"Screenwriting 101" Book Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Published by Badass Digest
Written by Film Crit Hulk!
2013, 238 pages*, Reference
Released on December 10th, 2013
For those you unfortunate enough to not have heard of Film Crit Hulk! (Twitter: @FilmCritHULK), a little background: At first glance, and maybe even first read, it seems like just another Twitter parody account; one more anonymous jokester in a very crowded arena. Imagine if you will the great green giant lounging John Houseman-like in a smoking jacket, with a fine, aged Brandy bandying about the art of François Truffaut, and you’re halfway there. Now picture the same guy discussing the relative merits of Spike Jonze and why Quentin Tarantino’s pastiches aren’t mere rip-offs of other movies, but rather love letters, and you’ve got the gist of hulk on the surface.
But, if you actually read his movie reviews, you find an insanely well thought out discourse on filmmaking that doesn’t just take an artsy stance on everything, i.e. thumbing his nose at anything less than Fellini, but rather looks at how well each film matches its target. Will he over-criticize a Michael Bay film? Yes, but let’s be honest, they deserve it for the most part. He gives credit where due and pulls no punches where it doesn’t.
So when I was offered the chance to review his Screenwriting 101 book, I jumped on it. I was expecting a half-jokey but mildly interesting look at how to write for movies. But that’s not what this is. Take away the third-person self-references and ALL CAPS TYPOGRAPHY (also available in a Bruce Banner edition that is a little bit easier to read for puny readers) and what you have is an insightful and honest look at what makes for a good screenplay, or a good story for that matter. As Hulk is quick to point out, however, that’s not the same thing as a financially successful or easy-to-sell-to-a-studio screenplay. These can unfortunately be mutually exclusive beasts (yes, Bay rears his ugly but well-coifed head again). If that’s what you want in your screenwriting guide, go read Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! by Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (in fact, read it anyway).
If you’d rather learn how to write a meaningful story with character development, proper structure, and one that’s going to draw in a reader (and ostensibly a viewer later) then Hulk is your guy. Seriously, the first huge chunk of Screenwriting 101, before you ever look at actually writing, is a dissertation on story. A beautiful, honest, and loving talk about understanding story before you ever touch pen to paper; it should be required reading. Yes there is the occasional humor to be found, but overall, it’s very serious.
No one knows the Dr. Jekyll identity of the man who writes as Hulk, but it’s known that he’s a Hollywood insider with a ton of practical experience and just the right amount of cynicism and snark to really know how the system works. His love of filmmaking shines through the cold skepticism of modern Hollywood and allows him to speak honestly about the craft and creation of solid storytelling instead of the quick-make-a-buck style of slap-dash writing that has sadly become the norm in movies today. If you are serious about screenwriting and care about the craft of telling stories, Screenwriting 101 should be your bible.
*Available as an eBook only. Number of pages will vary by e-reader.