SYD FIELD SCREENPLAY THE FOUNDATIONS OF SCREENWRITING A STEP- BY-STEP GUIDE FROM CONCEPT TO FINISHED SCRIPT DOWNLOAD PDF. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. A step-by-step guide from concept to finished script. By Syd Field. Summary by Kim Hartman. This is a summary. Editorial Reviews. From Library Journal. Screenplay is one of the bibles of the film trade and has launched many a would-be screenwriter on the road to.
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Read Screenplay PDF - The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field Virtuonica | A generation of screenwriters has used Syd Field's. PDF Drive is your search engine for PDF files. As of today we have 78,, eBooks for you to download for free. No annoying ads, no download limits, enjoy . Syd Field's Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting revolutionized the screenwriting industry and helped many new screenwriters since its publication.
Others don't. How do you go about finding a subject? An idea in a newspaper or on the TV news or an incident that might have happened to a friend or relative can be the subject of a movie. The Pianist Ron Harwood, from the memoir by Wladyslaw Szpilman is a film about survival, based on the writings of a survivor of the Holocaust, but it also reflects the childhood of director Roman Polanski.
Dog Day Afternoon Frank Pierson was a newspaper article before it became a movie. Before Robert Towne wrote Chinatown, he once told me, he wanted to write a Raymond Chandler-type detective story. He found the material for Chinatown in a Los Angeles water scandal he read about in an old newspaper of that period, and used the backdrop of the Owens Valley scandal for his detective story. Shampoo Robert Towne and Warren Beatty grew out of several incidents involving a celebrated Hollywood hairstylist.
Collateral Stuart Beattie emerged during the writer's conversation with a taxi driver. It's very simple. Trust yourself. Just start looking for an action and a character.
The next step is expanding your subject. Fleshing out the action and focusing on the character broadens the story line and accentuates the details. Gather your material any way you can. It will always be to your advantage. Over the years, I talked to a lot of people who wondered about the value, or necessity, of doing research. I began my career in film by making documentaries for David L.
It was while I was at Wolper that I learned the value of research. It became an indispensable part of my writing and teaching experience. On every show I've ever been associated with, as writer, director, producer, or researcher, I've begun the process by finding out as much as I can about the subject.
As far as I'm concerned, research is absolutely essential. All writing entails research, and research means gathering information. Remember, the hardest part of writing is knowing what to write. By doing research—whether in written sources such as books, magazines, or newspapers or through personal interviews—you acquire information.
The information you collect allows you to operate from the position of choice, confidence, and responsibility. You can choose to use some, or all, or none of the material you've gathered; that's your choice, dictated by the terms of the story. Not using it because you don't have it offers you no choice at all, and will always work against you and your story.
Too many people start writing their material with only a vague, half-formed idea in their heads. This works for about thirty pages, then falls apart.
You don't know what happens next, or what to do next, or where to go, and you end up getting angry, confused, and frustrated. Then, in most cases, you give up. One I call text research. That means going to the library and pulling out books and newspaper and magazine articles and reading about a period, people, a profession, or whatever.
If you're writing a period piece or a historical piece, you need to gather information about the time and the events that happened during it and then weave your emotional through line into your characters. I get most of my information from reading about the period and any first-person writings I can find. If you're writing about a subject that you don't know much about, you need to get information to make your story line real, believable, and tme.
Zwick spent more than a year reading about the Japanese culture and the samurai tradition. The second form of research I call live research. It means going to the source—doing live interviews, talking to people, getting a "feel" for the subject.
If it is necessary or possible to conduct personal interviews, you'll be surprised to find that most people are willing to help you in any way they can, and will often go out of their way to assist you in your search for accurate information. Personal interviews offer another advantage: They can give you a more immediate and spontaneous slant than a book, newspaper, or magazine story. It's the next best thing to having experienced something yourself. The more you know, the more you can communicate.
And be in a position of choice and responsibility when making creative decisions. At present, I'm writing a sci-fi epic space adventure, about a cosmic phenomenon that drastically impacts Earth. Since I know nothing about cosmic events of this magnitude, I made contact with the media relations person at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and she gave me a lot of information, along with the names of some scientists.
