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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
To sum up my opinion of the book in a short sentence: it's not the most amazing book ever, but I don't regret having read it. The good side of it is that the three act structure and all sound like a good plan to start working on a script. It does help a tonload to be able to cover so much ground in such a short time and with such big lines. I won't deny that. The card system is quite nice too, but you don't need 300 pages to learn that.

The thing that struck me the most was how redundant Field could get. Seriously, there are entire blocks of sentences that you will read over and over again. At first I thought that sounded really bad... I mean, if you're a famous script-writer and all, your writing should reflect that. So I was confused. Then, and I don't know if that saves it or not, I figured that the repetition was perhaps not so bad, since it kept hammering the same basic things in your mind, and since that helps to remember. It's a bit like a class, I guess.

I'm not saying that Field can't write, however, I think he merely opted for a personal style, oral if you want, and I don't think it's any fair to criticise too much on this aspect as other critics did. He's not writing a novel, he's writing about screenplay and he's talking to you.

I didn't buy this because I wanted to write a movie, I was curious about the script as a form of writing. Now I feel secure enough to consider writing a whole movie even though I never intended to, and that's pretty cool, I have to admit.

On the flip side, I have my doubts about Syd Field. Now, maybe I'm a dumb person, but I wasn't able to find a single movie written by him. And he doesn't mention any of his own scripts! He mentions those of others, oh yes, that he does, but I can't recall him mentioning one of his own personal scripts. (My bad and apologies if he did and I didn't see or forgot.)

Syd Field hated "Pulp Fiction" when he first saw it. That's bad. I mean, if you can't see right off that "Pulp Fiction" is a great movie, moreover, as a specialist of films, then I worry. I saw it years ago when I was a teen and it struck me as special even though I was no film specialist. So I don't know. It seems that Field eventually liked it when he was able to put it in his 3 act structure, by dividing the stories as units onto themselves. Fine, but do you need that to enjoy a movie or think it's great? No. In fact, if you are rendered unable to enjoy a movie because of that, then it majorly worries me.

As to the 3-act theory itself, I think it's a great tool to use for structure and for the writing of a movie, but I wouldn't base everything on it more than that. See, I think anything has a beginning, middle, and end, and that you can find those 3 things anywhere. It's too vague to be really meaningful, although it can be useful. I see it as something like construction lines in drawing: you use them, but then you erase them. And I think that's also how Field sees it; he doesn't think of his "paradigm" as impossibly rigid.

Other thing that worried me about Field is that he claims to write biographies for his characters that encompass their parents, grandparents, and, yes, past lives. Alright, that can always give you cool ideas that you'd not think of if it hadn't been for the character's past life as a fisherman in Antarctica, but that sounds far-fetched.

There are other things in Field's style that antagonised me from the beginning. Cliché zen analogies and such didn't do much to make like the text, and repeating the same things without backing them up doesn't convince more.

Also, and maybe I'm dumb, but I would have started the book with the form of script-writing. That's the first thing you look at when you consider writing a script! That's what I bought the book for, originally. Very little of the book is consecrated to that, and it's among the final chapters.

So what's the result of my reading this book? Well, I feel like I could start working on an actual movie script right now, and that alone isn't so bad, but I don't know that another book couldn't have done the same. The read itself wasn't too bad, although the redundancy can get seriously annoying. I also felt like the chapters weren't properly delimited, like you'd talk of a topic in this chapter and 4 chapters further, you find yourself reading about the same thing again.

I would recommend that to anyone who's interesting in scrip-writing, but be careful. It does give you a good basis for working up the spine of a script, and that's what the book was written for, so even though I gave it only 3 stars, I'd still recommend it (for lack of a better, since I never read anything else on script-writing).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
I liked this book. Coupled with Syd Field's Screenwriter's Workbook, I managed to write a first draft of a screenplay. I've never been able to complete a play or screenplay before reading these books! This book gives you the background of screenplays and writing, plus his theory of what makes a good Hollywood screenplay. The workbook gives you a step by step process of writing one.

One drawback is that this book was written in the 80's. Sometimes it sounds so dated. The other drawback is it only explains one type of screenplay, the standard Hollywood 3-act narrative.

Overall, this book was a great help in writing a readable well structured screenplay.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Larry Brooks, whose "Story Engineering" I swear by, swears himself by this book. I couldn't wait to read it.

I was disappointed. Brooks presents Syd Field's information far more concisely, and in a much less anecdotal manner. If you buy "Story Engineering," you can skip this one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" by industry giant Syd Field is considered to be the bible of modern screenwriting texts, and has been for many years. It's a well-deserved badge of honor.

