FilmCraft: Screenwriting Book Review
Written by Tim Grierson
2013, 191 pages, Reference
Book released on April 11th, 2013
FilmCraft is a continuing series from Focal Press that deconstructs the art of cinema by studying it from the inside. Each volume in the collection focuses on a different aspect of film production by gathering interviews with master craftsmen, who are able to relay a lifetime of experience in a series of intimate and informal conversations. The series provides a global perspective as the interviews are not strictly limited to American filmmakers.
In this latest installment, FilmCraft: Screenwriting, author Tim Grierson presents fifteen in-depth interviews with such notables as John August (Big Fish), David Webb Peoples (Unforgiven), Whit Stillman (Barcelona), Billy Ray (Shattered Glass), Hossein Amini (Drive), Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands), Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha), Mark Bomback (Unstoppable), and many others, providing a unique look into the approach each takes when writing a screenplay.
The writer comes up with the concept and bleeds life onto paper in order to share this concept with others. It is also the writer who spends countless, thankless hours creating the story that will become the film. The director, however, is the person who receives credit as the author of the movie. Screenwriters are unfortunately treated as second-class citizens of the film community and their work is frequently altered beyond recognition by the time it appears on screen. Many have struggled to reach a level of success where they are able to command more control over the treatment of their words. Two common methods of ensuring this goal are with stronger contract terms or by directing the projects themselves.
Grierson structures his book in such a manner as to limit his presence as interviewer (as is the template for the FilmCraft series) and simply allow his subjects to speak in a relaxed, conversational tone. Each writer receives an individual chapter to discuss their success and failures and these talks are surprisingly candid as many open up about their biggest disappointments and struggles within the industry. Not everything is doom and gloom, however, as there are several positive anecdotes about projects that turned out better than the author could have hoped.
FilmCraft: Screenwriting is an oversized paperback book filled with rich and colorful photographs, matching the other entries in the series. The layout maximizes the space and offers sidebar information relating to a specific line of dialogue or precise moment in a film to illustrate a point. Upon first glance each volume could be mistaken for a coffee table book were it not for the wealth of technical information found inside.
A very nice addition to the series comes in the form of the “Legacy” section that devotes attention to many of the leaders of the industry who have since passed away, and their inclusion within these pages provides an opportunity to respect their contributions as well as gain an understanding of how influential their work has been to the film community. Highlights include the works of Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot) Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal) and Paddy Chayefsky (Network). An odd inclusion this time around includes the still-breathing Woody Allen, who while unquestionably awesome, does not belong in this section. Maybe they couldn't get an interview, but it is jarring to see his work included here among the dead. A better candidate for this slot may have been someone like John Hughes.
It is unfair to criticize this collection for not being larger, but it did leave me wanting more. With luck a second volume will be commissioned about writers who also direct that will invite additional interview subjects. Ideal guests would include David Mamet, Frank Darabant, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Schrader, David Koepp, Shane Black, Neil Simon, Cameron Crowe, Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith, just to name a few. FilmCraft: Screenwriting is highly recommended reading for anyone who enjoys movies and has an interest in learning more about the process. There is nothing here that feels like a textbook, but the insight provided within can be held up against any film school lecture and benefits from offering the views of more than a dozen teachers.