Journal of Screenwriting

Published by Intellect
Print ISSN: 1759-7137
To understand the utility and value of sequences in the construction of screenplay narratives and the emotional experiences of audiences, I developed and utilized composite definitions of 'sequence' and 'scene' to quantify the sequence content of 133 feature-length Hollywood-style and independent films made between 1941 and 2010 that were produced in the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany and Japan. The 3-Act Model was used as familiar reference points. I also contrasted the results to Frank Daniels' 8-Sequence Model as described by Gulino. I argue the results directly support a fundamental 19-Sequence Model of screenplay and film narrative structure. I propose that sequences expand vicarious and empathic emotional experiences of audiences into 'contextual emotional meaning', where significant autonomous emotions are generated that create the enjoyable and satisfying experience of what the story means to both the characters and viewer.
Subject matter: 'Do we also need films with "Earth spirit?"'. Elokuva-Aitta 15-16/1936.
'Film War in Sweden', Elokuva-Aitta 6/1936.
'Unknown Greats -the Screenwriters', article illustration. The title of the cartoon: POPULARITY. Left-hand side, from top: studio boss, director, composer. Right-hand side, from top: star, writer. Elokuva-aitta 4/1937.
In 1930s Finland the new medium of the sound film was regarded as an essential part of modern culture. After the advent of sound, the domestic film industry flourished and the development of the national cinema became the subject of a lively debate in popular film magazines. A large part of this discussion was centred on the screenplay. The choice of suitable subject matter and important themes were investigated, as were the special requirements of the craft for the writer. In this article I explore how screenwriting and the screenwriter were constantly defined and redefined in public discussion in film magazines during the decade and how this discussion influenced the formation of the identity of the screenwriting profession.
The published scnario et dialogues (Duras 1960) (Figure 1) of the film Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) feature precise technical specifications of sound and image and more novelistic passages, all of which create an emotional resonance that has been left to the director to translate into images. This article explores Marguerite Duras's text as a particular example of how the written component of the screen idea (Macdonald 2004a) might function on the page and as part of a dialogue with the director. It also examines the way that the script's concern with problematizing and drawing attention to the process of representation makes it a palpable and controlling presence in the resulting film.
This article aims to define certain characteristics of so-called poetic dramaturgy by analysing sequences from Andrey Tarkovsky’s first feature film Ivan’s Childhood (1962). The essential elements of classical dramaturgy as proposed by Aristotle are problem (conflict), cause and effect, turning points and a closed ending, and writerscontinue to use such elements in their writing. I am interested in whether or not it is possible to define the features of poetic dramaturgy in a similar way so that they too are incorporated into the writer’s craft. In this article, I will focus on one frequently occurring expressive cinematic element in Ivan’s Childhood – upward–downward movement. Through dramaturgical analysis, my aim is to reveal the dramaturgical system associated with this movement. The deviations from classical dramaturgy are of interest to me, and I will consider them as evidence of poetic dramaturgy. My contention is that there is an immanent system in Tarkovsky’s film that clearly differs from classical dramaturgy and which we can define as poetic. In addition, this article aims to analyse the nexus between word and image in the screenplay and film, with the intention of understanding whether the poetic dramaturgy has been defined in (written into) this particular screenplay or whether it is something that the director has introduced into the film.
Comedy has always been the least plausibly public service genre. It is entertaining and consequently seen as trivial, closest to commercial and often close to vulgar. Yet comedy remains the key to attracting audiences and is the aspect of programming most greedily eyed by the BBC's competitors. This article examines how, facing severe competition during the 1970s and 1980s, in the shape of ITV and the arrival of Channel 4 in 1982, the BBC responded to the challenges of this competitive landscape, highlighting the Corporation's approach to comedy writers and writing as a key competitive tactic. Whilst ITV and Channel 4 had their successes, the BBC, through its emphasis on organic as opposed to formula comedy forms, was able to articulate clearly the differences between its light entertainment and comedy scripts and those of the competitors. For instance, the absence of a commercial break allowed the development of more intricate plots and sub-plots, alongside in-depth characters; the structure of joke-telling adopted a more dramatic form, bringing to light wider themes, and resulting in comedic work that could inform, educate and entertain all at once. Furthermore, the nurturing approach experienced by writers working for the Corporation allowed the encouragement of new writers (to address new niche audiences) and the taking of risks in writing (particularly those under the heading alternative comedy), ultimately enabling writers to produce scripts that allowed the BBC to not only match its competitors, but to exceed them, principally with regard to the idea of what is termed here popular quality programming. As such, the history of the BBC's approach to comedy writers and the styles and forms of BBC comedy writing can be a means of access to the core debates about what the BBC should do and produce as a public service; here is one strategy that was key to the Corporation's defence of its public broadcaster status and its funding by licence fee. Its comedy department, scriptwriters and scripts act as an illustration of the shifts and tensions being experienced behind the scenes in the Corporation overall at this particular point in time.
