Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Five best books about writing a screenplay

UCLA’s Professor Richard Walter is the author of Escape From Film School, Screenwriting: The Art, Craft and Business of Film and Television Writing, and Essentials of Screenwriting.

With Anna Blundy at FiveBooks, he discussed the best five books on writing a blockbusting screenplay, including:
Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets from the Greatest Mind in Western Civilisation by Michael Tierno

Tell me about the Tierno book.

I’m surprised that I’m recommending this because it has affectations that I find off-putting. It has lots of exclamation points!! Oh gosh!! Oh golly!! It’s self-conscious and he’s trying to be droll and wry.

It sounds awful.

But he really helps make Aristotle practical. The mistake that people make with Poetics is the same as they make with the Bill of Rights. The first amendment defends free speech, and people don’t like that it appears to protect pornographers and Nazis. And that is exactly who it protects. I’m huge on civil liberties and people say to me: ‘Why are you in bed with pornographers and Nazis?’ My answer: Night doesn’t fall all at once. When they’re arresting Jews on the streets it will be too late. The first amendment doesn’t need to protect people who say, ‘Have a nice day.’ People in those days were saying all sorts of jerky things, like, ‘Let’s overthrow the British!’ I hope you’ve gotten over it?

I’m OK, thanks.

Good. It’s the same with the second amendment about the right to bear arms. People always conveniently forget that it is the right of a well-regulated militia to bear arms. A militia. And not just any militia but a state militia. And not just a state militia but a well-regulated state militia. Where was I?


Yes! Tierno’s book. Well, it’s the same with Aristotle. People try to interpret him when they should just follow his rules. I compare it to a Honda manual telling you how to clean the fuel injector. You wouldn’t look for underlying meaning there and you shouldn’t look for it in Poetics. Beginning. Middle. End. The end is the part after which you need nothing. How many movies do you see that just end and end and end again? They just don’t know when to get off the stage! Even Spike Lee and Scorsese.
Read about another book on Walter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue