The Book: Michael Hauge, WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL. HarperCollins trade paperback reprint, 1991.
First read: 1997
Owned since: 1997
Greetings from Los Angeles. Rather than bring a bunch of books along with me, I chose a few appropriate titles ahead of time. This was an obvious call, and reinforced by the fact that the man in the JetBlue seat next to me was working on his own screenplay between JFK and Long Beach Airport.
I bought this book before I even thought of moving to Los Angeles, for a workshop at The Writer's Center in Bethesda. I don't think I wanted to write a screenplay so much as I wanted to understand the process of storytelling in a visual medium. I was working on training videos and interactive learning projects at my job, and understood that the skills required for writing Congressional testimony did not transfer to writing a video script.
The section on pitching your screenplay is probably a little out of date, but this book remains the clearest, most cogent guide I've found to the crucial issues of screenplay structure and how to convey character through action.
Screenplays are as regulated in their form as sonnets or villanelles. William Goldman rants in his Adventures of the Screen Trade (another book I've given away half a dozen copies of), "Screenplays are structure," and nothing marks an amateur like getting the structure wrong.
I read a lot of screenplays, doing coverage for one client and editing or proofreading for several others. Anyone who wants to know what's wrong with the movie industry need only spend six months doing script coverage: 80% of the screenplays I read are mediocre at best, and I'd say that 30%-40% are flat-out dreadful. Dreadful.
And yet some of these will get bought, because a producer or a director or a star sees one element that could be turned into something interesting, or something that could advance his or her own interests. "We'll fix it in rewrites," they say -- and two or three or four screenwriters later they shoot a movie that disappoints audiences in theaters for two weeks and rots on cable for the next 40 years.
I'm sorry, is that too cynical? I don't mean it to be; this reality makes me all the more excited when I do read a good script, or see a movie I love. I plan to see at least one movie a day while I'm out here, and I'll report back.
Five Random Songs
"Here I Am," Lyle Lovett. Lyle and his Large Band at their very best. I used to have a Lyle Lovett and His Large Band t-shirt that said, "Please... make it a cheeseburger," which only makes sense if you know this song.
"River," Madeleine Peyroux. A cover of the Joni Mitchell classic.
"Old Dan Tucker," Bruce Springsteen & the Sessions Band. From the "Live in Dublin" recording, which I love beyond words -- Bruce and his band kick it up with a group of Irish musicians, playing his own songs, some Pete Seeger tunes, and folk standards like this one.
"Branches," Midlake. I was late to this CD (The Trials of Van Occupanther), but it was one of the best things that came out last year. "It's hard for me but I'm trying," is the refrain, repeated over and over. Yeah.
"Afer Ventus," Enya. Mock me. I don't care. This CD (Shepherd Moons) is still one of my favorites, and wonderful music to work by.