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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.