This article explores the changing nature of public policy in Ireland, 1994–2009, as it relates to film and scriptwriting practice. The dominant discourse in Irish cinema studies has centred around ideas of identity, national identity in particular with more recent studies branching off in the direction of genre studies, political economy and narrative studies. This article is framed, broadly speaking, within a political economy discourse, by way of exploring how Irish Film Board policy changed over a specific period as a result of internal and external factors, shaping a structure that would determine how Irish scriptwriters related to the wider field of film production. Through a survey of Irish Film Board policies, newspaper articles and annual reports, this article presents a general historical overview of an evolving film policy as it related directly to scriptwriting and script development. Against this backdrop, other questions surface about Irish cinema and scriptwriting practice, particularly questions centred on local/global issues.
AUTHORSHIP IN FILM ADAPTATION, JACK BOOZER (ED.) (2008) Austin: University of Texas Press, 20.99 (paperback), 342 pp., ISBN 9780292718535
AND THE BEST SCREENPLAY GOES TO, LINDA SEGER (2008) Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 15.99 (paperback), 284 pp., ISBN 9781932907384
SCREENWRITING: HISTORY, THEORY AND PRACTICE, STEVEN MARAS (2009) London: Wallflower Press, 16.99 (paperback), x + 227 pp., ISBN 9781905674817
A HEADY MIX OF THEORY AND PRACTICE - AS OBSERVED BY A NEW RESEARCHER Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice, The Third Screenwriting Research Network Conference, University of Copenhagen, 9-11 September 2010
This article will discuss the writing and editing of a short film called Writ in Water, a project specifically designed for three-screen projection. I will explore the influences of the process of writing for multi-image drama by considering Lev Manovich's notion of narrative as database, Gene Youngblood's view of syncretism and synaesthetics and Robert McKee's approach to three-act structure in relation to story, inciting incident, character development and narrative timeline. I will also outline the influence of Aristotle on this new media drama triptych and, finally, discuss scriptwriting as a changing component in relation to digital technology. The continuing significance of the script as blueprint will be explored and how classic story structure and use of new technology work together to inform the final work. This article aims to reflect on the acts and the actions of narrative creation using the classic tropes of screenwriting and its influences, and also recognize the importance of process in contributing to new knowledge in the area of multi-image screen narrative. A full appreciation of an artwork includes an understanding of the extent to which it is a product and reflection of the technologies used in its making (Shaw and Weibel 2003: 198).
My investigations into transmedia and multi-platform production practices reveal that writers for film and TV could soon need to become content creators (directors or producers or craftspeople in addition to being writers), blurring the distinctions between concept, creation, production and post-production. This article explores this phenomenon of multi-platform/transmedia production, mostly in the United Kingdom, and in particular its storytelling processes through a study of a small but successful company, Bellyfeel, based in Manchester, United Kingdom. Bellyfeel have given me complete access to their work and established an online environment where I can study their practice/writing. I will contextualize the creative practice of the company with the work of Henry Jenkins, and suggest that, in the contemporary marketplace, it may be necessary for the writer to be focused on the production process and the technological aspects of this process in order to understand how product is created and functions in this new environment.
