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Screenwriting

Screenwriting

THE CLASSICAL AMERICAN SCREENPLAY
PARTNERS AND TEAMS
ORIGINAL FILMS VERSUS ADAPTATIONS, REMAKES, AND SEQUELS
THE POLITICS OF SCREENWRITING
EUROPEAN SCREENWRITING AND BEYOND
FURTHER READING

Screenwriting involves all writing "for the screen." Given the history of the screen, such a category covers both fiction and documentary films since the early 1900s in the United States and throughout the world as well as work for television, video, and, in recent years, the Internet. In the beginning of film, there were no screenplays. In fact, one does not need a screenplay to make a movie. Technically, one simply needs a camera and film or a digital camera, and certainly since the first days of moving images down to "Reality TV" in recent times, there are those who specialize in using nonscripted approaches to film. But the moment fiction or narrative cinema lasting more than a few minutes began to become common, there came the realization that, as for the stage, so for film, actors and directors needed to know the story, the dialogue, and the action for the tales being told.

Script credits exist for most silent films, but as biographies, autobiographies, and studies of the period have revealed, few of these films had hard and fast scripts written by someone called a screenwriter. In many of his shorts, such as The Haunted House (1921), The Boat (1921), The Playhouse (1921), The Paleface (1922), and Cops (1922), Buster Keaton (1895–1966) is listed as co-screenwriter with his friend Edward F. Cline (1892–1961). It was not until the coming of sound in film, however, that writers began to call themselves screen-writers, having to write not only action but dialogue as well.

THE CLASSICAL AMERICAN SCREENPLAY

The acknowledgment of the art and craft of the screenplay, happily, was apparent from the beginning of the Academy Award® Oscars® in 1928, which virtually coincided with the introduction of sound and dialogue in cinema. Also important from the first Oscars® down to the present, the Academy has understood the importance of two distinct award categories for screenwriting: Best Original Screenplay, the first award going to one of the giants of early screenwriting, Ben Hecht (1894–1964), for Underworld (1927), and Best Adaptation. The first Oscar® for Adaptation was given in 1931 to Howard Estabrook (1884–1978) for Cimarron, based on Edna Ferber's novel.

As screen historians have noted, it was no accident that once sound films began, Hollywood rushed to entice Broadway playwrights and American novelists to move to Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Ben Hecht was a well respected playwright before he moved to California. He wrote the stage play The Front Page, with Charles MacArthur (1895–1956), which became the hit film of 1931, ironically written from stage to screen by two other writers, Bartlett Cormack (1898–1942) and Charles Lederer (1911–1976). The list of Broadway playwrights and noted American novelists who went to Hollywood is a long one. It includes everyone from Sydney Howard (1885–1956), whose Pulitzer Prize-winning play, They Knew What They Wanted (1924), was made into three different films, and Preston Sturges (1898–1959), who became the first ever to have the credit "written and directed by" on the screen (for The Great McGinty, 1940, for which he received the Oscar®). It also included Robert E. Sherwood, who won an Oscar® for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Others, such as Dudley Nichols (1895–1960), writer of award-winning hits including The Informer (1935, Oscar®), Bringing Up

Baby (1938), and Stagecoach (1939), became well known from the beginning of their careers as screenwriters.

DUDLEY NICHOLS
b. Wapakoneta, Ohio, 6 April 1895, d. 4 January 1960

Dudley Nichols was one of the most variously talented and durable of Hollywood screenwriters throughout the 1930s and 1940s, winning an Oscar® for John Ford's The Informer (1935, adapted from Liam O'Flaherty's novel and co-written with Ford). In a career spanning thirty years and over sixty feature films, he proved a master of genres from westerns to screwball and romantic comedies to historical dramas and swashbuckling adventure films.

Coming to screenwriting from journalism, Nichols began as sound films became the norm in 1930. He worked with director John Ford on Born Reckless (1930) and went on to do eleven more scripts for Ford. His professionalism can be seen in his ability to handle adaptations and to work as a partner with other writers. Stagecoach (1939) stands out as one of Hollywood's best films. Nichols's script for the film, based on a story by Ernest Haycox, moved the western from a "B" category to the "A" list.