Field approaches the art of screenwriting logically, positively, explaining step by step the hows, whats, and whys of the biz. He addresses the technical points of length, description, planning, all in a way that makes absolute sense to any reader... regardless of their knowledge of the film industry, educational level, or age. He uses popular film examples to underscore his methods, which help enormously. This book gives any reader the right foundation to begin a screenplay with absolute confidence.

As an aside..... let's also not forget that the way Syd Field writes--his prose--is so reader friendly, and so understandable... he could be writing completely random crap and it would still be an absolute pleasure to read it. I've found that most writing "how-to" texts are extremely boring, procedural... very INSTITUTIONAL... this book is not at all institutional, and it's very easy on the eyes and brain when you're reading it.

My only criticism with this book is a big one... though it doesn't necessarily diminish the importance of the work itself. This book is 18 chapters long, but for all intents and purposes, it basically ends after Chapter 13 ("Screenplay Form").

Chapters 14-18 discuss extreme subjects unrelated to the "foundations of screenwriting." They discuss adaptation and collaboration... matters FAR ABOVE (and not particularly applicable) the neophyte, aspiring screenwriters that would be reading a book such as this one. Yet, Chapters 14-18 also discuss very simplistic matters that are likely FAR BENEATH those that would be reading this... things such as getting into the mood to write, devoting time to your writing, dealing with family who may be opposed to you spending so much time writing, et cetera. These same chapters are also filled with personal, broad philosophical observations about writing in general, the process... observations that any B-average Freshman English student could spit out without thinking too hard. There are also boring, stereotypical observations about the film industry and Hollywood society... things that any resident of Los Angeles can tell you even if they've never in their life been involved in the entertainment industry.

I recently discussed this book with my best friend, a USC grad who had read this book as part of a film course in college. I was shocked, but very soothed, to hear him exactly echo my sentiments about the last third of this book. I hope Field spices this text up a bit if he does another revision.

Yet, despite my disappointment with the latter third of the book, the first two-thirds are absolutely brilliant. This book is a must-read... dare I say a REQUIRED READ... for anyone interested in the whole screenwriting process.

Kudos to Field. I really learned a lot from this book. I most certainly recommend it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have never written a screenplay. I really hadn't even thought about it. I was looking for books on different writing methods to improve my skills and abilities when I picked up this little jewel.

This book shed new light on the world of film for me. I look at films in a whole new way and I'm thankful to Mr. Field for bringing that in to my life. It also showed me that writing a screenplay is something that is absolutely possible.

As I said I was looking for books on different approaches to writing. This book provided me with more than just a little direction on how to write a screenplay, but gave me a whole new perspective on writing in general. "Screenplay" is worth reading for anyone who is looking to write in a structured way improving their skills in the realm of creative writing.

Thank you Mr. Field for sharing your vast knowledge and techniques. The world of writing is better place due to your investment in creating this wonderful little book. I highly recommend it.
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29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Two years ago I was so anxious to read this "most sought after" screenwriting book I could hardly sleep until the Amazon courier knocked on my door. My God... What a disappointment. This book turned out to be the worst book on screnwriting I had ever read (and I read quite a few being a UCLA film student). Is the author seriously suggesting that, for example, plot point 1 MUST happen on a certain page??? That every 10 pages we MUST have a car chase, an explosion, a death - anything to keep the audience interested? Well... Why don't let a good solid story take care of that? The problem is that a good solid story is not usually based on the plot point/page correlations. Many reviewers here have praised Field's book for analyzing the structure of a story. Alas, no. What Field is offering is not a structure but a formula. Rigid, frosen, still formula. Knowing the principles of storytelling is mandatory for a writer; applying a formula without understanding the foundations is simply useless. And not in the least creative. Sadly, in spite of the title, Field does not give the reader any explanation as to what these foundations are. Again, many reviewers said how helpful this book could be for a beginning screenwiter. Frankly, I don't see how. Field does not present a clean solid introduction to what a story is, does not show the driving forces behind a good story - something any writer must know. Field simply offers you crutches. Here, if you fear you story will fall down, use these - make something important happen on page 27 (or is it 29?). Can a truly inspiring script be written by following Field's rules? I seriously doubt it.