I then spent almost three months learning about the phenomenon known as a "gamma ray burst. Craig created a jet-propelled car that traveled at a speed of miles per hour for a quarter mile.
The rocket system was the same system used to land a man on the moon. I spent several days hanging out with him and reading the history of the Land Speed Record. The story is about a man breaking the World Water Speed Record in a rocket boat. But a rocket boat doesn't exist, at least at this writing. I had to do all kinds of research to find out about my subject matter.
What is the Water Speed Record? Where do you go to break the record? Is it possible for a rocket boat to beat the record? How do the officials time the boats? Is a speed of over miles per hour on water possible? From my conversations with Craig, I learned about rocket systems, the Water Speed Record, and designing and building a racing boat. And out of those conversations came an action and a character. And a way to fuse fact and fiction into a dramatic story line.
The principle rule of storytelling bears repetition: Research is essential in writing a screenplay. Once you choose your subject, and can state it briefly in a sentence or two, you can begin preliminary research.
Determine where you can go to increase your knowledge of the subject. Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, once wanted to write a movie that took place on a train. So he took a train from Los Angeles to New York, and when he stepped off the train he realized he didn't have a story; he hadn't found one. That's okay. Choose another subject. Richard Brooks spent eight months researching Bite the Bullet before he put one word on paper.
He did the same thing with The Professionals and In Cold Blood, even though he based the latter on Truman Capote's exhaustively researched book.
Waldo Salt, who wrote Midnight Cowboy, researched Coming Home by speaking to and recording some twenty-six paralyzed Vietnam veterans, which resulted in two hundred hours of taped interviews. I had the good fortune of having several conversations with Waldo, and he was not only an extraordinary writer, but an extraordinary person.
We talked about the craft of screenwriting a lot, and Waldo told me that he believed the character's need the dramatic need—what the character wants to win, gain, or achieve determines the dramatic structure. His words resonated with me immediately, and I shared with him that I had recently come to the same understanding while I was analyzing Woody Allen's Annie Hall: It was a powerful moment for both of us as we sat in an unspoken glow of communication that was more powerful than words, and it led to a long and passionate discussion about capturing "the truth of the human condition" in a screenplay.
The key to a successful screenplay, Waldo emphasized, was preparing the material. Dialogue, he said, is "perishable," because the actor can always improvise lines to make something work. But, he added forcefully, the character's dramatic need is sacrosanct.
That cannot be changed, because it holds the entire story in place. Putting words down on paper, he said, is the easiest part of the screenwriting process; it is the visual conception of the story that takes so long. And he quoted Picasso: A sprinter or a long-distance racer? Where do the bicycle races take place? Where do you want to set your story? In what city? Are there different types of races, or racing circuits? Associations and clubs?
How many races are held throughout the year? What about international competition? Does it affect your story? The character? What kind of bikes are used? How do you become a bicycle racer? These questions must be answered before you start putting words on paper. Research gives you ideas, a sense of people, situation, and locale. It allows you to gain a degree of confidence so you are always on top of your subject, operating from choice, not necessity or ignorance.
Start with your subject. When you think subject, think action and character. This is what subject looks like in a diagram.
Physical action can be a battle sequence, like the opening of Cold Mountain; or a car chase, as in Bullitt or The French Connection; or a race, or competition, or fight, fed by revenge, as in Kill Bill I and II Quentin Tarantino ; or the shoot-out on a farm that makes up the last act of Witness. Emotional action is what happens inside your characters during the story. The search for the correct way to live in our times is the centerpiece of the maestro's oeuvre. As you can see, most films contain both kinds of action, physical and emotional.
Ask yourself what kind of story you are writing. Is it an outdoor action-adventure movie, or is it a story about a relationship, an emotional story? Once you determine what kind of action you're dealing with, you can move into the life of your character.
First, define the dramatic need of your character. What does your character want? What drives him to the resolution of your story?
In Chinatown, Jake Gittes's need is to find out who set him up, and why. You must define the need of your character. Sonny Al Pacino holds up the bank in Dog Day Afternoon to get money for a sex-change operation for his male lover. That is his need.
The need of your character gives you a goal, a destination, an ending to your story. How your character achieves or does not achieve that goal becomes the action of your story.
