on October 16, 2003
I've read quite a few screenwriting books, and what I first noticed about this one was its comfortable, clever tone.
Some of the really big heavy hitters in screenwriting are too expensive and pretentious. They try and function like textbooks. (I have one book in mind that weighs about 3 pounds and costs about $60... and like many text books, it lost my interest when I fell asleep on page 10.)
Hal Ackerman's book isn't very long, and it's an easy, pleasant read -- sort of populist without being condescending. It doesn't take screenwriting too seriously, which I appreciate. At the same time, you get the sense that this UCLA Professor loves helping his students craft meaningful stories that will also sell. (Some of his past students have gone on to write scripts like Matchstick Men and A Walk on the Moon.)
This book's real strength lies in its dedication to helping writers build effective narratives. Ackerman has designed an index card technique called the Scene-o-Gram that helps writers diagram stories so that key emotional turning points and plot points are hit at regular intervals. This forces you to keep only what you need and to lose the rest. Since most writers suffer from wordiness and a total lack of editing abilities, a stringent guide like this is a godsend.
I am an aspiring screenwriter who recently hit a block and stopped writing for several weeks. My romantic comedy is a mixed up mess and my zombie movie hit page 60 before I realized I had no ending. I think this is because I'm relatively new and haven't yet internalized the rhythms of effective storytelling.
After reading this book, I feel like I have the concrete tools I need to help me finish my scripts. I'd describe the book as a method to reign in your madness. Nobody's saying you have to treat your scripts like calculated, mechanical schemes to make money, but the reality is that a screenplay without structure and pacing will bore its audience. It'll never get made. A certain amount of planning will save you time and benefit your writing in the long run.
Bottom line: this book is a great resource for anyone who's overwhelmed by the task at hand. I think it's equally valuable for beginner or intermediate writers.
on October 29, 2005
I got this book just a couple of weeks ago, and I will admit openly that i am not done reading it, but I have read a lot of it, and he definitely knows what he's talking about. Hal Ackerman's book includes information on proper script format that a lot of other books leave out.
I'll also say that he doesn't sugar coat things for you, he tells you some real hard learned and down to earth facts about the film writing industry and states in no uncertain terms what your chances really are at making it big, getting recognition and what rights you have to your work once its made. I would rather learn about that from him then to learn it the hard way after I submitted my script. He also tells you about the usefulness of script writing software, among other things.
To me it's not really an air of arrogance about his tone, as stated in some other reviews, but an air of realism where he informs you that writing a movie is serious business.One thing that may throw a lot of people off in this book is that he tells you that you must "practice at screen writing" in order to actually be good at it and the book contains exercises at the end of each chapter (writers gym) for you to build your skills.
I wouldn't say that it's a distraction from doing real writing as one reveiwer stated, but something that you must do in order to sharpen your skills. Many other writing books say and include the same thing, and I see nothing amiss here.
All writing takes dedication and work, and thanks to Hal Ackerman we have a very useful guide that not only tells us the truth about screen writing, but helps us to get into it. The four star rating for this book is not deserved, five stars. Also if you're still not sure if you want to buy this book check it out of your local library first and read a bit of it for yourself (I did and I am now fervently seeking to own a copy of it permanently). Then you can see if it's for you.
on December 1, 2004
Just read this book and found it be an excellent approach to screenwriting: clear and concise, logical and intuitive, and very inspiring. What Ackerman has done with this book is truly noteworthy. He has provided a working methodology that is based on actual writing, not theory. This is a craftsman's approach to screenwriting that allows room for art, inspiration, and true creativity to shine through. It is, perhaps, the best book on screenwriting there is, and probably the only one you'll ever need. Bravo. I was so impressed by this book that I decided to write a review on it, and even read the other reviews first. While I agree with most of them, I take exception with one of them--a review written by someone who clearly never even read the book. So, in fairness, I'm going to review that review.
"My brainwashed friend at UCLA told me that I had to get this book, so I did. This guy is crazier than that creepy Lew Hunter "guru.""
The reviewer starts by insulting UCLA, as brainwashing, and then claims to have read Ackerman's book anyway. Sure. The reviewer then goes on to insult another UCLA Professor, Lew Hunter. Why the axe to grind against UCLA? From what I understand, UCLA has produced some of the best writers working in the film industry: Alexander Payne, Ed Solomon, David Koepp, Paul Schrader, Shane Black, Allison Anders, Francis Ford Coppola, Eric Roth, Pamela Gray, Sacha Gervasi, Josefina Lopez, etc.
"The book proves to be just one more distraction from actually writing."
It's not a distraction from writing, but a clear guide into writing, as one who actually read it can attest. Seems to me the real distraction to writing is grousing about: ones's friend, Ackerman and his book, Lew Hunter, and UCLA.