Like other film-producing nations, Canada's movie landscape was long ago colonized by US interests. While other nations also welcome American movies, the Canadian case is extreme: Canada has the lowest market share in the world of its own movies on its own screens. Living next to the world's most powerful country, Canada occupies geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally a position unique in the world. The historical and ongoing predicament of the lack of success of English-Canadian feature films has been variously attributed to similarities to the United States in language and culture, lower production budgets, and weaknesses in distribution, exhibition, marketing and quality. The role of screenwriting, however, is little understood and rarely broached. In this article, we argue the importance of screenwriting in understanding national cinemas; show that it has institutional, sociological and nation-specific dimensions; and present Canada as an ideal case to begin examining such factors. The first dimension the institutional is defined by auteurism as well as the collaborative nature of production. The second the sociological is greatly affected by exclusionary networks and various levels of discrimination based on such factors as gender, ethnicity/race, age, sexuality and economic class. The nation-specific area pertains to diverse historical, cultural and institutional practices particular or exclusive to the country or region. English-Canada, for instance, experiences a unique and complex cultural policy environment. Moreover, its fractured and regional history is one that has resulted in the production of obsessively performed narratives of national identity, particularly imbricated with Qubec, the United States, Britain and France. Our analysis draws together strands of intersecting disciplines, combining film theory and history with production studies, close textual analyses, political economy and nation theory, calling for a more complete picture of the role of screenwriting in national cinemas.
In 1912, with demand for story material increasing in a growing market, writing was becoming ever more essential to commercial film production in the United States. With several important legal developments that year, however, the marketplace for story material would begin to collapse as amateur screenwriters failed to gain the same legal protections as those producing finished films, rendering their creative material entirely susceptible to piracy from above. Despite several initiatives by advocates for non-professional writers and a few members of Congress, screenwriters would not receive legal protection for unpublished material until 1978. Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, then, but dating back to the origins of copyright protection for finished commercial films, US copyright law encouraged Hollywood to produce story material in a closed, intellectually isolated and commercially protected shop, more closely resembling an enigmatic ‘culture industry’ than a ‘people’s art form’. This article examines a convergence of state institutions, private enterprise and commercial trade press that helped to radically re-define the creative processes underwriting film production and the system of compensation for creative material that would delimit relations of production at the beginnings of the American film industry.
Many contemporary screenplay manuals, following Syd Field, encourage writers to place an act break approximately three-quarters of the way through the story. Although this would appear to be an area of widespread agreement, this essay argues that the manuals do not always define the 3/4-point in the same way. One common approach is to define the 3/4-point as a causally significant plot point; another approach is to regard it as an extreme point on an emotional curve, typically the darkest moment; and a third approach is to conceive of the 3/4-point as the answer to a previously introduced question. Taking a closer look at these three competing models of the 3/4-point can help us uncover the manuals' competing assumptions about narrative structure, showing how they conceptualize causality, emotion and comprehension.
This article will discuss how, in mainstream film screenplays, the protagonist undergoes both an actual, physical journey and an internal, emotional journey, pulled together by the invisible hand of the screenwriter in order to create the complete narrative experience. Central to the article is an evaluation of how character transformation (arc) is positioned against physical action (plot), arguing that the two can be mapped out as individual yet symbiotic threads of a narrative: the physical and the emotional journeys.After mapping the territory of what is already written on this subject, the works of Joseph Campbell and his protg Christopher Vogler (Clayton 2007: 210) will be drawn together to offer a re-examination of the model of the Hero's Journey. Assessing these two narrative threads (physical and emotional) as both distinct and symbiotic, it will be clear that a special relationship exists between plot and character, where character transformation is encouraged to take place within the frame of the physical action of the plot. The substance of such a transformation, the emotional core of the narrative experience, is what lives on in the audience, post-text; the physical action of a film story may frame emotion, but emotion has the power to break the frame and take on a life of its own.
This article analyses how the approach to screenwriting in Danish cinema has undergone major changes from an auteur-oriented film culture in the 1960s with basically no professional screenwriters, to a collaborative auteur industry where screenwriting is now a recognized craft and screenwriters are established professionals in the film industry. Focusing on the historical development of the Screenwriting Department at the National Film School of Denmark, the article discusses how the educational emphasis on teaching screenwriting has had an impact on Danish cinema both by introducing a basic understanding of screenwriting models and tools for a new generation of Danish film-makers, and by developing a common awareness of the importance of screenwriting as well as successful collaborations in creative teams. The article highlights how, after widespread enthusiasm over the emergence of successful screenwriters, there are currently debates about the dangers of professionalization as well as critical voices calling for a return to a more personal kind of auteur film-making. Finally, it is suggested that further investigation of the nature of close collaborations between directors and screenwriters, now more prevalent in Denmark, can provide interesting material for new perspectives in discussions of authorship.