As I said before, and will say again, all drama is conflict. If you know the need of your character, you can create obstacles to fulfill that need. Conflict, struggle, overcoming obstacles, both inside and outside, are the primary ingredients in all drama—in comedy, too.
It is the writer's responsibility to generate enough conflict to keep the reader, or the audience, interested. The job of the screenwriter is to keep the reader turning pages.
The story always has to move forward, toward its resolution. And it all comes down to knowing your subject. If you know the action and character of your screenplay, you can define the need of the character and then create obstacles to that need.
It is the fuel that feeds the story engine. It is also his dream. And, as far as he's concerned, he's going to make a lot of money and satisfy a lot of women in the process. What are the obstacles he immediately confronts? He gets hustled by Ratso Dustin Hoffman , loses his money, doesn't have any friends or a job, and the women of New York don't even acknowledge his existence. Some dream! His need collides head-on with the harsh reality of New York City. That's conflict. Without conflict, there is no action.
Without action, there is no character. Action is Character. What a person does is what he is, not what he saysl When you begin to explore your subject, you will see that all things are related in your screenplay. Nothing is thrown in by chance, or because it's cute or clever. The same principle applies to your story. It is the subject of your screenplay. If need be, look through the daily newspaper to see if a person, or incident, or situation grabs your attention. Think about how you might want to structure your story, then reduce it to a few sentences in terms of action and character, then write it out.
Remember, it may take you a few pages to find out what you want to do, and another page or two to clarify it, but then you'll be able to eliminate the unnecessary and focus on your subject. The Creation of Character "What is character but the determination of incident? And what is incident but the illumination of character? That's a question that has haunted literary theorists from the beginning of the written word. The challenge of creating real people in real situations is so varied, so multifaceted, so unique, so individually challenging, that trying to define howyou do it is like trying to hold a bundle of water in your hands.
Generation after generation of noted writers, from Aristotle to Aeschylus, from Ibsen to Ionesco, from Eugene O'Neill to Arthur Miller, have struggled to capture the art and the craft of creating good characters. One of the most articulate literary theorists of the nineteenth century was the great American novelist Henry James, author of Portrait of a Lady, Wings of the Dove, Turn of the Screw, and Daisy Miller, among other masterworks. James was fascinated with the art of fiction writing, and approached it like a scientist, the same way his brother, William James, the famous psychologist, studied the dynamics of the human mind.
Henry James wrote several essays trying to document and define the intricacies of creating character. In one of those essays, The Art of Fiction, James poses a literary question: What is character but the determination of incident? The key word, of course, is incident. According to the dictionary, an incident is "a specific occurrence or event that occurs in connection or relationship to something else. It is the major source of all action and all character.
After twenty-five years of reading and analyzing screenplays and movies, I have only recently begun to understand the importance of the incident. All good movies, it seems, focus on the unfolding of a specific incident or event; and it is this incident that becomes the engine that powers the story to its completion.
Frodo's assuming the mantle of ring bearer in Lord of the Rings is the key incident in that film; as is Lester Burnham's seeing the young girl Angela in American Beauty; as is Jake Gittes's being confronted by the real Mrs.
Mulwray in Chinatown. Sometimes incidents and events in our lives bring out the best in us, or the worst. Sometimes we recover from these events and sometimes we don't— but they always impact us. At other times how we act and react, or deal with a particular situation, reveals our "true" nature and tells us who we really are. Miles in Sideways is a good illustration of that.
When he is saving his special bottle of wine for a "special occasion," he sees he doesn't have a special time or place for opening it. So he sits alone, in a fast-food joint, hiding his bottle of wine. Events in a screenplay are specifically designed to bring out the truth about the characters so that we, the reader and audience, can transcend our ordinary lives and achieve a connection, or bond, between "them and us.
In The Art of Fiction, Henry James says that the incidents you create for your characters are the best ways to illuminate who they are—that is, reveal their true nature, their essential character. How they respond to a particular incident or event, how they act and react, what they say and do is what really defines the essence of their character.
How can we relate this concept to the process of creating character? If you take a look at these two characters, they are two distinct, individual people who have the same dramatic need: They are different aspects of each other, and they share everything, their life as well as their death.
