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What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting

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What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting [Paperback]

Marc Norman
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 30, 2008
Los Angeles Times

A brilliant, wildly entertaining history of Hollywood from the screenwriters’ perspective

In this truly fresh take on the movies, veteran Oscar-winning screenwriter Marc Norman gives us the first comprehensive history of the men and women who penned some of the greatest movies of all time. Impeccably researched, erudite, and filled with unforgettable stories of the stars and scribes, amateurs and auteurs, directors, producers, and legendary moguls, What Happens Next is a unique and engrossing narrative of the quintessential art form of our time.

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What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting + Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting + Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
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Editorial Reviews


Los Angeles Times

“A remarkable synthesis . . . the best, by far.”
—Scott Eyman, New York Observer

“A history of American film in which the camera pans away from its presumptive stars and searches out the ink-stained wretches huddled over typewriters.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Irreplaceable . . . Without question, the best treatment of the subject since Richard Corliss’s Talking Pictures in 1974.”
Buffalo News

“Excellent . . . A book that deserves to become a classic of the genre.”
The Times (London)

“Marc Norman is not only a wonderful and talented screenwriter in his own right, but he has done a great job of laying out screenwriting’s evolution in this excellent, comprehensive history. A must read for anyone who wants to know this important piece of the puzzle of Hollywood.”
—Mike Medavoy

“A stunningly entertaining way to tell the history of Hollywood. But what’s amazing about this wonderful book is not just that it’s relentlessly insightful, constantly surprising and beautifully written–what’s amazing is that no one has done this before. This is one terrific book.”
—Phil Robinson, author (screenplay) of Field of Dreams

“Marc Norman's What Happens Next is not only a fine book, it's a necessary book, brilliantly narrating the turbulent saga of 100 years of American screenwriting with energy, style, and an insider's sympathetic understanding of the always uneasy marriage between a primarily visual medium and the people who use words as its architecture.”
—Scott Eyman, author, Lion of Hollywood

"Marc Norman has created a comprehensive narrative of what is essentially a secret history. Entertaining, surprising and endlessly fascinating, he throws a bright light into a corner of our film heritage that has been habitually, even criminally, ignored."
—Lawrence Kasdan, co-screenwriter and director of The Big Chill

"At last! Hollywood History from a screenwriting perspective— a compelling, enlightening, and important work."
—Dave Trottier, author The Screenwriter's Bible

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

MARC NORMAN won two Oscars for Shakespeare in Love in 1999, one for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (with Tom Stoppard) and another for Best Picture (shared with Donna Gigliotti, David Parfitt, Harvey Weinstein, and Edward Zwick), along with a Golden Globe, a Writers Guild Best Screenplay Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Silver Bear Award from the Berlin Film Festival. He lives in Santa Monica, California. This is his first work of nonfiction.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307393887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307393883
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This Now November 14, 2007
This book is phenomenal. Not only is it well-written and comprehensive, but it fills a horrendous gap in the legacy of screenwriting and its impact on movies.

Other than Ian Hamilton's terrific work on the early years of screenwriting, this book immediately becomes the cornerstone, the bedrock of the genre -- and for very good reason. It's not just a book about the writers themselves, but how the art and craft of screenwriting have evolved in the context of film. What we get is an alternate point of view that has for too long been neglected in entry-level cinema history.

Starting from Edison, Edwin Porter and D.W. Griffith, we travel the well-trodden (but freshly invigorated) path through the studio system and on into modern movie-making -- with the twist that the writer has not been brushed aside. In fact, we immediately see how crucial key scribes have contributed to the development of the art.

It's a cliche in Hollywood that the writer is abused and overlooked (ask a striking member of the WGA if you don't believe me). But other than a work stoppage, nothing can rectify the place of the writer in the public's awareness more than a historical overview with the screenwriter placed in his or her rightful place -- at the center of the creative process itself.

This is not a scree or a polemic, but a finely written, highly entertaining look at Hollywood. I find myself referring to it all the time. In fact, I've recreated my entire Netflix queue around areas of my movie history that could use some screenings. And I've become a big fan of Anita Loos! (You too will discover that at least 50% of the early screenwriters were women, with Anita being its first breakout star.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lights, Camera, History, Gossip! February 11, 2008
Academy award winner Marc Norman's "What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting" is as entertaining as a good movie. It can be studied as serious movie history--his description of the forces that moved the early movie industry from the East coast to the West is as good as any I've ever read--or perused as titillating, yet intelligent gossip. The men and women who wrote the words and stories so frequently disparaged and often disregarded by directors, producers, and heads of studios come alive in "What Happens Next" through anecdote, letters, and reminiscences.

From William Faulkner to Anita Loos (the highest paid screenwriter of her day), from Quentin Tarantino to Charlie Kaufman, this book is a delight for any movie fan or writer, or anyone who's ever enjoyed a juicy bit of scandalous gossip.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Interesting December 30, 2007
This exhaustively researched book starts at the very beginning then steps through each of the decades since D. W. Griffith's famous movie, all in a very entertaining manner.
Not satisfied simply with recounting the history of screenwriting and screenwriters in all their various guises, the author serves up cogent analysis about the business of movie making then comes to the conclusion that whatever else comes down the pike, in whatever form and whatever else screenwriters are called, there will always be a place for the content generator, or composer as he would prefer.
Excellent reading and enjoyable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. March 3, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thorough and engrossing. There can be no better praise for this book than it drove me to then buy biographies of Sturges, Wilder and Trumbo. And a half-dozen of their scripts.

And I'm only up to page 204.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Story of Storytellers June 1, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
OK, two quibbles, both factual:

In the Kindle edition, Norman calls Oscar Hammerstein II a composer. He was not. He was a lyricist who collaborated with composers.

He also refers to Mike Nichols having a background as a standup comic. He did not. Nichols teamed with Elaine May to play satiric scenes. He didn't bat out jokes and observations (the realm of the standup), he acted in material he created with May out of improvisation.

Which makes me wonder if the book were copy-edited.

Quibbles aside, I gulped this book down.

Yes, there are people I would have liked to have read about. And I think more could have been made about the screenwriters like the Davids (Chase, Milch and Simon) who have shifted to TV (particularly HBO) where they've got power and respect and where the writing is now better than in most movies. I also think he could have paid attention to the influence the improvisational-satirical companies like Second City had on Amererican screenwriting (Paul Mazursky, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Alda, David Mamet, etc.), but then I wrote a book about Second City and the subject's of particular interest to me.

But as a coherent story that provides the context for most of the major challenges, controversies and battles screenwriters have had to face, this pretty much hits the spot. I was particularly interested to learn of the influence the Dramatists Guild contract had on the politics of the Writers Guild. (I sit on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, and this was news to me.) Norman's prose style goes down easy, and his talent as a story-teller makes the struggles of these introverted creatures dramatic and often poignant.

I do hope he's working on more of his own screenplays. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (which he modestly doesn't mention in this text) was one of the best-written films in years.
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