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Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting Paperback – November 29, 2005
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“Screenplay is one of the bibles of the film trade and has launched many a would-be screenwriter on the road to Hollywood.” —Library Journal
“Syd Field is the preeminent analyzer in the study of American screenplays.” —James L. Brooks, AcademyAward–winning writer, director, producer
From the Inside Flap
From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script..
Here are easily understood guidelines to make film-writing accessible to novices and to help practiced writers improve their scripts. Syd Field pinpoints the structural and stylistic elements essential to every good screenplay. He presents a step-by-step, comprehensive technique for writing the script that will succeed.
-Why are the first ten pages of your script crucially important?
- How do you collaborate successfully with someone else?
-How do you adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a screenplay?
-How do you market your script?
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
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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).
OK. So those who can't, teach... right?
Well, if screenwriting is an art, would you like to be taught how to paint by someone who can't paint?
If screenwriting is a craft, would you like to be taught to make pottery by someone who can't make pottery?
If screenwriting is a skill, would you like to be taught archery by someone who can't hit a target to save his life?
The question you have to keep asking yourself is: if the guy really knows how to do it, why can't he do it?
The answer is, very obviously, he doesn't know how to do it. So why would you waste your money and time listening to what he has to say about this subject?
"Screenplay" was sent to me by a movie producer who asked me to write a screenplay for a book I wrote. When I lamented that I knew nothing about writing screenplays, he said the book he'd just read proved to him I could write; all I needed was to understand some important aspects of the screenplay vs. the book.
I've learned a lot from Syd Field. "Screenplay" clearly showed me the visual aspects of film, "It's all about pictures," Field stresses over and over. If I learned nothing else from him, how to put a screenplay into professional format would make "Screenplay" worth the trip.
Sure, I had to study the book, go back over it several times before I got this, or that. But gosh, diving into writing screenplays isn't like a lesson in Microsoft Windows -- click here, drag that over there.
There's a lot to learn, and Syd Field offers a lot of guidance for the serious student. I don't care if he's never written a screenplay. Some of the very best book editors wrote nothing except editorial marks on others' works. The fabled Scribner's editor of old, Max Perkins, who brought some of their best out of Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, James Jones, Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, etc. etc., never wrote a book.
I'll say this: If you want to read a book on screenplays and put it down with the feeling you're ready to roll, don't bother with anybody's book on the subject. But if you really want to learn, if you have the requisite creativity -- AND gritty energy -- you'll get your money's worth from Syd Field's "Screenplay."
Also, his "Four Screenplays" has been very helpful to me. Field has a way of reinforcing things by saying them a different way, in a different setting. I really didn't get his advice to "get into a scene late and get out early" until I read this book. And didn't he pick some dandies? "Thelma and Louise" and "The Silence of the Lambs" are the two I studied most diligently, and what a ride it's been. Two great, great movies, to my mind, both demonstrating what Syd Field repeatedy shows us are important elements of fine screenplays.
One other thing, Field's coaching has put a tiny new edge on my writing skills as regards books, too, a benefit he probably didn't expect a writer would obtain.