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The Screenwriter's Problem Solver: How to Recognize, Identify, and Define Screenwriting Problems Paperback – February 17, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Can't get your characters to shut up? Is the bit player in Act II more compelling than your protagonist? Do your scenes drag on f-o-r-e-v-e-r? Whatever your problem, screenwriting guru Syd Field can help; he's written four previous books on screenwriting, teaches worldwide, and is "involved in the reading and writing of about a thousand screenplays a year." Screenplays bog down in vague and mysterious ways, says Field; identifying a screenwriting problem is half the battle. Fixing a screenplay that seems dazed and confused might seem like Mission: Impossible, but you've got to have courage under fire. By identifying symptoms in the writing, Field isolates about 20 different screenwriting problems, each related to plot, character, or structure (after all, what else is there?). His fixes generally involve getting to know your characters or story better, through the use of automatic writing, biographical sketches, and the like. For examples of spectacular screenwriting, he offers excerpts from the screenplays for Thelma and Louise, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Apollo 13, and Silence of the Lambs. Field is a man of many mantras: "Writing is rewriting," "Film is behavior," "Drama is conflict," "Action is character." But his advice is so useful that you'll forgive him his facile phrasemaking. And you'll thank him for persuading you that, yes, "a problem is an opportunity, a challenge that will allow you to ultimately improve your craft." --Jane Steinberg

Review

With examples from Pulp Fiction, How to Make an American Quilt, The Shawshank Redemption, Crimson Tide, Broken Arrow...and more of Hollywood's biggest hits

"The most sought-after screenwriting teacher in the world."—The Hollywood Reporter

"If I were writing screenplays...I would carry Syd Field around in my back pocket wherever I went."—Steven Bochco, writerproducerdirector, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue

"I based Like Water For Chocolate on what i learned in Syd's books. Before, I always felt structure imprisoned me, but what I learned was structure really freed me to focus on the story."—Laura Esquivel
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delta (February 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440504910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440504917
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Acclaimed as "the guru of all screenwriters" (CNN), Syd Field (1935-2013) is regarded by many Hollywood professionals to be the leading authority in the art and craft of screenwriting in the world today. The Hollywood Reporter calls him "the most sought-after screenwriting teacher in the world."

His internationally acclaimed best-selling books Screenplay, The Screenwriter's Workbook, and The Screenwriter's Problem Solver have established themselves as the "bibles" of the film industry. Screenplay and The Screenwriter's Workbook are in their fortieth printing and are used in more than 400 colleges and universities across the country and have been translated and published in 29 languages.

Field was also a special consultant to the Film Preservation Project for the famed Getty Center, was the first inductee into the prestigious Screenwriting Hall of Fame of the American Screenwriting Association and is a recipient of the distinguished Final Draft Hall of Fame Award.

Field chaired the Academic Liaison Committee at The Writer's Guild of America, West, was on faculty at the USC Master's of Professional Writing Program, has taught at Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the AFI and many other noted institutions. He has been a special script consultant to 20th Century Fox, the Disney Studios, Universal and Tristar Pictures.

He was a creative screenwriting consultant to the governments of Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Norway, and had collaborated with such noted filmmakers as Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien), James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets), Luis Mandoki (When A Man Loves A Woman), Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission), and Tony Kaye (American History X).

Field has taught screenwriting workshops in Berlin, Bombay, Brussels, Buenos Aires, the Canadian Film Industry in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton, in Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Munich, Oslo, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, South Africa, Sydney, Warsaw, and by special invitation of the Ministries of Culture in Vienna and Zurich. He was the keynote speaker at the International Film Festivals in Berlin, Rio de Janeiro and Oslo, Norway, and the President of the International Film Jury at the Flanders International Film Festival, Ghent, Belgium.