Screenwriter and director Sue Clayton and academic Shohini Chaudhuri consider storytelling structures in Bhutan, a country that has, until recently, been relatively culturally isolated but is now moving towards entering the global stage. As in the rest of South Asia, the dominant cinematic model in Bhutan is that of Bollywood, yet Buddhism, the oral tradition and supernatural beliefs form a rich repertoire of stories that screenwriters of the emerging film industry are increasingly attempting to mine. In this article, we show how cinematic storytelling in Bhutan functions as a kind of 'secondary orality' through our analyses of an earlier international co-production Travellers and Magicians (2003), two local DV films, and the film project that Clayton is developing in dialogue with Bhutanese writers, Jumolhari. We argue that Bhutan's Buddhist, animist and oral traditions challenge and transform classically established cinema conventions of story structure, decentring individual human subjectivity as the controlling force and producing an altogether different kind of hero's journey.
This article studies the mutual and exclusive relationship between the history of popular Hindi cinema and the writing of the screenplay by finding dominant points of reference in their individual and overlapping histories. It connects the unique storytelling tradition of Hindi cinema with the subsumed creative identity of a screenwriter. To do this the article focuses on significant historical markers in Hindi cinema: the Silent era, the Talkies, the Golden era of the 1950s, the New Wave of the 1960s, the SalimJaved era of the 1970s and the New New Wave of today. The New New Wave in Hindi popular cinema aims to recognize and legitimize the presence of the story and the screenwriter. The article studies the evolution of this recent phenomenon and examines the academic and industrial variants that have led to the coming of this change in Hindi cinema.
This article seeks to contribute to the current debate about the decision-making process within the Hollywood studios and the marketing-driven quest to micromanage the creative process in order to manufacture more consistently profitable films. The author outlines the process to which scripts are subjected in order to determine their suitability for production and how this impacts the quality of the scripts. There are compelling questions about whether the current business model hinders relevant, definitive cultural narratives and how this affects both the quality and profitability of contemporary films. In addition to considering the existing literature dealing with the topic, this article also draws on the author's fifteen years' experience in Hollywood as a screenwriter, agent and producer.
Screenwriting manuals tell us that narratives should have a protagonist and that a protagonist should have an important dramatic goal to achieve. With respect to this goal, manuals often mention another common distinction, that between a protagonist's want and need. Wants are generally understood as external and/or conscious dramatic goals, whereas needs are defined as internal and/or unconscious dramatic goals. This essay argues that these tools could be made more powerful if defined in a more precise way. Whereas wants refer to the goals of characters at the level of story, needs play at the level of the interaction between plot and real audience. This re-definition links the wants and needs debate with the much wider and far more complex study of audience involvement and its relationships with the value systems expressed in a narrative and those experienced by a viewer; a subject which stretches far beyond the limits of a single article.
Christopher Vogler suggests an essential humanity beyond gender and sexual difference lies at the heart of the Hero's Journey archetypal paradigm which he presents in The Writers Journey (2007), yet he still advises readers to go elsewhere for alternative theories on the woman's journey, recommending key Jungian feminist theories including Maureen Murdock's The Heroine's Journey (1990), and Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run With The Wolves (1992). Through the practice of writing a screenplay Loy, a biopic based on the life of modernist poet and artist Mina Loy (18821966), I questioned to what extent is the Hero's Journey useful as a metaphoric aid in supporting the development of a screenplay with two female protagonists, and to what extent does the paradigm have a masculine bias? This article first sets out the principles of Vogler's Hero's Journey and Murdock's Heroine's Journey cycle. I then explore the strengths and weaknesses of both models as creative aids during the development of my screenplay, with particular reference to the development of character, structure and theme. Turning to the notion of archetypes as a creative system for characterization, I discuss how I used archetypes in the development of Loy's protagonists. Finally, I draw on Clarissa Pinkola Estes's myth of the Skeleton Woman as an effective metaphoric aid for the development of narratives where relationships are central. I conclude that while the Hero's Journey has key strengths, models from Jungian feminism are particularly rich for screenwriters developing female-led stories.