And during the course of their journey, we get to know them, love them, and wish that things might have been different. Thelma Geena Davis and Louise Susan Sarandon set out for a weekend holiday in the mountains, stop at a bar, and meet a guy named Harlan, who takes a liking to Thelma. He plies her with drinks, then attempts to rape her in the parking lot. It turns ugly, until Louise comes along, threatens Harlan with Thelma's gun, and, when he mouths off to her, loses it, pulls the trigger, and kills him.
Plot Point I. It is the key incident in the movie. Now the "real" story is about their attempt to escape to Mexico. For the rest of the story, Thelma and Louise are on the run. As they race down the highway of their life, like so many other characters in so many other movies, they are forced to come to grips with themselves, find out who they really are, and ultimately take responsibility for their lives and actions.
And it begins with the incident, the hub of the wheel of action. It is the character that determines the incident, in this case Louise's killing Harlan, then fleeing in fear and uncertainty. What's important for me, and you, as writers, is to ask what it was within Louise's character that caused her to pull the trigger—because this incident is what ultimately reveals and illuminates the character. In Louise's case, it is an incident that happened to her when she was a young woman; it's only mentioned briefly, but it's implied that she was raped in Texas and then brought charges against her attackers, but could get no satisfaction, no revenge, no justice.
At that moment, she made a promise to herself: She would never take one step inside the state of Texas ever again. This decision ultimately brings about her death. Joseph Campbell reflects in The Power of Myth that in mythic terms, the first part of any journey of initiation must deal with the death of the old self and the resurrection of the new.
Campbell says that the hero, or heroic figure, "moves not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within.
The images are outward, but their reflection is inward. She never recovered from her experience, and it simmered in her consciousness below the thin veneer of time and memory, just waiting for a chance to erupt. Writers create characters in a variety of different ways. I once asked Waldo Salt how he went about creating characters, and he replied that the first thing he did was to choose a simple dramatic need; then he would add to it, coloring it until it became a universal chord common to Everyman.
For Waldo, that became the essence of his character. And he was a master screenwriter, a major artist. What's the best way to go about creating character? And how do you establish a relationship between your character, his or her dramatic choices, and the story you're telling? Character is the essential internal foundation of your screenplay.
The cornerstone. It is the heart and soul and nervous system of your screenplay. Before you can put one word down on paper, you must know your character. In a screenplay, the story always moves forward, from beginning to end, whether in a linear or nonlinear fashion. So what is character? Action is character; a person is what he does, not what he says.
Film is behavior. If you're writing your script and sense your characters are not as sharp or defined as you think they should be, and feel they should be stronger, more dimensional, and more universal in terms of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, the first thing you must determine is whether they're an active force in the screenplay—whether they cause things to happen, or whether things happen to them.
But first, who is your main character? Who is your story about? If your story is about three guys preparing to steal moon rocks, which one of the three is the main character7. You have to know that.
In Lord of the Rings, do you know who the main character is? Or is it all of them? If you aren't sure, just ask yourself: Who is this story about? In Lord of the Rings, you could say, with good cause, that Aragorn is the main character because he leads the Fellowship, makes the decisions, and becomes the king. But take away all the trappings and the story is really about returning the ring to its place of origin, Mount Doom, so it can be destroyed. That's what this story is about; therefore, Frodo is the main character.
You can have more than one main character, of course, but it certainly clarifies things if you identify a single hero or heroine. Frequently a story is about what distinguishes the main character from the other characters. Who is the main character in The Shawshank Redemption7 Red, the Morgan Freeman character, has the largest part of the movie, and he is the character telling us about Andy Dufrense Tim Robbins.
But the story is really about Andy, so even though his part is not as large as Red's, he is the main character because the story is about him. What about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid7. Butch Paul Newman is the main character. He is the man making the decisions. Butch has a great line where he broaches one of his usual wild schemes to Sundance Robert Redford , and Sundance just looks at him, doesn't say a word, and turns away. Within the context of that screenplay, Butch Cassidy is the main character—he is the character who plans things, who acts.
