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.

Charlie Kaufman on Reviews, Structure and Fame

On the strength of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I’d put Charlie Kaufman in the same box as Hemingway.

Reviews:

I tend to not only read reviews, but also every little stu­pid thing online. It’s a very bad idea, and there’s a lot of angry people in the world. And it’s weird to absorb all that weirdness.”

Structure:

There’s this inher­ent screen­play struc­ture that every­one seems to be stuck on, this three-act thing. It doesn’t really interest me. To me, it’s kind of like say­ing, ‘Well, when you do a paint­ing, you always need to have sky here, the per­son here and the ground here.’ Well, you don’t. In other art forms or other medi­ums, they accept that it’s just some­thing avail­able for you to work with. I actu­ally think I’m prob­ably more inter­ested in struc­ture than most people who write screen­plays, because I think about it.”

Fame:

He insists the Oscar means little: “I like hav­ing the trophy, but only on a very sur­facey level does it mean any­thing. It’s just kind of a… Kerouac has a line about fame being a news­pa­per. You know that line? When I read that when I was a teen­ager, I didn’t know what it meant, but now… Fame doesn’t really fill you up in any way.”

A few days ago, I heard that Robert McKee’s Story is avail­able as an audiobook. I read it as a teen­ager, think­ing I’d be learn­ing the ropes, and in a sense I did, but rather more because the points at which I dis­agreed with McKee forced me to think about what we mean by an act, or a scene. I’m still not sure.

Laura Barton meets film dir­ector Charlie Kaufman | Film | The Guardian