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Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten) Paperback – 2011
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“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
Top Customer Reviews
I would not hesitate to compare its richness and spirit to Rainer Maria-Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet".
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.
So, if you're already writing screenplays but haven't taken any steps to make it a career, I'd suggest reading this one.
A friend of mine gave this book to read after seeing Pen speak to us. I had never written a screenplay before, a major reason being that I can be on the ball with all sorts of things, but when it comes to screenwriting I have a vicious, unrelenting procrastination hanging over me. I serf reddit, stare at facebook, watch netflix, end up doing something else. You name it. I always knew I had the ideas and the passion but when it came to writing I kept spinning my wheels, going nowhere.
It was really depressing, I felt like a part of my life was passing me by, a part I really wanted to explore. So when my buddy Josh and I went to see Pen speak I was extremely impressed by the amount of big industry names really pumping him and the book up. But Pen didn't come across as one of those freak of nature writers, who were born with writing in their core DNA. But instead he felt like one of us, a guy who has had way more success then 99% of wannabe filmmakers out there, yet he got there through learning and growing and figuring stuff out.
So when I sat down to read the book, I enjoyed it. I wasn't blown away and was especially surprised at how fast it got through the actual writing part (1st 2/5th of the book) and then got into selling and then the global world or writing and then into self-introspection.
However the real power came from when he talked about all the other writing books out there and that their concepts were. I am not someone who swears allegiance to any one voice, so I was surprised that Pen had included reviews and concepts from other books into this one.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As someone working to establish a career in this industry Pen's kind and thoughtful words have been very instrumental to my work right now and I rely on them to motivate my... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Claire Cohen
Every now and then, as in the great stories of the world, a sage appears to become a mentor for a hero on a quest. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Alfa
As a young-ish TV writer in Hollywood (8 years in), I found Pen's spiritual and emotional advice for writers just as helpful as his practical advice for writing (the highlight of... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
Pen Densham's strategies are motivational and at times captivating as he maneuvers through the film industry from story-conception and execution all the way to development and back... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Josh Capps
Wonderful advice, well written, and humor to boot. Learning from someone as experienced as Pen is liberating. This will be a reference book for the life of my career.Published 14 months ago by carcharias
This book is rich and brimming with insight on the craft of screenwriting. But the thing is, it's a lot more than that. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Allison TC
I would have to say that I am a novice screenwriter and found that from page one of Mr Densham's book that I was drawn in. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Donald Ackerman
THE GREAT PEN DENSHAM’S BOOK ON SCREEN WRITING, “RIDING THE ALLIGATOR,” IS EXTRAORDINARY AND CREATIVE, WRITEN WITH SUCH CLARITY OF FORM THAT IT’S GUARANTEED TO AMAZE AND BEGUILE... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Joseph Myer