Butch leads and Sundance follows. It is Butch's idea to leave for South America; he knows their outlaw days are numbered, and to escape the law, death, or both, they must leave. He convinces Sundance and Etta Place to go with him. Sundance is a major character, not the main character. Once you establish the main character, you can explore ways to create a full-bodied, dimensional character portrait.
There are several ways to approach creating your characters and all of them are valid, but you must choose the best way for you. The method outlined below gives you the opportunity of choosing what you want to use, or not use, in developing your characters.
First, establish your main character. The interior life of your character takes place from birth up until the time your story begins. It is a process that forms character. The exterior life of your character takes place from the moment your film begins to the conclusion of the story. It is a process that reveals character.
Film is a visual medium. You must find ways to reveal your character's conflicts visually. You cannot reveal what you don't know. Thus, it's important to make the distinction between knowing your character as a thought, notion, or idea in your head and revealing him or her on paper.
Diagrammed, it looks like this: Is your character male or female? If male, how old is he when the story begins? Where does he live, what city or country? Where was he born? Was he an only child, or did he have brothers and sisters? What kind of childhood did he have? Physically or medically challenging? What was his relationship to his parents?
Did he get into a lot of trouble as a kid? Was he mischievous? What kind of a child was he? Outgoing, an extrovert; or studious, an introvert? When you begin formulating your character from birth, you begin to see your character build. Did a single parent raise your character? Mother or father? Aunt or uncle? How did they get along? Is your character streetwise or sheltered?
What kind of jobs did the parent s have to make ends meet? Move into the second ten years of your character's life, ages ten to twenty. That means middle and high school.
What kind of influences did your character have while growing up? What kind of interests? School, athletics, social, political? Did your character take an interest in extracurricular or after-school activities, like a debating club? What about sexual experiences? Relationships with peers?
Did your character have to work part-time during high school? What about any sibling relationships? Any envy or hostility present? What about relationships with teachers? Did any major traumatic event happen that may have emotionally influenced your character?
Take a look at Mean Girls Tina Fey. The whole film is built around feeling unpopular. Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia deals with the themes of reconciliation and forgiveness, revealing how parents' actions shape and influence their children. In Magnolia, Earl Jason Robards is on his deathbed and confesses his sins, attempting to forgive himself for walking out on his dying wife and son, thus leaving the then fourteen-year-old Frank Tom Cruise to care for his dying mother alone.
That incident has affected Frank's entire life and led him to develop a lifestyle where he seeks to convince men that sex is a weapon that can be used to "destroy the opposite sex. Move into the college years. Did your character go to college, or even consider college?
What college or university did he or she go to? What was his or her major? Was your character active politically? Did he or she join clubs or student body organizations? Did your character have a significant relationship while in college?
What happened in this relationship? How long were they together? Did they get married? When the story begins, is your character married, widowed, single, separated, or divorced? If married, for how long and to whom? Continue to trace your character's life until the story begins. Many times reality collides with dreams and fantasies and generates a sense of conflict within the character's life.
Ask yourself questions; be observant; notice your own friends, family, and acquaintances. Sometimes you can use the information you observe in a slightly different form. Remember, you are not your character. You do not have the same name, same situation, or same birth date. The time frame of events you want to write about may have to be modified to gain greater insight into the character. You may share certain similarities with the character, but if you think you're going to use yourself as the model, it's not going to work.
Writing is the ability to ask yourself questions and wait for the answers. As a side note, it's important to phrase your creative questions to begin with the word what, not why. What implies a specific response; if you ask yourself a question beginning with the word why, you can get many different answers, and they may all be correct.
So try to phrase any questions using the word what: What causes my character to react in this manner? What is the purpose of this scene? It may take a while to phrase the question, and the answer may not appear as soon as you would like it to, but trust the process; it's bigger than you are.
That's why I call writing a character biography creative research. You're asking questions and getting answers. You're building the interior life of your character, the emotional life, on a firm foundation so that your character can move and evolve in a definite character arc through the story, can change and grow through certain emotional stages of the action. It's not very often that characters will be the same at the beginning of a story as they are at the end; their thoughts and feelings will probably change during the emotional through line of the action.
Once you've established the interior aspect of your character in a character biography, you can move into the exterior portion of your story.
The exterior aspect of your character takes place during the actual time of the screenplay, from the first fade-in to the final fadeout.