Finally, o God, his writing style is so impossibly dull!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I bought this as my first book on screenplays, and while it did provide me with some good information, it's no more extensive or complex than anything you can find on the internet for free. On top of that, Field repeats himself ceaselessly (a good quarter of the book is just rehashed material from earlier), contradicts himself at times, *always* has key terms in italics (a sure sign of a writer who thinks little of his audience's memory or intelligence), and in general is frankly not a very good writer.

Unlike some of the other detractors, though, I don't believe that it's a strike against him as an authority that he hasn't had any screenplays published. We all know how monumentally difficult it is to get even a good screenplay turned into a movie in Hollywood, so why penalize someone for not being one of the lucky ones who've managed that? What you have to do is look at the screenplays themselves and discover whether it is due to a myopic Hollywood, or that the screenplay really just isn't that good.

Fortunately for us, he includes an excerpt from his screenplay about an attempt at the water speed record. Yes, a dull subject made all the duller by writing that reminded me of a bad 1950s radio announcer calling a minor league baseball game.

To reiterate, you may find this book informative if you're an absolute beginner to drama, but if you've already read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies (good and bad) and can use Google, you probably either already have all this information in your head or can find it in other places--and from better teachers. I would liken it to learning beginning algebra from someone who never got past trigonometry in school: at first you think your teacher knows so much, but then you read ahead about something called calculus....
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
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Reviewed by C.J.Singh

This review focuses on the latest edition of Syd Field's SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting, published in December 2005.

Syd Field published the book in 1979, the first book ever on the subject. In his memoir, GOING TO THE MOVIES -- A Personal Journey Through Four Decades of Modern Film, published in 2001, he says: "There were three printings within the first six months of publication, and it wasn't long before many of the major college and universities across the land were using it as a text (p 239)."

Introducing the SCREENPLAY book, Syd Field writes, "This not a `how-to' book....I call it 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 (p 8)." Very well, let's see.

Write down your answers to the following three questions. First: What is your story about? Who is the main character? What is the dramatic situation? ("You've got approximately ten pages of screenplay or approximately ten minutes of screen-time to establish this.") Second: What is your screenplay's ending? Third: What is your screenplay's inciting incident? -- defined as the incident "that sets the story in motion; it is the first visual representation of the key incident, what the story is about, and draws the main character into the story line (p 129)."

The major structuring form, Syd Field emphasizes is the classic three-act paradigm: Act I, set-up; Act II, confrontation; Act III, resolution. The typical length of a screenplay is 120 pages and the three acts take 30, 60, and 30 pages. Next, he introduces the concept of plot points: How do you get from one act to the next? "The answer is to create a Plot Point at the end of both Act I and Act II. He defines plot point as "any incident, episode, or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction (p 26)."

Does this paradigm hold for most, if not all, screenplays? Yes, says Syd Field, and tries to establish it by analyzing the structures of linear screenplays such as CASABLANCA and THELMA & LOUISE as well as nonlinear screenplays such as THE HOURS and THE ENGLISH PATIENT.

In the companion book, THE SCREENWRITER'S WORKBOOK, Syd Field adds three plot points to the basic three-act, two plot-points paradigm. The new plot-points are the midpoint at about page 60 and pinches at about pages 45 and 75 in the standard 120-page screenplay. These concepts of midpoint and pinches certainly enhance the structural guidelines presented in the earlier book. One of the strengths of Syd Field's books is his focusing on form, not on content, which is up to the creative writer. Form, of course, interactively affects content; nonetheless, Field wisely refrains from micromanaging techniques of content generation.

I must say the three Syd Field's books I've read so far could certainly use consultations with a professional copyeditor, a copyeditor who'd excise his annoyingly repetitive pedagogy. According to social psychologists, repetitive communication is the behavioral tendency in teachers caused by the practice of their profession ("deformation professionelle" carry-over to their communication pattern). Syd Field's penchant for repetition probably arose from leading numerous lectures and workshops? The three books, totalling over one-thousand pages, could be easily edited into an excellent 450-page book.

-- C J Singh
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 8, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I realize how well thought of Syd Field is, and his contributions, so I bought this book to help me with my screenwriting. I wanted to like it, I really did, but after a few chapters I just couldn't stand it anymore. Way too dry and inaccessible for me. It's ironic that a guy writing about screenwriting could write a book that is such a difficult and mind-numbing read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you want to write screenplay this is brilliant. Recommended for all aspiring screenwriters and authors. If you want to enhance your game then this book is one of the main tools you need. Some of the movie examples, called classics, are somewhat dated though and there is an obvious bias towards 'boys' movies and little of women's interests. But you can ignore that and benefit form the wisdom in these pages which is really all that matters. Enjoy!
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