Some of Field's former students include Oscar winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien), Golden Globe nominated writer/director Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids, Girls), three time Oscar nominated writer/producer Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Walking Dead), Oscar nominated writer Anna Hamilton Phelan (Mask, Gorillas in the Mist), two time Oscar nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice), Randi Mayem Singer (Mrs. Doubtfire), Laura Esquivel (Like Water For Chocolate), and Kevin Williamson (Vampire Diaries, Scream 1 - 4).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I had read Field's excellent book Screenplay several years ago, and it helped me tremendously in writing my first screenplay. Since them I have written two more, but neither of them have sold. When I finished my last screenplay, I knew I had some problems, but I didn't know what I could do to fix it. So,I gave it to a few people to read,and then everyone started giving me different advice.The more people I gave it to, the more confused I became. So, I got the Screenwriter's Problem Solver and was absolutely delighted to find a way I could identify and define the problems in my own screenplay.It was like I really felt I could take control of my own writing. When I finished the book,I approached my screenplay with the understanding of how to recognize and analyze the problems, then break them down into the various problem catagories of plot, character and structure. I really feel the book has been instrumental in my understanding of how to approach the solving my problems in the rewrite. Each chapter took me through a different area of the process and I'm happy to say that after I rewrote my script, which took several months, I submitted it to a production company and while they didn't buy it, they liked it well enough to recommend an agent in Hollywood, and he is now showing it around. I'm so happy to have read this book; it is so literate, so clear, I see why Field is called the "meta guru of screenwriters."
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Format: Paperback
How useful is it to have extremely vague and rambling prose accompanied by already fixed examples? Answer: not useful at all. If Sid wants us to learn, he has to show us flawed scripts, then what happens when he fixes them. I personally found this book full of lame advice, describing problems only complete fools would run into. Maybe that is the point. The two things I salvaged from this book are: a) Do an outline of your screenplay first, then write around that. NEVER start writing from scratch, no matter how bold an approach it seems. b) Put lots of action in your screenplay, avoid dialogue driven plays. Think Dogma. Apart from that, I liked how Sid harped on cruddy movies like Die Hard 3 and Broken Arrow... but he never shows us how or where they break down... he only says that they do. Now that you have read my review, you got all the good stuff from the book, so I just saved you money. Buy his earlier books, this just seems like it was written solely to make a quick buck.
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By A Customer on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Reducing this book's approximately 350 pages to 35 would in my humble opinion have made it a hundred times better, and the price perhaps more in line with the informative value.
Lecturing on about how important it is to adapt one's script to the right format, and constant nagging on about avoiding talking heads, the author himself could have considered checking up on some of his own advice on how to keep the reader's interest, and avoiding dull and uninteresting writing.
I forced myself to continue through the 3-8 chapter (of a total of 22) with the cod-liver-oil-attitude; "I hate this, but I must - it's supposed to be good for me". Repeating sentences every ten minutes might function well in the author's classroom lecturing, but on print it's overly annoying. Especially when nothing really new seems to surface after chapter one. Sorry, but I got the feeling that somebody is trying to "squeeze some extra dollars out of me by using a well selling name", rather than was my hope; a sharing of real knowledge... hopefully made out of the urge to tell something of real value. Isn't this the perfect example of the wrong motivation for writing, the very same as the author is urging his reader no to do?
A much better read, and far more comprehensive, informative and enlightening, I find Linda Seger's book "How to make a good script great" which I am currently enjoying.
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Format: Paperback
Syd Field is the Richard Simmons/Anthony Robbins/Jay The Juiceman of Screenwriting. I say this because he is a master of his craft (script consulting) and proves this in every book which he writes. His video series, which I have seen a little bit of, deserves to be advertised on an infomercial. I love Syd Fields book on rewriting. He goes places where Seger and Deemer combined don't, digging deep into every revision element you could think of. I also think that this is his best book (although Screenplay, Four Screenplays, and Screenwriters Workshop are still in my opinion required reads for any person interested in this area of the fine arts), and I am anticipating the last draft of my soon-to-be-sent screenplay to be complete, of course with the help of this book. Take care!
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By A Customer on October 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Before I read Mr. Field's book, I thought I understood what I needed to do to make a screenplay I had written better. Wrong! After reading this book, I suddenly had a new insight and a new set of tools to trouble shoot my own scripts, as well as others. It truly is the best craft book I have ever read about screenwriting, and I have every one that's been published. Great book! I recommend it to everyone who wants to sharpen the tools of their craft.
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Format: Paperback
Although written for screenwriters, Syd Field's The Screenwriter's Problem Solver is full of useful advice for any kind of storyteller; as a novelist in the middle of writing my next novel, I found Problem Solver very helpful. Unlike most screenwriting books, which are about building your story from the ground up, The Screenwriter's Problem Solver is for the writer with a story-in-progress, exploring the relationship among character, plot and structure, and how each fit into the whole story -- and ways to troubleshoot if one or more of these elements needs to be strengthened. Field draws examples from screenplays that worked (and those that didn't), with liberal examples from a variety of popular films, including The Shawshank Redemption, Thelma & Louise, Crimson Tide, How to Make an American Quilt and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The end result is a useful text for any storyteller wanting to build a better story.
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