How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film


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Popular on Variety. Running time: 94 MIN. Close Menu. Variety Intelligence Platform. Variety Mobile Logo. I continue to study this book and keep striving to apply its principles.


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As observed by the late philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, it is knowledge of principles that transforms a knack into an art.

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This book provides such knowledge. As far as I'm concerned, if you're serious about telling stories, in whatever medium, you'll get much better results, much faster, if you get this book and apply its principles. This knowledge is what will separate you from the army of dilettantes. May 30, Steven rated it it was amazing Shelves: writing. This is the text that went along with his three-day seminar that I attended. Although it is primarily focused on the screenplay, it is equally suitable for a novel, and there were quite a few novelists in attendance at the seminar. The book is chock full of great techniques for ensuring that a well-told tale is created that evolves entirely out of character.

The book is storehouse of stimulating ideas and techniques. His seminar was amazing.

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He's hardnosed about quality, and very inspirational. I left there wanting to write my ass off and armed with techniques to solve writing problems that had been driving me crazy. Jun 18, Adam Page rated it it was ok Recommends it for: potential screenwriters. I can understand how this book would be good for potential screenwriters; in fact, that's who this book is for exactly. However, the book does get tedious and has a lot of personal bias involved a tendency that spills over into McKee's seminar, unfortunately. There is no story in "Story," so unless you are gung-ho about becoming a Hollywood writer, stay away from this one.

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Jan 31, Chris rated it it was amazing Shelves: top-shelf , writing , movies. Why are there so many bad movies out there? I mean seriously - you and I both know that of all the films that are released every year, we probably get only one or two that are actually good. There's some that are good enough to spend an afternoon watching, maybe enjoyable enough that we'll want to watch it again on DVD later.

But so many are just It is my own fault, I think, for seeing Transformers 2. I have no one to blame but myself. The really scary thing is that, Why are there so many bad movies out there? The really scary thing is that, in the summer of Transformers 2 and G. Joe , these were the best stories they had available. If they had a better movie to make, one that would get a bigger audience and thereby bring in more money, don't you think they would have made it?

The only reason you put a piece of misery like TF2 together is because you have no better options available.

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Why, then, should this be so? What happened to the great scripts of long ago? You know, back in my day, when we had good movies, dammit, and we didn't need all this fancy See-Gee-Eye to fill up screen time. When we could go home quoting movie lines and we had characters that inspired us and stories that shaped our lives? Well, it's probably important to note that even in the Good Old Days, the good stories were still grossly outnumbered by the mediocre and bad ones, and there's a very good reason for that: writing is hard.

If you take nothing else away from this book, you will remember that - writing a good story is work , and if you're not willing to do the work that it takes, then you're not going to write a good story. Oh, you might luck out and write a story that's good enough, and there might be enough truly bad stuff out there that someone will be willing to publish or produce your "good enough" story. But that won't make people like it, watch it, read it or care about it.

If you want your work to have real resonance, to have an effect on people long after they've put it down or walked out of the theater, then you have to be willing to do more than just type a couple thousand words every day. You have to know your story from the inside out, know the characters better than they know themselves, and have a clear vision of what it is you want to say. A good story, McKee believes, is the writer telling us "Life is like this.


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Everything serves the story, McKee says, including you. But if you know how the story works, and how to make the story serve your own ends, then you can create a piece that will live on in memory. This book is not an instruction manual, and the things that McKee talks about are not rules or even guidelines. They are principles of storytelling, guiding ideas that underpin every good story ever told, and the lack of which are what leads to mediocre or even bad storytelling.

If you follow these principles, McKee believes, keep them in your mind and be willing to work with them, then you'll be able to produce work that will sell. One of the examples that gets used throughout the book is the idea of the Gap. People who want something, you see, will usually do the minimum required to get that thing. So if I want to get into my friend's home, I won't bring my lockpicks and jimmy open the door.


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I'll probably just knock on it and ask to be let in. If that happens, then I get what I expected to get, and that scene should therefore be cut from the manuscript. What if, however, I knock on the door and my friend refuses to let me in? There is the Gap, a difference between what I expected to happen and what actually happened.

Now I have to react to that, and his reaction to my reaction will drive the scene on. By asking yourself what the character expects, and then asking, "Okay - what's the opposite of that," you can drive the story along, make it interesting, and provide your characters with more to do than just knock on doors.

He also talks about the Controlling Idea of a story - what is the meaning of your story? It could be something like, "Love brings people together through adversity," or "Those who use others lead meaningless lives," or "The best life is one where challenges are overcome. By knowing what your story is really about, you can make sure that every scene, every chapter serves that end. He looks at different movies and analyzes how the story is structured, both in regards to the main plot and any sub-plots which are really good for propping up a slower second act , points out different ways to introduce the Inciting Incident of your story, where the climaxes and turning points might go, and how to get there and keep your audience interested.

There's so much in the book, it really is like a handbook of story-writing. While it's geared towards screenwriters, the principles of storytelling can apply to any medium. He does talk a little bit about other media as well, mainly in the section on adaptation. If you're a playwright or a novelist, there's lessons in this book that you can definitely use, while ignoring the exhortations not to try and put stage and camera directions into your screenplay.

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I've had an on-again, off-again love of writing since I was a kid. There have been times when I wrote non-stop, putting out stories left and right. Not necessarily good ones, mind you, but writing nonetheless. And then there have been periods - like now, for example - where there are no stories that burn to be told.

How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film
How to Read a Hollywood Screenplay: A Quick Grasp of the Foundation of Film

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