Nichols was aware of how easily a Hollywood writer could become a nameless cog in a near-mechanical production line. Some critics have accused Nichols of pretentiousness in some of his scripts, such as the one for For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel. Some have blamed his flaws on Nichols's talent for writing on demand for directors. Certainly there is truth to the fact that by writing three to four scripts a year, quality often suffered. Yet in 1945, for instance, Nichols wrote three fine scripts for films by three different directors: Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street, Nichols's adaptation-remake of Jean Renoir's La Chienne (The Bitch, 1931); Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's, a fetching sequel to McCarey's Going My Way (1944) that proved Nichols's gift for building on someone else's vision; and René Clair's And Then There Were None, based on Agatha Christie's long-running stage play. Nichols also directed three of his own scripts, Government Girl (1943); Sister Kenny (1946); and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play.

Nichols's journalistic background helped him to bring out both a strong sense of character developed in conflict—whether be that comedy or drama—and to develop an eye for the telling details that humanize his protagonists and avoid clichés. The Informer, for example, demonstrates Nichols's ability to open up the darker side of human nature as he brought the starving and troubled Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) into sympathetic focus in this tale of the Irish Revolution of 1922. His films tend to be morality plays, which champion a liberal perspective. Also an occasional director, Nichols ended his career with a number of interesting westerns and adventure scripts, including The Tin Star (1957), Heller in Pink Tights (1960), and Run for the Sun (1956), a variation of The Most Dangerous Game.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Born Reckless (1930), The Lost Patrol (1934), Judge Priest (1934), Steamboat Round the Bend (1935), The Informer (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Stagecoach (1939), Swamp Water (1941), Government Girl (1943), This Land Is Mine (1943), The Fugitive (1947), The Big Sky (1952), The Tin Star (1957), The Hangman (1959)

FURTHER READING

Ford, John, and Dudley Nichols. Stagecoach. New York: Faber & Faber, 1988.

Gallagher, Tad. John Ford: The Man and His Films. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Nichols, Dudley. Air Force. Edited by Lawrence H. Suid. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.

——. "The Writer and the Film." In Twenty Best Film Plays, edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, xxxi–xi. New York: Crown, 1943.

Renoir, Jean, and Dudley Nichols. This Land Is Mine. New York: Ungar, 1985.

Andrew Horton

Hollywood also drew in overseas writing talent, including writer-director Billy Wilder (1906–2002) from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who arrived in 1934 and whose teamwork with I. A. L. Diamond (1920–1988) produced the Oscar® -winning scripts for The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Apartment (1960) as well as nominated scripts for Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959). It is perhaps difficult to imagine how rich the cross-section of writers in Los Angeles was during the 1930s through the 1940s, when the "classical American screenplay" came to have its distinct form and substance.

The term "classical American screenplay" suggests that during this early sound period and through Hollywood's "golden age," both the profession and the form-format for screenwriting became set within certain guidelines and genres simply because the studio system demanded, consciously and unconsciously, a certain sense of both regularity and predictability given the large budgets, the strict timetables for production, and the need to systematize the whole process. To be more specific, this "classic American screenplay" is a narrative focused on a main protagonist (or protagonists) in either dramatic or comic conflict that, by the film's end, has been resolved, usually with the main character having learned something and grown in the process. Furthermore, the main characters are almost always sympathetic to one degree or another, particularly because they are in some way vulnerable rather than perfect, even if they are heroic. Thus Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942) seems to have an ordered existence running Rick's Place in Casablanca while World War II rages in Europe, but the conflict comes when his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks through the door and we realize he has never gotten over the breakup of their relationship. The main story becomes resolving the unfinished business of their past love in Paris, and Rick finally learns that love means the issues are much larger than those of personal romance. He proves his love by urging that she leave with her husband to continue fighting the Nazis.

Almost every book on screenwriting—and the number of them has grown into the hundreds—emphasizes that the basic screenplay is "Aristotelian"—that is, based on following a protagonist through a conflict with a beginning (statement of the conflict), middle (development of dealing with the conflict), and ending (resolution). Many script instructors, including Lew Hunter, the former chairman of the Screenwriting Department of the University of California at Los Angeles, emphasize "classical" structure as put forth by Lajos Egri in his 1942 book, How To Write A Play (revised in 1946 as The Art of Dramatic Writing). This basic structure of storytelling holds true for every genre in Hollywood cinema. For example, in comedy-dramas such as Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life (1946), George Bailey (James Stewart) faces personal and financial problems in his small town that lead him to consider suicide. But a "vision" of his town and family without him leads Bailey to finally accept his own life and the love of his family in a glorious conclusion in this script by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Capra based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern.

