Screenwriting – Biblio Film School

Posted On February 7, 2009

I’ve had some requests to recommend some good film books, so I’m starting a series that’ll cover what I think are the best books for each area of filmmaking. And what better place to start than at the beginning with screenwriting.

(I put together an Amazon store that has all the books I recommend in one spot. You can find it here.)

Story by Robert McKee

If you saw Adaptation, McKee is the crazy screenwriting instructor played by Brian Cox (you know, the “God help you if you use voice-overs” guy). Well McKee really does exist, and he does give a famous 2 day seminar on story that is pretty much the standard Hollywood crash course for storytelling.

I did the seminar a few years ago, and McKee is an amazing teacher, but here’s a secret (well not really because McKee was saying the same thing). Just about everything in the seminar is in the book. It’s like a printed copy of all the notes. There are some paragraphs in the book that McKee recites verbatim.

So while I would recommend the seminar if you have the time and money (ask to volunteer and you’ll get a discount), for a fraction of the cost get this book.

The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field

Syd Field is another well-known screenwriting instructor. He has tons of books. The Screenwriter’s Workbook is the most general covering the basics of screenwriting.

Hero With a Thousand Faces / The Writer’s Journey

Hero With a Thousand Faces goes through mythological stories all around the world to describe the Hero’s Journey, an archetypal experience that seems to be embedded in our psyche. So many movies follow this format because clearly it’s worked for thousands of years. A famous example is Luke’s journey in Star Wars (Lucas makes no effort to hide that he read Thousand Faces and based Luke on the Hero’s Journey Monomyth).

The Writer’s Journey is basically the same thing as Thousand Faces but in a more plain-English, less academic format.

Scripts

My favorite screenwriting teacher at school said the best way to learn screenwriting is to read scripts. Start with reading scripts to movies you love or movies similar to what you want to write. Then try reading a script to a movie you haven’t seen, and then see the film to see how it translated.

Below are a few sites where you can find lots of scripts. Try to read Spec scripts over Production scripts. And stay away from transcripts – they’re worthless for screenwriting.

Drew’s Script-O-Rama

SimplyScripts

Yahoo! list of screenplay sites

Blogs

John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels) is the best big-time screenwriting blogger. Not only does he talk about screenwriting, but he covers how Hollywood works, how to break in, how projects get started and quickly die, and everything else that will depress you about the movie business.

Jane Espenson would be number 2 for blogging screenwriter’s. She was on the writing staff for a lot of Joss Whedon shows (Buffy, Firefly), and is currently a writer/producer on Battlestar Galactica.

Her last post was on December 8, where she claims she’s said everything she can about writing for television. It’s sad, but blogging or not, her site is a great resource for breaking in and writing for television, so check out the archives.

She also attended the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship and is a big proponent of their program, so if you’re looking to do some serious writing, I’ve?researched?all the programs studios have to offer and theirs is the best.

Written by Joey Daoud

Joey Daoud is an award-winning documentary producer. When not filming he likes to climb mountains and brew coffee.

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3 Comments

  1. Andrew

    The screenwriting books you’ve listed I think are just the typical fare that every single budding screenwriter has either heard recommended or already discovered. I think it would be better to give more spotlight to books that are equally as good (or better). Such examples as akers’ your screenplay sucks, truby’s anatomy of story, or for beginners, snyder’s save the cat series.

    • Joey

      Thanks for the suggestions. I think everyone’s read these books because they’re pretty solid. But honestly, after a while they all say the same shit, or variations of that shit. Everyone has their own ‘9 step process’ or ‘formula to an un-formulaic script.’ If I had to pick one method I’d stick with reading screenplays.

  2. Andrew

    Oh its true regarding the formula, that’s why I look for books that offer me something beyond that. Just talking about the 3 act structure is worthless. EVERYBODY knows about that structure, and it just barely scratches the surface in terms of story telling. Sometimes I’ll look for books that focus more just on concept or why we identify with some stories better than others. What I really liked about Truby’s book was that while has has a 22-Step outline, he also explains the 7 required elements to every story. This includes the needs of the character, how they need to arch in the story, etc. This has helped me when I outlined my stories so I know how to improve my story arch’s.