Screenwriting Secrets by John Scott Lewinski

Screenwriting Secrets » Selling A Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood

Syd Field is to screenwriting books what Stephen King is to horror novels. He's written a lot of them, and his titles are often the first referred to when a writer is looking to learn the artistic process and business of writing for film and television.

The author of "Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting," "The Screenwriter's Workbook" and "Four Screenplays," Field was described by "The Hollywood Reporter" as the most sought-after screenwriting teacher in the world. If you ever hear someone going on about act breaks, plot points or throughlines, it's a good bet Field's name will come up eventually.

Now, Field returns with "Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood" (Dell Trade Paperbacks), an all-business examination of how to break into today's television and movie markets. While Field's books dealt predominantly with the creative process and actually writing the most effective screenplay, this effort assumes the screenplay is already completed and ready for distribution.

Field divides the text into sections: Part One features an examination of buyers and sellers, while Part Two presents a series of interviews with working screenwriters who share their experiences dealing with the kind of folks featured in Part One.

In Part One, Field covers the submission maze from completion of the script through agenting, reader coverage, development, casting, funding and production. He manages to handle potentially dry "dollars and sense" material by sprinkling in some strong interviews with prominent industry professionals. The chapter on Agents includes a chat with Jim Berkus, literary boss at UTA. Noted entertainment attorney Susan Grode joins Field in the Attorneys chapter.

The heavy-hitters keep coming as Field managed to interview the late Don Simpson. By examining the careers of Simpson and his partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, Field sifts through the role of the mega-producer and what screenwriters can hope to expect from them while marketing their material. Then, the chapter on Producers bends the ear of Peter Guber, one half of the team that brought "Batman" to the screen with Job Peters. Field's alternative look at Independent Producers offers the views of Howard Kazanjian, the man behind the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg projects, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Return of the Jedi."

Field is wise enough to include an in-depth examination of an often-ignored step in the development food chain. While not nearly as well known as the producers and directors they work for, readers can kill a script before it even gets into the hands of decision-makers. The readers interviewed provide important information for writers to heed if they want to get over that first hurdle.

Reader Dayle Michele of Columbia and Dino DeLaurantiis explained spec writers better get her attention immediately and keep the story moving: "If I can't read a script in an hour and 15 minutes, then there's something wrong, she explains. "…When I'm reading, I have to see those pictures."

Reader Janaki Symon of Lorimar and Embassy Home Entertainment agreed that screenwriters need to hook readers from the opening page as there is probably a high stack of scripts waiting behind theirs: "If I'm not caught in the first five pages, then it's time to go buy popcorn," she warned.

After Field pulls the veil off Hollywood's business side, he returns to his more comfortable and familiar ground of writing. His discussions with top writers include interviews with Oliver Stone ("Platoon" and "Midnight Express"), James L. Brooks ("Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News") and William Kelley and Earl Wallace ("Witness"). While past Field books would have picked these writers' collective brains for creative advice, Field is more concerned in these chapters with exploring their experiences breaking into the business and surviving as working Hollywood writers when pitted against the agents, producers, executives, etc.

"Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood" is a valuable addition to any writer's library if simply for the wealth of interviews Field offers from a vast collection of influential Hollywood players above and below the line.

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