PARTNERS AND TEAMS

Because over the years Hollywood has developed as a highly organized business, screenplays fairly swiftly began to take on a format that by the end of the 1930s became quite systematized and that by now can be created with computerized programs such as Final Draft or Movie Magic. Briefly stated, the standard American script is under 120 pages in length, with the guideline being that "one page equals one minute of screen time." Description is kept to a minimum, with very little in way of camera direction since that is the director's job. A script consists of brief description and dialogue and both are written to be a "good read," as they say in Hollywood. The DreamWorks script copy of Shrek (2001), for instance, which is based on the book by William Steig and a script by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, and Roger S. H. Schulman, describes the Princess on page one as "lovely" and contains no description of Shrek except for the mention of his "large green hand."

Other "regulations" include ones stipulating there be "no photos or graphics" in scripts and that they must be printed on three-holed paper with two metal brats holding the script together. Beginning screenwriters are always told that "Everyone is looking for reasons not to read your script," so violations of these "rules" can lead to a script being tossed or recycled.

While format was becoming more regularized throughout the 1930s and 1940s, it was also becoming the rule that seldom were Hollywood scripts penned by one author from start to finish. Many writers formed lasting script partnerships, as in the case of Wilder and Diamond. Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, for instance, produced a string of hits from Trading Places (1983) and Twins (1988, with William Davies and William Osborne also credited) to Space Jam (1996, with Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick writing as well), working together five days a week for years. Poetry does not lend itself easily to multiple authorship, but there is something about bouncing ideas off one another that works in collaborative screenwriting.

Even Casablanca, instead of being a single-authored work like a novel, short story, or poem, was written through a very complex series of versions and events, by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, together with Howard Koch (1902–1995). "Contributions" came from Aeneas MacKenzie and Hal Wallis, "among others," and the script was "adapted" from an unpublished play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's," by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.

As script instructors everywhere say to students of the craft every day with a smile:

If you are not willing to see your screenplay as a blueprint that may be redone at any time and by one or more other writers, then you should not go into screenwriting at all for nobody ever paid to go into a movie theater to watch a screenplay. It is only part of a long process to make a film.

Therein lies the excitement and the disappointment of this craft that is less than 150 years old and the reason why many writers have been frustrated by their Hollywood experiences.

Because of the complexities of the long road from idea to final film, the Writers Guild of America often becomes an indispensable player. Founded in 1933, the Guild built on similar organizations such as the Dramatists Guild in New York to form a service union that would help negotiate credits and rights for screen-writers. Clearly the goal has always been to elevate the status of screenwriters and the public's and the producers' awareness of their importance. While it is possible to make a film with no script, the point of a business like Hollywood, which involves increasingly larger amounts of money, is that all those involved want to see what the project is about, and so there is a need for scripts as a genesis for all that follows.

The original agreement put forth beginning in 1940 stated that contracts with Guild members must give screen credit to "the one (1), two (2), or at most three (3) writers, or two (2) teams, chiefly responsible for the completed work," and in addition that these designated writers "will be the only writers to receive screen play credit." Often the situation is not so simple, however, and so each year the WGA (www.wga.org) receives over two hundred cases that it arbitrates to determine who receives screen credit. The Guild is a valuable service for its several thousand members and the more than fifty thousand scripts that are registered with it each year.

ORIGINAL FILMS VERSUS ADAPTATIONS, REMAKES, AND SEQUELS

It should come as no surprise that in Hollywood more scripts are adaptations than original scripts from clearly original ideas. Because Hollywood has always been a business, the fact that a book or a play or even a television show has been popular certainly spurs on producers to say, "Let's make the movie!" The year 2003 even saw the "adaptation" of an amusement park ride into a hit movie (Pirates of the Caribbean) and similarly with a video game (Resident Evil). In such a manner, Gone with the Wind (1939) moved from the pages of Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel to the screen in an Oscar® -winning script by Sidney Howard and others. The list is endless and the formula of "page to screen" might seem quite mechanical were it not for the fact that there are so many variations in the adaptation process.

