Category Archives: screenwriting

Adventures in the Screen Trade

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

The man who wrote these words is William Goldman. They are taken from his clas­sic movie, The Princess Bride. He is also the screen­writer behind Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, All the Presidents Men, The Great Waldo Pepper, and A Bridge Too Far. In short, he’s been around the block a few times, and he knows what he’s doing—although he would have you believe that he does not.

The notion that nobody knows any­thing about movies, least of all Goldman, per­meates the book Adventures in the Screen Trade. It is not wholly a prac­tical guide on screen­writ­ing. That aspect of the pro­cess is covered in a short but inform­at­ive sec­tion towards the end of the book. Rather, for the most part it is a record of his jour­ney from nov­el­ist to screen­writer. As you can ima­gine, the jour­ney is not a smooth one, and in the pro­cess, Goldman has col­lec­ted many anecdotes.

I won’t relate any of them here. Indeed, I don’t really remem­ber them in any detail. Dustin Hoffman does not come out well. Laurence Olivier does.

The really inter­est­ing thing for me about the book is that Goldman finds a way to speak enter­tain­ingly about the cre­at­ive pro­cess behind screen­writ­ing. His main mes­sage is that the screen­writer is a some­what impot­ent fig­ure within the movie mak­ing pro­cess, con­stantly usurped by the dir­ector, the pro­du­cer, and any friends of the dir­ector all pro­du­cer who wish to improve his screen­play. It’s not a happy situ­ation. He recom­mends that the screen­writer try to make as much money as pos­sible from his scripts, and then return to some kind of prop­erly cre­at­ive pur­suit, such as novel writing.

Nothing very new here, then. But the book is enga­ging non­ethe­less. The real value in this book lies in its final chapters. In these, he begins with a short story that he pub­lished many years before and then con­verts right there into a screen­play, out­lining along the way his struggles in trans­form­ing it. He goes on to inter­view a cine­ma­to­grapher, editor, pro­du­cer, and dir­ector to get their impres­sions on pro­du­cing a movie from the final­ised screen­play. The inter­view with the dir­ector is worth the price of admis­sion alone. The dir­ector is not a big fan of the screen­play. Indeed, he rips Goldman a new one. It’s a great illus­tra­tion of the com­bat­ive pro­cess through which a movie is constructed.

How does a working writer keep improving?

John August, suc­cess­ful Hollywood screen­writer and blog­ger, posts some thoughts on how to raise your game as a writer while working.

My advice for you is to ded­ic­ate one day a week to dis­as­sembling good movies. Take exist­ing films (and one-hour dra­mas) and break them down to cards. Think of your­self as an ordin­ary mech­anic given the task of reverse-engineering a space­ship. Figure out what the pieces do, and why they were put together in that way.

Visual storytelling is a crit­ical skill in the novelist’s arsenal too, and one that is, I think, often underdeveloped.

(Via johnaugust.com.)