Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More screenwriting books

Since my last post about screenwriting books, I've had a chance to read a few more:

Getting Past Me: A Writer's Guide to Production Company Readers by Mindi White
As a reader myself, I was excited to read Mindi's tales from the trenches. She offers a lot of good general advice in addition to elaborating upon what readers actually do. Her prose is accessible, if bland - and I think what's missing from this lean, 74-page guide are specific anecdotes/scripts/movies that illustrate her points. I understand that she probably can't divulge secrets about what she's read - but I wish she could have. One section rang particularly true for me:
Sometimes sexism comes through in very subtle forms, such as portraying all the women in a script as very passive while all the men are active... Another possibility is that the women need to be rescued. 
Sexism is noticed by readers, men and women alike, and none of us think it is okay. 
There is discrimination against men... I have read two of these, and I pointed out that they were sexist. The vast majority of sexual discrimination, though, is against women, and that is, as a rule, far more violent.
For better or worse, the book is not a guide for how to write a screenplay; it's more of a What-to-Avoid guide.

Screenwriting Tips, You Hack by Xander Bennett
A much more comprehensive book written by a reader, Screenwriting Tips, You Hack elaborates upon close to 200 tips from the popular micro-blog that's now under the umbrella of The Black List. These great tips are compiled into helpful chapters on outlining, characters, ideas, rewriting, etc., which makes the book great for referencing when you've hit a particular roadblock in your writing. It also features a ton of helpful real-life examples, from Top Gun and Forrest Gump to Groundhog Day and Breaking Bad. Bennett's experience as a reader definitely informs his effective prose, but the book is filled with suggestions as opposed to complaints.

Here's just one helpful snippet:
But what if you're writing a "hybrid" genre? A horror-comedy, "dramedy," sci-fi western, or something along those lines? ... Hybrid genre films tend not to do as well as straight-up, pure genre flicks - not because audiences are stupid, but because marketing is hard.  
A hybrid is harder. In the case of, say, a horror-comedy, marketing teams will sometimes create multiple trailers: one emphasizing the comedy, the other emphasizing the scares. This approach can result in audience confusion regarding what kind of movie they're actually going to see. 
But that confusion can really be traced all the way back to the film's initial writer. It's simply harder to maintain a coherent tone when your script is a mashup of multiple genres.
Screenwriting Tips, You Hack is definitely a book that can help you think about your script in a new way - or help you get started on your first script!

The Starter Screenplay by Adam Levenberg
Adam, an executive-turned-consultant, has written an informative book that focuses on a very specific topic: writing that first screenplay that will get an agent or producer interested. What are you missing? I often tell new writers to keep it simple (zero in on a single protagonist and avoid intersecting-lives scripts, for example) - and Adam has provided a number of other tips for establishing attainable goals in your early screenplays. He offers up plenty of examples to think about when you brainstorm a high-concept idea, craft an extroverted hero and write a memorable opening. Adam also discusses topics I know a lot of you worry about: consultants, agents, contests, pitchfests, scams, etc.

Beyond Screenwriting: Insider Tips and Career Advice From a Successful Hollywood TV and Film Writer by Sterling Anderson
The cover page is suspect, but the author is legit; Anderson has written for The Unit and Medium, in addition to selling several feature screenplays and teaching at USC. He covers structure, outlines, characters, loglines, pitches and more. Something you won't find in other books is his Missing Writer's Manual, a guide to working in a writer's room in a TV show. "No books, articles, or mentors prepared me for my first experience in a writer's room on a successful one-hour drama," he writes. "Following are some questions and answers that would have helped me."

Writing the Comedy Blockbuster: The Inappropriate Goal by Keith Giglio
I found this book particularly interesting since I write comedy features. Giglio, who has sold over 20 screenplays,  focuses specifically on mainstream, commercial, high-concept comedies (which any of us who want to make money want to write). He posits that protagonists in comedies undertake "inappropriate goals" in movies, like crashing weddings to sleep with girls...sound familiar? Beyond this concept, the book discusses characters, conflict, dialogue, stakes, and the hardest thing of all: comedy. Breaking down where comedy comes from isn't always the easiest thing to do...and this book offers a ton of examples to help you start analyzing instead of just laughing. You'll be armed with advice and a huge list of comedies to add to your queue.

1 comment:

Blackbelt Screenwriting said...

Good stuff... and thank you for the nice review. I love the tenacity of your research and I pray you are bringing that same tenacity to your screenwriting pages.

Mentoring in this business is a bit hard because there are so many successful writers unwilling to share the tricks of the trade. But there are some really generous people too. At least in my circle.

Regarding sexism in the biz... there are a lot of network and studio females who are trailblazing and making key decisions... Andrea Gianetti -- Amy Baer -- Stacy Synder, to name a few. There are many more female big wigs in the ranks and young females need to reach out to them for mentoring.

I find there are more females in the writing rooms in television than in feature films. I have been on 3 one hour shows and all 3 shows have had at least 40% females and the age ranges go from late 20's to early 60's which is also refreshing.

Keep up the good work!

Sterling Anderson