One form of adaptation that French filmmakers in particular have come to hate is the transformation of a foreign hit into a Hollywood film to spare Americans from reading subtitles. Jean-Luc Godard's breakthrough New Wave film À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) became the inferior Breathless (1983), with Richard Gere reprising the Jean-Paul Belmondo role. Mike Nichols's The Birdcage (1996), with a script by Elaine May, is hardly a memorable "American" film compared to the original French-Italian comedy, La Cage Aux Folles (Birds of a Feather, 1978), but its box office receipts were more than twenty times those of the original.

Another form of adaptation is the remake. Nothing could be sounder business sense than the idea that "if it made money years ago, let's give it another chance." Robin Hood (1922), with Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939) as star and screenwriter, has spawned almost a dozen remakes from Robin and Marian (1976) and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) to parodies such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights (l993), with Mel Brooks writing (with several others) and directing.

In yet another form of adaptation screenwriting, the original is the source or an inspiration for the screen-writer, but the actual script and even the title differ from the original. This allows the writer to riff with the material, much like jazz artists know the tune but play with it to express their interpretation of a song. The Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) was nominated for an Oscar® for such an adaptation, since it is playfully based on Homer's Odyssey, while the title is taken with a wink from Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels (1941), which concerns a Hollywood director of comedies, Sullivan, who wishes to make a serious movie to be called "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Finally, sequels (and, in some cases, prequels) suggest yet a further territory for the screenplay "based on previous films" yet forging ahead with new material. Examples include the Star Wars, Batman, and The Terminator series as well as The Godfather (1972, with a script Oscar® for writer-director Francis Ford Coppola [b. 1939] and Mario Puzo [1920–1999], author of the original novel), The Godfather, Part II (script by Coppola and Puzo, 1974), and The Godfather, Part III (again, Coppola and Puzo, 1990). The motive is once more that of capitalizing on one hit by trying to duplicate it, by simply extending the story, characters, and even the themes, providing "familiarity with a difference," in a manner not unlike genre films. In a sense, such a concept for cinema pulls the screenwriter into the territory of television series writing, with its problem of making each episode of a show recognizable yet somehow original as well.

Original screenplays, however, have always been in play, and they are especially worth celebrating. Callie Khouri won an Oscar® for her first script, Thelma andLouise (1991), which came from a combination of her imagination and her experiences. Similarly, the long list of Oscars® for original scripts is an impressive one, including, to mention but a few, John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), William Inge's Splendor in the Grass (1961), William Rose's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), William Goldman's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Robert Towne's Chinatown (1974), John Briley's Gandhi (1982), Jane Campion's The Piano (1993), and Alan Ball's American Beauty (1999).

PADDY CHAYEFSKY
b. Sidney Aaron Chayefsky, New York, New York, 29 January 1923, d. 1 August 1981

Three-time Oscar® -winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was equally well known as a playwright, novelist, composer, and producer. He had a fine ear for dialogue and an ability to use all media from radio and television to the stage and cinema to explore social issues and to question political and cultural stereotypes.

A graduate of the City College of New York, a semi-pro football player for the Kingsbridge Trojans in the Bronx, and a Purple Heart-winning soldier in World War II, Chayefsky began his creative work as a playwright in England while recovering from wounds sustained in the war. Throughout the 1950s his work for the stage, television, and then the cinema grew out of his own finely etched stories based on his youth in New York City. As Young As You Feel (1951), a story of a printing company employee who does not want to retire at age sixty-five, was the first film based on one of his stories.

In the television play Marty (1953), Rod Steiger brought to life Chayefsky's touching tale of a Bronx butcher who finds love unexpectedly. Considered the golden boy of television during its golden age, Chayefsky also wrote film scripts. The 1955 film version of Marty, directed by Delbert Mann and starring Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair, won Chayefsky his first Oscar®, along with Oscars® for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

Dividing his energy between Broadway and Hollywood, Chayefsky went on to shape film scripts. His Oscar® -nominated script for The Goddess (1958), about Marilyn Monroe's complex and finally tragic hunger for stardom, created tight, effective dialogue that thrust actress Kim Stanley, performing in her first film role, into the spotlight. Perhaps because of his natural feel for both stage and screen, actors thrived in the well-defined characters Chayefsky created. James Garner claims that his favorite film was The Americanization of Emily (1964), which co-starred Julie Andrews as the love interest for Garner's World War II American soldier character. The sharply written script still rings true today as a delightful "battle of the sexes" in the tradition of edgy romantic comedy, while at the same time, Chayefsky's social criticism provides a strong antiwar message.

