Friday, October 15, 2010

Screenwriting Book Review - Tales From The Script

The other day I posted my “favorite books” list and in the comments section a few people mentioned Tales From The Script as a must read. Hey, if you were laying down a challenge, why didn’t you just say so? Actually, I’ve heard about “Tales” from a handful of writers over the years and your ringing endorsement put me over the edge. I decided to delve in. And man I wish I would've found this earlier.

Basically what “Tales” is, is a series of interviews with 50 working screenwriters broken down into individual topics. So one chapter might be about breaking into the industry. Another chapter might be about the development process. Still another about the pitfalls to watch out for.  It’s just a bunch of insider stuff and the greatest thing about it is the sheer quantity of quality advice.  That's because the writers giving it to you are top notch. You have titans like William Goldman and Frank Darabont. And you have proven superstars who demand million dollar paychecks like Ron Shelton and Shane Black.

Another feature I liked about the book were the interviews with the industry people who surround the writers.  So you have an agent discussing the ratio of scripts read per scripts sent to screen or a professional reader discussing the dos and don’ts of script presentation.  You have Greg Beal, the coordinator over at Nicholl, talking about what he tells the contest readers to look for. It’s just really comprehensive stuff.

There are a ton of great observations and a lot of sound advice, but here are some of my favorites. Adam Rifkin, a writer with over a dozen produced credits, says about the pursuit, “You’re a boxer. Your job is to get punched in the face and keep swingin. It’s easy for anybody to say, “I wrote five scripts. None of them sold. I gave it my best shot. I’m moving back to Chicago.” You can’t do that. If want a career in Hollywood, you can’t fail. You can quit, which most people do when they don’t achieve success as quickly as they’d like, but you can’t fail. There are as many opportunities as you can create for yourself. You can write a script a day, every day, for your whole life, if you’re that motivated.”

Andrew Marlowe, who’s writing the upcoming Nick Fury film opines about why scripts are sold, “They're looking at you as an investment in their own career. They’re saying, “Okay, if I trust this guy with $80,000 – or $800,000 – is that an investment that’s gonna pay off for the studio, and pay off for me personally in my career?” All these people are worried about their jobs, and if they bet on the wrong horse too many times, they’re gonna get fired, and they’re not gonna know how to feed their families and pay their rent. I met a lot of writers early on in my career who seemed to have this entitled attitude of “I’m talented. Why don’t they invest $80,000 in this story about my grandmother’s trip to Russia?” Well, maybe they didn’t think that was the best investment.

Or Mark D. Rosenthal: “I always get in trouble when I say this: I believe there is no great screenplay that hasn’t at least been optioned. I believe there is no great screenplay that doesn’t get the writer into the business. Most screenplays are mediocre or just okay. Really great writing always, always gets noticed in Hollywood. When I hear someone say, “It’s who you know,” or “I couldn’t get it to the right agent,” that is the consolation of failure. When it really works, it might not get made, because you need a Jupiter effect of a perfect director and perfect actor – but if the writing is great, you always get into the game.”

You even get Shane Black reeling about “likable” heroes. “Movie stars are gonna give you your best ideas, because they’re the opposite of development people. Development people are always saying, “How can the character be more likable?” Meanwhile, the actor’s saying, “I don’t want to be likable.” You know, they give you crazy things like, “I wanna eat spaghetti with my hands.” Crazy’s great. Anything but this sort of likable guy that everyone at the studio insists they should play.”

The book is a particularly nice alternative for writers who hate screenwriting books, cause this isn’t about some formula or some method. It’s real writers giving you real-life advice. That’s it. Thanks for recommending it to me guys. What should my next one be?

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius
Edit: As someone pointed out to me, the book inspired a Tales From The Script documentary as well.