Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wot to Read

Martin has asked if there are any film books that I like or would recommend. A few spring to mind. Joe Eszterhas’s “Devil’s Guide to Hollywood” is the screenwriting equivalent of a snack you can’t stop eating. Once you’re done with that, you’ll want to gorge yourself on Eszterhas’s screenwriting memoir, “Hollywood Animal”. It’s a lengthy tome but doesn’t feel like it, and is full of surprising insights into Mr Eszterhas’s personal life as well as exposing the cruder underbelly of the business of show. I got the hardback version on eBay for £2.50. Two words: bar-gain.

One of the first film books I bought was Mamet: On Directing Film. Simple, straightforward and illuminating advice. My sister looked after it when I went on my travels. That was thirteen years ago: Oi, I want it back! Hawks on Hawks by Joseph McBride is an entertaining and informative read, in which the book is made up of various interviews of Howard Hawks throughout his career. Down & Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind is the modern update/sequel to Easy Riders Raging Bulls, and as a busy script reader at the time of publication, I felt more keenly attached to the names and faces it mentions (a bit of self-delusion there, script readers are the anonymous amoebas in the filmmaking food chain).

I’ve got the usual screenwriting books. Writing Screenplays That Sell (Michael Hauge): easy going, accessible, enjoyable. Story (Robert McKee): a bit dry and smug but useful stuff, no question. Screenplay (Syd Field): simple analysis of the 3-act paradigm. The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler): an attractive take on style and structure. Zen and the Art of Screenwriting (William Froug): basic interviews with screenwriters, fine. Poetics (Aristotle): The Daddy - blame him, not Syd Field. The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters (Karl Iglesias): nice to pass the time. 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader (Jennifer Lerch): it does what it says on the tin. Making a Good Script Great (Linda Seger): helpful. A few more from Syd Field: The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver, Four Screenplays, Selling a Screenplay: handy references. The Horror Genre (Paul Wells): an academic breakdown of the genre. Basics Animation: Scriptwriting (Paul Wells again, and I’m even interviewed in this one!). The Art of Dramatic Writing (Lajos Egri): a theatre bias but its writing insights are great. On Writing (Stephen King): a literary bias but its writing insights are great. And, of course, Adventures in the Screen Trade & Which Lie Did I Tell? (William Goldman): the former being more enjoyable and useful than the latter.

I’ve heard that Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat is quite good but as you can see, I’ve maxed myself out on screenwriting books over the years so I don’t think I’ll be buying any more (handy gifts to receive, though). I do get suspicious of people taking an over-defensive or dismissive stance on the so-called gurus. Some folk get very stroppy about McKee or Field or whoever but I suspect they’re objecting to the way their advice has become screenwriting mantras or how they’ve been adopted into by-the-numbers storytelling. If you actually read the books, none of them encourage this kind of mentality at all. It’s fine to disagree and to have an opinion (and easy to diss advice once it becomes popular or widely embraced) but I really don’t understand the need to be so sensitive or angry about what they have to say. Go write your masterpiece. Break all the rules. No-one’s stopping you.

(If any of the books mentioned above catch your eye, check out Amazon or eBay and most, if not all, will come up on a quick search.)


Lucy said...

Damn you Stack, I think you've pretty much covered what I was going to say. Oh well, saves me a job I suppose...But watch your back. Punk.

The Real Guru said...

That McKee's a clown! :0

Anonymous said...

emm which sister?!

Danny Stack said...

Yeah, I'm looking at you, B!

Stephen Gallagher said...

Ditto on the Mamet and the Goldman and in general, I'd always value memoirs over how-to books. Like when Goldman pinpoints the moment in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER where a character dies and the audience turns against the movie.

So to the memoirs I'd add Linda Obst's HELLO, HE LIED.

SK said...

Snyder's book is everything that McKee is criticised for being (but isn't) and from someone whose biggest actual credit (as opposed to 'sold but unmade script', which is what he seems to calls a 'success'), is Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. If you've managed to avoid it so far think yourself lucky.

Laura Deerfield said...

my recommendations of books for the screenwriter:

Karl Iglesias' Writing for Emotional Impact

Cinematic Storytelling, Jennifer Van Sijll - this one really focuses on telling a story in images, and analyzes shots... very useful for visual storytelling