In the 1970s Chayefsky moved away from dramas of social realism and experimented with darker humor and broader satire in The Hospital (1971, his second Oscar®) and Network (1976, his third Oscar®). Altered States (1980), based on his own novel, was his last script, but Chayefsky was so upset with the finished film that he withdrew his name from the credits when his sense of characterization became lost in the film's "mind-bending" special effects.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Marty (1955), The Bachelor Party (1957), The Goddess (1958), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Hospital (1971), Network (1976)

FURTHER READING

Brady, John. "Paddy Chayefsky." In The Craft of the Screenwriter. New York: Touchstone Books, 1981: 29–83.

Chayefsky, Paddy. Altered States: A Novel. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

——. The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays, the Stage Plays, the Screenplays. Edited by Arthur Schlesinger. New York: Applause Books, 1995.

Chum, John. Paddy Chayefsky. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Considine, Shaun. Mad As Hell: The Life and Work of Paddy Chayefsky. New York: Random House, 1994.

Andrew Horton

THE POLITICS OF SCREENWRITING

The darkest period in American screenwriting was certainly during the anticommunist scare period following World War II and into the 1950s. In 1947 the House

Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began hearings that brought in "friendly" Hollywood individuals who began testifying about "Communist" influences being introduced into films by certain filmmakers and writers. The result of the hearings in Washington, D.C., was the creation of an informal Hollywood blacklist of writers and directors who were not to be hired. Particularly prominent on this list were the Hollywood Ten, which included Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976), Ring Lardner Jr. (1885–1933), and Michael Wilson (1914–1978), but it affected many more, including Jules Dassin (b. 1911), Bernard Gordon (b. 1918), Maurice Rapf (1914–2003), and Walter Bernstein (b. 1919), who later managed something of a comic revenge with a splendid script for Martin Ritt's The Front (1976), which treats the story of the way many producers used "front" writers to cover for actual blacklisted writers who were secretly still writing. For many, it was a long battle to gain their rightful credits on scripts written "under cover." Trumbo received credit after the blacklist period for films such as Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1957), while Michael Wilson (1914–1976) won credit, after his death, for his scripts for Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Many memorable films have been made as low-budget, independent projects based on scripts that take chances and purposely break the so-called rules of Hollywood screenwriting. Steven Soderbergh's debut feature as writer-director, sex, lies, and videotape (1989), walked off with the top Cannes Festival prize as a film with almost no sex but lots of lies, very good dialogue, and character shading much in the tradition of French films of the 1950s and 1960s. Shot in Soderbergh's home state of Louisiana rather than in Hollywood, the film's sharply written script pointed the way not only for the Sundance Film Festival in future years but for the multitude of independents that followed. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (co-written with Roger Avary, 1994), for instance, breaks up the classical narrative of following a main protagonist through a basically chronological story to its resolution by mixing together several narratives with intersecting characters but told in jumbled time frames, so that by film's end, when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) "dance" out of the diner, viewers must remember that this "conclusion" in fact takes place earlier, as Vincent is already dead.

In recent years, the line between a clearly independent script and a Hollywood-supported project has become blurred. A collaborative effort such as Ang Lee's Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000) is a special mixture of Hollywood and foreign, independent, and Hong Kong kung fu, all blended into a memorable script and film. Based on a novel by Du Lu Wang, the script was written by American screenwriter and co-producer James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang from Taiwan, who had previously written Yin shi nan nu (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994) together. But also on the project was Taiwanese screen-writer Kuo Jung Tsai, whom Schamus never met while writing.