It is important to examine the relationships in the lives of your characters, as they have the potential of becoming a resource for greater depth of character, including subplots, secondary actions, and any possible intercutting you may want to do to build the relationship between characters and story. How do you make your characters real, believable, and multidimensional people during your story? From fade-in to fade-out? The best way to do this is to separate your characters' lives into three basic components—their professional life, their personal life, and their private life.
These areas of your characters' lives can be dramatized over the course of the screenplay. What does your main character do for a living? You need to know this. As mentioned, if you don't know your character, who does? Where does he or she work? Is she the vice president of a bank? A construction worker? A doctor? A sound technician? A scientist? A professor? The clearer you are, the more believable your characters become.
Are they sad or happy with their lives? Do they wish their lives were different—another job, or another wife, or possibly another self?
Reading a screenplay is a unique experience. When I first started reading, I read the words on the page slowly, drinking in all the visual descriptions, character nuances and dramatic situations. While they may read like liquid honey flowing across the page, the overall feeling was like reading a short story, or strong journalistic piece in a national magazine like Vanity Fair or Esquire. I started out wanting to read and synopsize do coverage on three screenplays a day.
I found I could read two scripts without a problem, but when I got to the third one, the words, characters and actions all seemed to congeal into some kind of amorphous goo of plot lines concerning the FBI and CIA, punctuated with bank heists, murders, car chases, along with a lot of wet kisses and naked flesh thrown in for local color.
At two or three in the afternoon, after a heavy lunch and maybe a little too much wine, it was difficult keeping my attention focused on the action and nuances of character and story. So, after a few months on the job, I usually closed my office door, propped my feet up on the desk, turned off the phones, leaned back in the chair with a script on my chest, and took a cat nap. What was I looking for?
What made a screenplay good or bad?
I could tell whether I liked it or not, yes, but what were the elements that made it a good screenplay? It had to be more than a string of clever bits and smart dialogue laced together in a series of beautiful pictures. Was it the plot, the characters, or the visual arena where the action takes place that made it a good screenplay?
Was it the visual style of writing or the cleverness of the dialogue? I knew how to write a screenplay, and I certainly knew what I liked or disliked when I went to the movies, but how did I apply that to the reading of a screenplay? The more I thought about it, the clearer I became. What I was looking for, I soon realized, was a style that exploded off the page, exhibiting a kind of raw energy.
At the end of the book, Nick, the narrator, recalls how Gatsby used to stand looking out over the water at the image of the green light, beckoning him to past memories of unrequited love. Gatsby was a man who believed in the past, a man who believed that if he had enough wealth and power, he could turn back time and recreate it. It was that particular dream that spurred him as a young man to cross over the tracks searching for love and wealth, searching for the expectations and desires of the past that he hoped would become the future.
The green light. What is a good screenplay? I kept asking myself.
And, pretty soon, I started getting some answers. These elements are expressed dramatically within a structure that has a definite beginning, middle, and end, though not necessarily in that order. I realized they all contained these basic concepts, regardless of how they were cinematically executed. They are in every screenplay. At this writing, Screenplay has been reprinted some 38 times, gone through several editions, and been translated into some 22 languages, along with several black market editions; first in Iran , then in China , then Russia.
When I began thinking about revising this book, I wanted to upgrade the movies and use more contemporary examples to illustrate the craft of screenwriting. In most cases, the films I wrote about then are just as valid today as they were when they were made. Despite some attitudes which are dated, they continue to capture a particular moment in time, a time of unrest, social revolution and violence that oddly enough mirrors some of the same anti-war sentiments prevalent today. Except me. Hundreds of people flowed thorough my course on screenwriting, and it soon became clear that everyone had a story to tell.
They just didn't know how to tell it. Since that day in the early spring of when Screenplay first arrived on bookstore shelves, there has been a tremendous upsurge in the evolution of writing for the screen. Today, the popularity of screenwriting and filmmaking is an integral part of our culture and cannot be ignored. Walk into any bookstore and you'll see shelves and shelves devoted to all aspects of filmmaking.
