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

4.8 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.
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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 (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book doesn't cover in detail the typical things you'd find in a screenwriting book - structure, character development, dialog, etc., and that's a good thing. It does go into this areas a bit, but it really concentrates more on what's required to make a career out of screenwriting. It's a quick read too. It's got plenty of information, but it's written in a way that makes it a pleasure. I read it in less than a half day of jury service (i.e.. sitting around doing nothing constructive).

So, if you're already writing screenplays but haven't taken any steps to make it a career, I'd suggest reading this one.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've been to McKee seminars and read a great many books on the subject but THIS one is a rare jewel from someone actually in the trenches. No theory here only good sound and solid information for making your work better and saleable. If you want to make it into the industry, you need this book.
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By SG on July 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is my first time reviewing any book on amazon, even though I have bought countless (ok about 12) books from here.

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.
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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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