EUROPEAN SCREENWRITING AND BEYOND

Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930) used to like saying that his films had a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order. Although popular cinema in France and Italy, for example, had recognized screen-writers critically, such a playful and eclectic approach to screenwriting and filmmaking as suggested by Godard's comment has traditionally characterized the more personal cinemas of many nations of Europe and elsewhere. What became known as the "auteur theory" was simply an acknowledgment of a European film tradition wherein filmmakers thought of themselves as the complete "author" of the film, from script to final cut. While writers calling themselves screenwriters emerged in Hollywood as early as the late 1920s, there were few European filmmakers or writers who would call themselves "screenwriters." In contrast to Hollywood, where few have ever been both writers and directors on the same film, in Europe and other countries around the world, the "double-duty" position of writer-director has been the norm. The advantage of the auteur approach is that films get made with a consistent vision and with a minimum of interference from teams of writers, producers, and others. Thus an Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918) film such as Det Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957) or Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute, 1975) is easily recognizable as a "Bergman film" because of his control from page to screen in all aspects of filmmaking. And François Truffaut's (1932–1984) films became recognizable as "Truffaut films" because of his consistent themes and characters, even when he only cowrote a script as in Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962).

But even with auteurs there are variations, as with those auteurs who actually liked to write with a team or partner. La Dolce Vita (1960), for instance, was written by director Federico Fellini (1920–1993) and three script friends: Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Ennio Flaiano. Furthermore, many European practices would be unheard of under WGA standards and contracts for assigning screen credit. The Greek filmmaker-screen-writer Theo Angelopoulos (b. 1935) likes to share story ideas with the Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra (b. 1920) and sometimes others, even if they do not actually write the script but simply write notes or give advice and feedback.

The differences between Hollywood scripts and those of Europe and other countries over the years should be acknowledged as well. Ingmar Bergman's scripts read more like short stories than scripts, for he knew he was writing for himself, and thus the script was more like an outline; he knew he would figure out later what he wanted for lighting, sets, and actors' performances.

One reason for the rigid and set format and look of the Hollywood script is that it is the result of negotiation between many people, who in some cases may not even know each other. By writing a script with his novelist friend, Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997), for Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains, 1966), based on Hrabal's novel, Jirí Menzel (b. 1938) of Czechoslovakia avoided what most young American screenwriters must do: write so that complete strangers "get" your story, characters, and themes.

Many independent scripts seem more like Hollywood offshoots than risk-taking, innovative works. But there are certainly thousands of scripts written by individuals throughout the country and the world who have taken workshops such as those given by Syd Field and Robert McKee or have attended script conferences such as those in Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as in Hollywood (the Hollywood Film Festival, for instance, at www.hollywoodfilmfestival.com). A variety of online script courses (such as UCLA's www.filmprograms.ucla.edu) and Web sites exist that are dedicated to help "pitch" and list scripts and to inform writers about what producers are looking for. An ever-growing number of screenwriting magazines offer to help the independent and aspiring screenwriter, including Screentalk (www.screentalk.biz) and Scr(i)pt (www.scriptmag.com).

The hundreds of books on screenwriting that now exist have become quite specialized. Noah Lukeman's book is summarized by its title, The First Five Pages, while Thomas Pope's Good Scripts Bad Scripts is subtitled Learning the Craft of Screenwriting Through 25 of the Best and Worst Films in History. Other books on screenwriting include Erik Joseph's How to Enter Screenplay Contests and Win and Max Adams's The Screenwriter's Survival Guide.

Despite these numerous guides, it is ultimately the quality of the script that counts. No one has summed up the importance of screenwriting better than the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: "With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script, a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can't possibly make a good film" (p. 193).

SEE ALSO Adaptation;Auteur Theory and Authorship;Direction;Production Process;Sequels, Series, and Remakes;Studio System

FURTHER READING

Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing. New York: Touchstone, 1960.

Engel, Joel. Screenwriters on Screenwriting: The Best in the Business Discuss Their Craft. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Delacorte, 1982.

Friend, Tad, "Credit Grab: How Many Writers Does It Take to Make a Movie?" New Yorker, 20 October 2003: 160–169.

Froug, William. New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter. Los Angeles: Silman-James, 1992.

Goldman, William. Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. New York: Warner,1983.

Gordon, Bernard. Hollywood Exile, or, How I Learned to Love the Blacklist: A Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

Horton, Andrew. Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay. 1994. Updated and expanded edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Hunter, Lew. Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434. New York: Perigree, 1994.

Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like An Autobiography. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: Regan Books, 1997.

Seger, Linda. Making a Good Script Great. Hollywood, CA: Samuel French, 1988.

Sturges, Preston. Three More Screenplays by Preston Sturges. Edited by Andrew Horton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Thompson, Kristin. Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Andrew Horton

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  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.