"Feeling unsatisfied at the end of the read, I went to check out his long list of writing credits on the Internet Movie Database ([...] but sadly, it doesn't exist."
One can only wonder why this reviewer didn't check the IMDB before supposedly reading the book; if screen credits are to be used as the major criteria for choosing a book on screenwriting.
"If someone is going to write a book on how to sell a screenplay, and especially if they are going to name the selling technique after themselves, you would think that they had sold more than one script in 1976 about a jogger."
Really? Seems to me that having sold one script, that was produced, already puts Ackerman far ahead most of the rest of the pack. As do Ackerman's: stage, TV, public-service, industrial, teaching, and other professional credits. Perhaps the reviewer needs to futher develop their own research skills.
"If this guy knows how to sell a screenplay "The Ackerman Way," why hasn't he?"
He has sold a screenplay "The Ackerman Way," according to the reviewer, it was a script about a jogger in 1976, remember? Again, Ackerman has also: had plays produced, written for TV, sold features to major studios, and been published in literary journals.
"And, more importantly, why does he think he can tell me how to do it?"
Because, since 1985, he's taught an endless number of other people to do it at UCLA, whose Alumni dominate both TV and features. Because, he not only teaches Master's Degree level screenwriting at UCLA, he also single-handedly runs the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and teaches at Hollins University over the summer. Because, he knows a lot more about screenwriting than you do or ever will.
"And, sorry to go on about this, but I should've know from the start that this book was a mess by the mere fact that on the cover Ackerman boasts, "Revelations of a Remarkable Teacher.""
This is the most telling comment the reviewer made, as it proves the reviewer never read or even saw the book. Nowhere on or in this book does Ackerman boast, "Revelations of a Remarkable Teacher." Not on the cover, nor in the text. The review is a fake.
"Shame on Ackerman for being so arrogant but shame on me for buying and reading this book."
No, shame on the reviewer for writing a fake review on a book that has helped me and my entire writing group so much. Shame on the reviewer for having claimed to have bought and read a book that they have clearly never even seen. Shame on the reviewer for venting their bitter little spleen on Hal Ackerman, Lew Hunter, UCLA, and on their own imaginary "brainwashed friend."
I'm guessing someone didn't get into UCLA.
on January 31, 2004
I've spent my professional life directing actors, and a good number of my leisure hours watching plays and films. But whenever I've tried to compose so much as a single exchange of believable dialogue, the characters always wind up sounding like me, and the themes always hit the page with the subtelty of a sledgehammer. The one time I did find the courage to enroll in a college course on playwrighting, the instructor assigned us a two-character, one page scene due the second session. I dropped the class the next day.
So the current everybody-does-it trend notwithstanding, I am hardly the guy likely to sit down and script a full-length feature film.
And yet. Were I ever to be seized by an irresistible impulse to author a screenplay, this is the book I'd return to,
digesting and re-digesting every insightful page. Like any book that attempts to teach a subject (calculus, woodworking, photography), this is, after all, a textbook. But it's literally the first one I've ever encountered that was nothing less than exhilarating to read, with all the forward momentum of a good narrative. Ackerman is never ponderous or didactic, and his prose never stinks of the academy. My sense is rather of a guy who--like any gifted teacher--passionately wants the student to succeed, and is willing to share any and all of his best secrets in order to make that happen (and happen it has, for an amazingly high proportion of his former students!)
His book has all the qualities of a winner in this already crowded field: immense readability, a playful and infectious sense of humor, a refreshing concreteness (I love the fact that in citing examples of successful screenplays, he mentions big pop blockbusters like "Rocky" and "The Godfather" as often as he does 'chic' European titles like "Naked" and "Queen of Hearts".), and--maybe most importantly--a sense that the author is standing by, doing his damndest to get the best out of you.
on July 6, 2014
I've had the pleasure of taking a screenwriting course with Professor Ackerman at UCLA, and his book, like Ackerman himself, is full of insight, humor and encouragement. If you're looking for a guidepost to help you get started with your own screenwriting, I can't recommend Ackerman's book enough.
Indeed, I'd also recommend Richard Walter's book on screenwriting (I've also had class with Professor Walter and recommend him and his book highly as well). Each offers a different perspective, and combined will give you a good picture of where and how to start in the craft.
For me, some of the highlights are in the lessons on word economy, trying to say as much as possible with as few words as possible, and on being courageous in your writing. "Take Vienna!" Professor Ackerman says, quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, and he's right: you're telling a story, don't be afraid to tell it, even if that means offending some people. Let the story be what it needs to be, and therein find truth.
With all this said, don't limit yourself to just one or two peoples' books on screenwriting and/or storytelling. You should also spend some time with Aristotle's Poetics (or just as well, "Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters" by Michael Tierno) and Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces. You may not follow their forms precisely, but knowing those classic forms will help you even if your intent is to deviate from them.