Paul Schrader contends that the screenplay is an oral medium. This article explores the validity of this contention by analysing the ballad Janet or Lady Maisry (Child 65) and its use of what are generally thought of as screenwriting techniques to tell its story, in particular looking at the way it makes use of montage, multiple narratives and different timescales to create suspense and involve the audience. It looks at the role of visualization in oral narrative and suggests that screenwriters and analyses have much to gain by looking at films as oral narratives, which like ballads are told rhythmically in real time in front of an audience. It suggests that screenwriters and academics studying the screenplay could benefit from looking at song and music as a helpful paradigm for understanding screenplay techniques and developing screenplay notation.
This article examines innovations in prime-time narratives in US prime-time television in the 1960s, using archival evidence to trace the goals, concerns and conflicts of screenwriters and producers on series including The Defenders (CBS, 1961-65), The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-67), Peyton Place (ABC, 1964-69), and Dr. Kildare (NBC, 1961-66). During this decade, television writers and producers innovated in response to outside concerns regarding the content of popular episodic programmes, and as a method of encouraging audience engagement and habit viewership. Historical evidence demonstrates that prime-time writers specifically sought to make a distinction between prime-time continuing narratives and those that aired during the daytime hours, in order to elevate what they considered to be a new form of television storytelling.
The article discusses the past, present and future of screenwriting research from a somewhat personal viewpoint, being US and UK in its focus, partly because of my own lack of knowledge of the researchers in other countries in the ‘dark’ years. Yet the pioneering writers and, more recently, the creation of the Screenwriting Research Network and the Journal of Screenwriting have all encouraged the exchanging of ideas and the realization that there are many of us interested in the same subject. More recently the area has proven to be exciting and dynamic with a diverse range of high quality research from many countries.
One way to start to think about making information in a script interesting is to rephrase the question that was posed by the Watergate investigators about then President Richard Nixon’s knowledge of the criminal deeds of his subordinates. The question reiterated obsessively during the Senate Committee investigation, voiced initially by Tennessee Republican Senator Howard Baker, was … ‘What did the president know, and when did he know it?’. In order to get going, scriptwriters must ask: what do the characters know - about narrative context, about themselves, and about each other, and when do they know it? This essay will explore Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru (co-written with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni), and how the film is masterfully structured in relation to “who knows what and when.”
As a participant in the Screenwriting Research Network Conference held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in August, 2013, David Bordwell presented a conference paper 'Innovation by accident' that highlighted portions of recent research for his book on films of the 1940s. Subsequently, he expanded the research done for the conference paper and published his findings on the well-known blog Observations Film Art co-authored by Bordwell and film analyst Kristin Thompson. With Bordwell's kind permission, we are including 'Innovation by accident' in this conference issue of Journal of Screenwriting.
This article explores, within the peculiarly modern landscape of assimilation, how the Jewish culture/religion that engages in seemingly unending conversations (Talmudic thinking) encourages the writer/directors Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers, to question tropes of existing genres and conventional narrative structure, and to tackle challenging themes, many of which are connected to a specifically Jewish American response to a moral universe deeply affected by the post-Holocaust world-view.
Neo-Baroque scholars argue that, because television serials build their story arc on episodic rather than linear structure, they feature the paradigmatic over the syntagmatic axis of story development. This article will extend that argument, claiming that, unlike three-act structure, serial story structure layers character against generic tropes and, as a result, limits character development. It will propose two such strategies for this layering: the static, where the trope remains the same, and the fluid, where the character moves from one trope to the other in the course of the story. In The Sopranos, the example of static layering, even though Tony Soprano pulls against the trope of the gangster don, he always returns to it. By contrast, in Breaking Bad, the example of fluid layering, Walter White is allowed to move through a series of tropes, evolving as a character as he does. However, the evolution is limited by the theme-and-variations style, which ultimately requires that subsequent variations play off of, and recapitulate, the initial theme.
