Monday, 24 September 2018

Great Screenwriting Books that aren't manuals

Both this blog and just about anything that mentions screenwriting has done plenty of pieces on the writing guides and their various paradigms and beat sheets. Some are good, some are bad and some are just there.

But what about careers and the practical side? Theory is all very well and good, but how can you actually make some kind of living at it? And for that matter, is there screenwriting-related literature that isn't another how-to book? Maybe something like a biography that talks about the ups and downs of a writer's life?

Well first, the nitty-gritty:
  • The UK Scriptwriter's Survival Guide: Veteran film and TV scribes Tim Clague and Danny Stack (Eastenders, Doctors, Thunderbirds Are Go) give a practical, no B.S. guide on what you can do to help yourself get a foothold in the industry. It only came out in 2014, but I honestly believe this should be compulsory reading for all new screenwriters, as it will open your eyes to many possibilities, as well as give you useful tips and tricks to navigate the business.
  • The Creative Essentials series of books cover different types of film and television writing, as well as other roles/career opportunities such as script editing, reading and pitching. Contributing authors include Karol Griffith (now set to work on the Chinese version of Humans), Lucy Sher and Charles Harris, among others.
And now, for something more fun, screenwriter autobiographies:
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman. An easy recommedation for anyone, screenwriter or not. The legendary master scribe of Misery, All the President's Men and Princess Bride, among others, regails us with tales of his life, career and views on cinemas. In addition, they talk about his process, with Screen Trade coming with a little story about adaptating a short story into a screenplay.
  • Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at The Box Office and You Can Too! by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. A ridiculously funny and addictive read that will leave you chuckling yet also be rather pensive and even a little dispirited by the Hollywood machine. Love or hate their films, this duo have been at the epicentre of some of the biggest comedies of the last decade (Herbie, Night at the Museum), so they know their stuff.
  • The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God! by Joe Eszterhas. The infamous firebrand who made a fortune off of Showgirls and a slew of other 80s and 90s films, Eszterhas is an angry old man who has no qualms telling you what he thinks of the craft and the industry. Decidely very, very, very different to Screen Trade.
  • Adventures in La-La Land by Tim John. Want to hear the odyssesy of another Brit who made the jump across the pond? John provides just that, recounting his odysessey in LA and some of the peculiar sights he witnesses.
  • On Directing Film by David Mamet. Despite the name, it's really Mamet offering a broad cross-section of thoughts and stories working in the industry at multiple levels.  If you enjoyed his other dramaturgical works, this should be very easy to slip into.
  • Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman. Exactly what it says on the packet: how some of the biggest and best did it. Also related: Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? Development is the phase between ptiching and production, and sadly, is where you'll be spending the brunt of your career as a writer. With that, alas, comes stories of projects that get stuck for years and years, or stuff that almost happened, then didn't.
  • On Writing A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Less a screenwriting book and more just a good book to read on writing period, King's book is half memoir, half tips and tricks on his writing methods. It's candid, darkly funny, touching and yet sobering as King interweaves his writing methods with a look back on the strange turns of his career and how it impacted his life, or vice-versa.

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