of pitching and selling a screenplay.

There are a few books about moviemaking that I own and enjoy but, like you say, it's usually because they're written by people I admire and enjoy seeing their perspective.

Nice one, i got this a while ago and it really is pretty good.
It is done with the US market in mind but i think it translates to our side of the pond rather well too.
I seem to remember the section on agents being quite insightful, with research being the key underlining factor.
Good choice pal.
I'm writing for the US market anyway. The UK film industry seems to be run by trust-fund Guy Richie wannabe media-cunts and stuffy old farts who produce moving museum exhibits instead of movies.

Hollywood, on the other hand, is run by sweet, charming people who value artistic integrity and original thinking above all else.

Right?
Quote:

Dan Whitehead:
I'm writing for the US market anyway. The UK film industry seems to be run by trust-fund Guy Richie wannabe media-cunts and stuffy old farts who produce moving museum exhibits instead of movies.

Hollywood, on the other hand, is run by sweet, charming people who value artistic integrity and original thinking above all else.

Right?

Haha, yeah thats the impression i get too pal.
But thats who i write for too, i figure there is a much bigger market over there, especially with cable TV etc.
As much as i would love to hit the big time and get my own parking space at Universal, i'd be just as happy having the sort of career William C Martell has.
It would certainly beat the nine-to-five any day.
I picked up Syd Field's Screenplay. Its the only book I have solely on screenwriting. It is helpful for making sure my screenplays are industry format. But, as for ideas and inspiration, I prefer to pick up screenplays by writers I love or of movies I love.

Most of the books I have are directing or books on the industry as a whole. In fact, most of the books I am looking forward to buying are either directing book or general industry books (such as Hello He Lied or Shoot Out).

I do need to find more on getting an agent though.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
They're not screenwriting handbooks, but William Goldman's books about his Adventures In The Screen Trade and others are eye-opening accounts of what crap a big-time screenwriter had to go through.

Reminding me of the tale Harlan Ellison tells about his early draft of a Star Trek screenplay.

The studio heads got him in a meeting and, after he gave an impassioned pitch for his story, they all conferred and said, "We love it. We wouldn't change a thing."...but then asked him (this is the early '70's, mind you) if, since pyramid power was hot, the screenplay couldn't include the ancient Aztecs.

He nearly had a stroke and ended the meeting.

Also, keep in mind the discussion of the movie Phone Booth, where potential director Michael Bay asked, "Okay, first thing...how do we get this guy out of the f---ing phone booth?"

Peace.
The Art Of Dramatic Writing is good if you don't take it all as gospel.

His premise idea is pure shit.
I have to second Goldman's books.

Oh, and Get Shorty .
The Writers' Journey by Christopher Vogler is pure gold. I find McKee kind of stuffy and hard to get through. Syd Field and Lew Hunter can suck it--the books are outdated and too constraining.
Quote:

Rath/Brendan:
Syd Field and Lew Hunter can suck it--the books are outdated and too constraining.

I don't know if I agree with that. I talked to Lew Hunter a couple of months ago and he said that his book was written as to help give insight into ways to write but was not meant to be a "set in stone" type of rule book.

He said something that I always thought - Take what works and use it, and everything that does not work, throw away. I think a lot of his exercises - especially the 2-minute movie exercise - is very useful. Other things (the pages that each act should end on, for example) is not useful to me.

For anyone who cares, I find Lew Hunter's advice better for me to use than Syd Field, when talking about screenwriting itself.