In fact, the two most popular majors on college campuses are business and film. And with the dramatic rise of computer technology and computer graphic imagery, the expanded influence of MTV, reality TV, Xbox, PlayStation, and new wireless LAN technology, and the enormous increase in film festivals both here and abroad, we're in the middle of a cinematic revolution.
It won't be too long before we make a short film on our telephones, e-mail them to our friends, and project them on our TV. Clearly, we have evolved in the way we see things. Take a look at the epic adventure Lord of the Rings all three parts , or the portrait of the modern family illustrated in American Beauty, or the emotional and visual impact of Seabiscuit, or the literary presentations of The Bourne Supremacy, Cold Mountain, Memento, Rushmore, Magnolia, The Royal Tenenbaums, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, compare them to any films of the '70s or '80s, and you'll see the distinctions of this revolution: the images are fast; the information conveyed is visual, rapid; the use of silence is exaggerated; and the special effects and music are heightened and more pronounced.
The concept of time is often more subjective and nonlinear, more novelistic in tone and execution. Yet, while the tools and technique of storytelling have evolved and progressed based on the needs and technologies of the time, the art of storytelling has remained the same.
Movies are a combination of art and science; the technological revolution has literally changed the way we see movies and therefore, by necessity, has changed the way we write movies. That's what it is; that is its nature. It is the art of visual storytelling. The craft of screenwriting is a creative process that can be learned. To tell a story, you have to set up your characters, introduce the dramatic premise what the story is about and the dramatic situation the circumstances surrounding the action , create obstacles for your characters to confront and overcome, then resolve the story.
You know, boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. All stories, from Aristotle through all the constellations of civilization, embody the same dramatic principles.
In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo becomes the ring bearer to return the ring to its place of origin, Mount Doom, so he can destroy it. That is his dramatic need.
How he gets there and completes the task is the story. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring sets up the characters and situation and narrative through line; it establishes Frodo and the Shire, as well as the Fellowship, who set off on their mission to Mount Doom. They are confronted with obstacle after obstacle that hinder their mission. At the same time, Aragorn and the others must overcome many challenges to defeat the Ores at Helms Deep. Aragorn is crowned king, and the hobbits return to the Shire and their life plays out.
Set-up, confrontation, and resolution. It is the stuff of drama. I learned this when I was a kid sitting in a darkened theater, popcorn in hand, gazing in awe and wonder at the images projected on the white river of light reflected on that monster screen.
A native of Los Angeles my grandfather arrived here from Poland in , I grew up surrounded by the film industry. I don't remember much about the experience except that Van Johnson taught me how to play checkers. During my teens, going to the movies became a passion, a form of entertainment, a distraction, and a topic of discussion, as well as a place to make out and have fun.
Occasionally, there would be unforgettable moments—like watching Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not, or Walter Huston's mad dance as he discovered gold in the mountains in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or watching Brando stagger up the gangplank at the end of On the Waterfront.
I attended Hollywood High School and was invited to join the Athenians, one of the many clubs whose members hung out together during high school. A short time after graduation, one of my best friends, Frank Mazzola, also a member of the Athenians, met James Dean and formed a strong relationship with him. Frank introduced Dean to what a high school "club" was like during this period by today's standards it would probably be referred to as a gang.
Occasionally Dean would come with us when we strolled down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday night looking for trouble. We were the so-called tough kids, never backing down from anything, whether it was a dare or a fight. We managed to get into a lot of trouble. Dean loved hearing about our "adventures" and would continually pump us for details.
When we pulled some wild stunt, whatever it was, he wanted to know how it started, what we were thinking, how it felt. Actors' questions.
It was only after Rebel Without a Cause was released and stormed the world that I became aware of how significant our contribution to the movie had been. The irony of Dean's having hung out with us during that period had no real effect on me until after he died; only then, when he became an icon of our generation, did I begin to grasp the significance of what we had contributed.
My family—aunts and uncles my parents had died several years earlier —wanted me to be a "professional person," meaning a doctor, lawyer, or dentist. I had been working parttime at Mount Sinai Hospital and I liked the drama and pace of emergency room medicine, so I entertained thoughts about becoming a doctor. I enrolled at the University of California, packed up the few belongings I had, and drove to Berkeley. It was August Berkeley at the dawn of the '60s was an active crucible of revolt and unrest; banners, slogans, and leaflets were everywhere.
