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Customer Review

on July 12, 2001
For the absolute beginner with no clue how to write a screenplay, this book (for better or for worse) is probably essential reading. It effectively describes the basic structure of a basic screenplay. The problem is that what Syd Field does not realize is that many truly great screenplays effectively break his "rules." Granted, that is only done by accomplished screenwriter who spent years following the rules when they wrote screenplays. But the fact of the matter is that if all screenwriters followed Field's advice to the letter, Hollywood cinema would be even worse off than it currently is!
A few examples: Field insists that a good screenplay's first plot point must occur around page thirty. The first plot point in Star Wars (a film Field makes reference to) occurs around page fifty. Additionally, I would love to see Field sort out the plot points of Pulp Fiction and fit it into his beloved paradigm!
Field insists that a good screenplay must have three acts. Shakespeare wrote the bulk of his works in five acts. Enough said.
Field claims that "a name is a name" as he names a character Sara Towsend in an example exercise. Would Huckleberry Finn have had the same magic if Huck had been named Jim Johnson? Dickens' names added another dimension to his stories, Oliver Twist for example. Other names to consider: Scarlett O'Hara, Yossarian, or even Dr. Wilbur Larch, as a more modern example. To Field's credit, he focuses on building a character in the same chapter that he downplays the importance of names. Undoubtably, what's inside a character is more important than the label slapped on him or her. But equally undoubtable is the ability of the perfect name to enhance an effective character.
I could nit-pick this book apart chapter by chapter, but the most troubling issue surrounding "Screenplay" is this: Syd Field is an awful screenwriter. He wrote a decent how-to book on the subject, but he can't write a screenplay himself. If you have a copy, take note of how the "about the author" section doesn't mention any screenplays Field has had produced. There's a reason for that. Then read the exerpt from Field's unproduced screenplay "The Run" in chapter 13 and you'll begin to understand. The story premise is laughable and the dialogue is an embarassment to screenwriters everywhere.
The bottom line: "Screenplay" is an fine choice for beginning screenwriters. It was my first screenwriting book and it gave me a good foundation. Just don't expect to follow Field's instructions to the letter if you want to write a truly unique and memorable screenplay. A better idea: read lots of screenplays, plays, and novels by people who are actually good at writing them.
110 helpful votes
111 helpful votes
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