New Hollywood, from the late 1960s to early 1980s, was marked by an innovation in film business (production, marketing, audience) together with an opening up of film form. Today, some 50 years later, film culture is again in flux with new models of funding, production and distribution for the digital age. The impact of these developments on screenwriting is (necessarily) speculative at this stage. The focus of this article is on screenwriter/director Paul Schrader, a jump-cut from Taxi Driver (1976) to The Canyons (2013) – his experiment in ‘post-theatrical cinema’ with novelist/screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis. The film was written for microbudget and crowdfunded on the Kickstarter platform. It assembles the notorious cast of porn star James Deen and celebrity maelstrom Lindsay Lohan. The Canyons rolled out with an aggressive online marketing strategy and innovative ‘day and date’ distribution model with an eye to video on demand. Larry Gross has described the film as belonging to ‘this cultural moment’. In this analysis of The Canyons I ask: What does it mean to conceive, and write, a screenplay for the present, for ‘now’? How does screenplay development and creative collaboration differ in a crowdfunded/microbudget environment? How does the film interact with new forms, and aesthetics, appropriate to this ‘cultural moment’? In the final part of the article I attempt to situate the film within a wider narrative framework via Schrader’s diagnosis of ‘narrative exhaustion’, Douglas Rushkoff’s theory of ‘present shock’ and Ellis’ rumination on the American ‘post-empire’ condition.
This article explores the concept of a shadow narrative lying under the surface of the main film narrative through a case study of the 2012 film Lore. The film is based on the second story in Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. It was adapted for the screen by British screenwriter Robin Mukherjee and Australian director and screenwriter Cate Shortland. I will search for the structure of this narrative through an analysis of key emotional scenes, moments or spectral traces when the unspoken desires of the protagonist, Lore, surface and take form, when subtext becomes text and nothing is ever the same again. Using film analyst Paul Gulino’s argument that most narrative films consist of eight major sequences, each between eight and fifteen minutes, I will break the film into eight sequences and then identify one key emotional scene in each sequence. I will then analyse the eight key scenes and discuss the development of Lore’s shadow or unspoken narrative of desire. Some of these key scenes re-imagine or extend narrative moments from the book, but most are new, created by the screenwriters in order to make visible the invisible transformation of character and to heighten themes introduced in the first story in the book and brought to a resolution in the third.
Despite the growing research interest in the transnational nature of the Arab World’s television industry, screenwriting in the Arab World has received little academic attention. Moreover, while the media plays a major role in shaping the ‘narratives of identity’, the reality of television drama production is as much about cultural, economic and political influences as it is about aesthetics. Set within a unique interpretation of the theoretical context of the ‘Hierarchy of Influences Model’, this article aims to explore to what extent the routine practices in screenwriting govern the artistic decisions taken at the level of the screenplay development of transnational pan-Arab dramas (Arabic: al-dra-ma al ‘arabiya al-mushtaraka). Taking ‘04’ (Zero Four) as a case study, a pan-Arab drama produced by the Saudi-owned UAE-based MBC television that tells the story of four young expatriates from four different Arab nationalities living in modern-day Dubai, and through in-depth interviews with the show creators, the article attempts to present an example of novel screenwriting practices in the Arab World between single authors and writers’ room.
The American political thriller, from its cinematic beginnings in the 1960s until its most recent period of popularity in the late 2000s and the early 2010s, has consistently displayed two salient characteristics: on an extra-textual level, it tends to keep a close relationship with the (geo)political environment at the time of production, with themes that resonate with the cultural moment, sometimes even referencing current events, and frequently challenging traditionally upheld American values with mistrustful attitudes towards the State, its institutions, the military and a suspect corporate establishment. On the other hand, the textual configuration of these films reveals a certain nonconformity with the traditionally dominant narrative-aesthetic norms of Hollywood cinema, featuring reactive agency in its protagonists, an unusual degree of subjectivity in its narration and a remarkable degree of ambiguity in the dramatic resolutions of some storylines. These formal features enhance the thematic concerns and cinematic worldview of the political thriller genre, both creating and exploiting perplexity and paranoia in the audience, through highly demanding narratives that remove the feeling of control from the viewer, and with a specific political intent that becomes exceptionally effective thanks to its entertainment value. The works analysed to illustrate this trend covers theatrically released Hollywood films of the genre from 2001 until the present day, with special attention on the impact of 9/11 and the War on Terror in their narrative premises and themes.
