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Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten) Paperback – 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions (2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193290784X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932907841
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #765,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Pen’s book is unique in that it addresses the entire landscape of movie writing as a career, and most especially encourages artists who write from the heart and strive for originality.” - Ron Howard, Filmmaker
“If you’re thinking about writing a screenplay, do yourself a favor and hop on Pen Densham’s Alligator. The ride’s enlightening.” - Jeff Bridges, Oscar winner.
“His deep understanding of the screenwriting process is at once inspiring and empowering. ” - Robert Mandel, Dean of AFI 
“His words on the creative process are inspiring and useful, and his insight into the business is essential.” - Paul Haggis, Oscar Winning  Filmmaker.
“This book would have saved me years! — it's like having a close friend in the business to help guide you through the screenwriting process from idea, to script, to sale, to career.” — Jack Epps, Jr., Chair, Writing for Screen and TV, USC
“Pen’s book is wise, encouraging, helpful and kind – everything the business of moviemaking is sometimes not.” - Tom Rothman (recent) Co-Chairman, Fox 
“It is one of the few books on the market that comes from a screenwriter who has actually been in the trenches.” - Philip Taylor, writer/professor - Journal of Film and Video - UFVA 2013

Book Description

This is the first book that explores both specific screenplay writing techniques, while simultaneously imparting industry-tested strategies for carving out a successful, long term career. Pen Densham reveals his emotional philosophies and professional secrets, plus insights from his company, Trilogy Entertainment Group. Pen imparts an inspiring philosophy on choosing an artistic career and overcoming the many challenges, such as managing stress, to selling yourself and your work, to finding an agent and being true to one’s nature, all while creating a lasting and satisfying career.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Pen Densham is an Oscar nominated Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director, with an extensive track-record in film and television. Pen is responsible for writing and/or producing some of Hollywood's most fascinating and successful movies, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Tank Girl, Larger Than Life, Just Buried. He was the writer/director of Moll Flanders starring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman. - And Houdini for TNT. Along with his Trilogy Entertainment team he Executive Produced many TV series and personally revived The Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone anthologies.

Pen says his first job in show business was riding atop a live alligator for a theatrical short made by his parents. He fell deeply in love with the magic of film and decided to leave school at age 15. He has since spent his lifetime in the business of entertainment, creating features and television series, as well as collaborating with many A-list writers, directors and stars along the way. Pen is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California's prestigious School of Cinematic Arts.

Pen has written the book - "Riding The Alligator, Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing... and not getting eaten", with one clear goal in mind: to write the kind of book he would have loved to have read when he was starting out as a writer-filmmaker.

For more information about Pen's book, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten), including downloading a free chapter, visit ridingthealligator.com

Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to begin to understand the screenwriting process.
This book covers everything you need to know about screenwriting, from finding inspiration to write, to making personal connections that help you sell your story.
Pen Densham's Riding the Alligator is a truly inspiring book that uplifts and supports the creative person in any field but geared for screenwriters.
Craig Houchin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bob on December 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
Many books about writing, whether screenwriting or novels, read as if you are being handed a technique that works like a cure-all. These books are little more than advertisements for the technique and you can feel as if you are being sold the newest car cleaner or laundry detergent. "We know best" is the mantra.

What is so remarkable about Pen Densham's book, Riding the Alligator, is that you get screenwriting advice from an amazingly accomplished screenwriter/producer/director who goes out of his way to say that a writer needs to find what works best for him. Mr. Densham guides you in a direction, while acknowledging that other directions might work as well and then he shows you ways to access that information by including comments on writing from other great screenwriters and providing brief reviews of many of the best other books in the field.

The other thing that is fascinating about this book is that it seems to have application well outside the field of just screenwriting. The chapter on stress management is some of the best advice I have ever read on the subject and applies to all situations, not just screenwriting. The chapter on why people need to tell stories is a fantastic look at the evolution of man and the importance of myths. Both of these chapters go far beyond anything that generally appears in screenwriting books, making Riding the Alligator a book that is interesting for readers beyond those looking for just screenwriting advice.

Overall, the book is a remarkable achievement from a person who has every right to say "I know what is the best way to write a screenplay" but instead says "trust and know yourself and I'll try to help you find what can work best for you". It is Mr. Densham's ideas, coupled with his generosity to all ideas on writing, that makes the book a true accomplishment.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Osmanthus on March 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
The sympathetic perspective, down-to-earth lyricism, and sheer savviness of this book distinguishes it from most things you will read about the industry, life, how to navigate being a creative soul in a sea of commerce. "Riding the Alligator" is a good stand-in for the sort of mentor you always wish you had: wise about the world, to-the-point, generous with trade secrets, and kind.

I would not hesitate to compare its richness and spirit to Rainer Maria-Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet".
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Salamoff (author of "ON THE SET") on February 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a rule of thumb, I generally avoid reading screenwriting books because they either make me feel anxious or feel like I'm somehow not a "true writer" because I don't follow the specific rules of screenwriting that the author has prescribed. So it was with great pleasure that when I read Pen Densham's RIDING THE ALLIGATOR, I felt quite the opposite.

This book is best described as "Screenwriting Spirituality" giving you the building blocks to create a career as a screenwriter and survive all the highs and lows that will inevitably come over that career. It is written in a very relaxed manner that was both informative and encouraging. Even as a seasoned writer, I felt it an incredibly worthwhile read, because it reaffirmed many of my own feelings and attitudes on the business as well as offered insightful takes on aspects I hadn't even considered.

If you are serious about the craft of screenwriting and/or just want to hear some uplifting and supportive advice from someone like Pen Densham who has lived it day to day, do yourself a favor and add this to your cart and go directly to "express check out".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Edwards on November 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
Having taken my fair share of screenwriting classes, I've had to read a few books on the subject. Pen Densham's "Riding the Alligator" is by far the most relatable and optimistic that I've seen. The book is less a technical "how to" guide and more a helping hand in the chaotic world of the creative process. Where most books focus solely on structure, Alligator spends a great deal of time on how to tackle a story before your fingers hit the keyboard.

The emphasis on passion for storytelling gives the book an intimate feel. As Pen describes his experience selling scripts and breaking into the business, it feels less like a class and more like an informal conversation with someone who's been in the trenches. Eventually, he does get into structure, character, editing, and selling your scripts, but he stresses that different writers work in different ways. As a result, you don't feel like you're reading Robert McKee, who lays down a law and decrees you follow it to the letter. My only critique is that it would have been nice to get more input on when to hit certain beats by certain page numbers, as there is a certain amount of page juggling that goes on while writing a screenplay. His view on where to be in the story at particular pages would have been nice to see. Overall, his advice is worth the read. I was working on a story for two years and finally managed to get my outline into a place where I could start writing thanks to his section on character progression. He also tends to wax philosophical at bit too much at times, but it serves to justify how stories influence people based on their history.

In addition to Pen's voice, you get a welcome compilation of advice from other writers such as Shane Black, Eric Roth, and Tony Peckham.
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