Protest rallies were held almost every day, and when I'd stop to listen, FBI agents, trying to be inconspicuous in their shirts and ties, would be taking pictures of everyone. It was a joke. It didn't take long for me to be swept up in the activities personifying the fervid issues of the time.
Inspired by their voices and their lives, I, too, wanted to ride the waves of change. It wasn't too long before the campus exploded into a political frenzy initiated by Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement.
It was during my second semester at Berkeley that I auditioned for, and was cast as, Woyzeck in the German Expressionist drama Woyzeck, by Georg Buchner. My relationship with Renoir literally changed my life. I've learned there are two or three times during a lifetime when something happens that alters the course of that life. We meet someone, go somewhere, or do something we've never done before, and those moments are the possibilities that guide us to where we're supposed to go and what we're supposed to do with our lives.
That's true. But over the years, I've learned not to believe too much in luck or accidents; I think everything happens for a reason. There's something to be learned from every moment, every experience we encounter during the brief time we spend on this planet. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it what you will; it really doesn't matter.
I auditioned for the world premiere of Renoir's play Carola, and was cast in the third lead, playing the part of Campan, the stage manager of a theater in Paris during the Nazi occupation in the last days of World War II. For almost a year, I sat at Renoir's feet, watching and learning about movies through his eyes. He was always commenting on film, his opinions vocal and fervent about everything he saw or wrote, either as an artist, a person, or a humanitarian. And he was all of these.
Being in his presence was an inspiration, a major life lesson, a joy, a privilege, as well as a great learning experience. Though movies had always been a major part of my life, it was only during the time I spent with Renoir that I turned my focus to film, the same way a plant turns toward the sun.
Suddenly, I saw movies in a whole new light, as an art form to study and learn, seeking in the story and images an expression and understanding of life. My love for the movies has fed and nourished me ever since.
He was a man like any other, but what separated him, at least in my mind, was his great heart; he was open, friendly, a man of great intelligence, wisdom, and wit who seemed to influence the lives of everyone he touched. The son of the great Impressionistic painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean, too, had the great gift of sight.
Renoir taught me about film, mentored me in the art of visually telling a story, and imparted the gift of insight. He showed me the door, then held it open as I walked through. I've never looked back. He would quote his father about bringing an idea into existence. No two leaves are exactly the same. The artist who paints only what is in his mind must very soon repeat himself.
No two leaves, no two flowers, no two people are ever painted in the same way. It's the same with his son's films: Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game considered two of the greatest films ever made , The Golden Coach, Picnic on the Grass, and many more. Renoir told me he "painted with light," the same way his father painted with oils.
Jean Renoir was an artist who discovered the cinema in the same way his father "discovered" Impressionism. Thousands of years and the evolution of humankind condensed into the poetry of two pieces of film; it is a moment of magic and wonder, mystery and awe. Such is the power of film.
For the past few decades, as I've traveled and lectured around the world on the art and craft of screenwriting, I have watched the style of screenwriting evolve into a more visual medium. As I mentioned, we're seeing certain techniques of the novel, like stream of consciousness and chapter headings, beginning to seep into the modern screenplay. It's clear that a whole new computer-savvy generation, who grew up with interactive software, digital storytelling, and editing applications sees things in a more visual way and is thus able to express it in a more cinematic style.
Great films are timeless—they embody and capture the times in which they were made; the human condition is the same now as it was then. My purpose in writing Screenplay was to explore the craft of screenwriting and illustrate the foundations of dramatic structure.
When you want to write a screenplay, there are two aspects you have to deal with. One is the preparation required to write it: the research, thinking time, character work, and laying out of the structural dynamic. The other is the execution, the actual writing of it, laying out the visual images and capturing the dialogue.
The hardest thing about writing is knowing what to write. That was true when I first wrote the book, and it is now. This is not a "how-to" book; I can't teach anybody how to write a screenplay. People teach themselves the craft of screenwriting. All I can do is show them what they have to do to write a successful screenplay. So, I call this a what-to book, meaning if you have an idea for a screenplay, and you don't know what to do or how to do it, I can show you.
As a writer-producer for David L.