Conference Report on Words and Images, the Fifth Screenwriting Research Network Conference, Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney, 14-16 September 2012
Drawn to its distinctive narrative style and length, in this article I examine writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s third feature screenplay, Dragged Across Concrete. I focus on Zahler’s authorship and creative writing, which flouts many screenwriting conventions. Zahler’s screenplay, totalling 157 pages, is considerably longer than the recommended length of 90–120 pages and it is examined and contextualized here via discussion of length, style, character, scenes, genre and dialogue. This analysis contributes to the formal study of the screenplay as a source text and aims to counter what Steven Price has termed the ‘screenplay’s near-invisibility in critical analysis’.
This article outlines the emergence of screenwriters in Germany from 1910 until 1945. It focuses on the technological, cultural, social and political contexts and changing occupational environments that shaped screenwriting craft into an accepted media profession. German screenwriters were subsequently influenced by the ‘author film movement’ in the 1910s, and soon established a professional association to obtain professional status in 1919. Following the national socialist takeover in 1933, the political influence on German screenwriting became the main concern of their professional and creative practice. The article outlines the key events and patterns and how the occupation was shaped towards a creative profession, and describes the ways in which its professional history was influenced by institutional, political, cultural and industrial configurations.
The first instructional manuals to cover the writing of photoplays for silent drama emerged in 1911. In the wake of ‘Scenario Fever’, their style was often hyperbolic, and they claimed a great need in the film industry for new dramatic scenarists. In truth, few readers of manuals, or clients of the ‘schools’ that often distributed them, attained professional status. This article uses primary and secondary sources to examine the origins and content of the silent screenwriting manuals, and determines that, despite their poor record in fulfilling their ostensible purpose, they served valuable social functions. By overlooking screen drama’s debt to Victorian theatre and vaudeville, they served to normatize screenwriting practice in its own right, and thus helped to legitimize film’s sense of itself as a new medium. The uniform nature of their content, shaped by manual writers who were often working scenarists, suggests their reliability in clarifying aspects of screenwriting practice that lay behind the creation of silent films, and justifies their use as resources in film studies.
A case study on Urban Gad’s German shooting script for Die Filmprimadonna ( The Film Primadonna , 1913) reviews the screenplay in the production process shortly after the emergence of multiple-reel feature films. In the dramatic story of the rise and fall of a film prima donna, a fictitious screenplay plays an idiosyncratic function in filmmaking that sketches, for the cinematic audience of that time, a specific idea of how and why an appropriate script has to be made. The article offers an analysis of Gad’s preserved script and demonstrates that this screen-idea contrasts with the value and agency of screenplays in the historic mode of production in 1913. Inasmuch as the plot of the movie simply highlights the function of acting, Die Filmprimadonna as a script itself functions as a complex and highly composed agent in the process of filmmaking – as both a narrative and, equally, a production schedule for the film.
Review of: How to Write for Moving Pictures: A Manual of Instruction and Information , Marguerite Bertsch (1917) New York: G. H. Doran Company, 268 pp., ISBN 978-13-40460-04-4, h/bk, £20.79 ISBN 978-13-77165-03-5, p/bk, £15.99
The article explores the question of whether screenplays can be defined and interpreted based solely on their functional relation to film. It argues that another aspect of the screenplay/film relationship is crucial for a more precise definition and reading of scripts, namely the textual simulation of film as a medium. This argument is first made on a theoretical basis and supported by an analogy with the relationship between drama and theatre. The second half of the article illustrates and expands the theoretical claims in a close reading of the silent film script Sylvester written by German screenwriter Carl Mayer and published in 1924. In particular, it is argued, Mayer’s acclaimed ‘expressionist’ writing style does not aim at performing any function in the potential film production, but rather reflects a certain view on the media-related specifics of film and the possibilities of their verbal representation.
The careful study of the screenplay - including archival study - can clarify our view of film history. While some film historians argue studios and studio bosses disregarded censors in the early 1930s before the Production Code Administration (PCA) was formed, archival research reveals screenwriter Frances Marion faced escalating censorship pressure at MGM in 1929 and 1930 as she moved through several drafts for Anna Christie (1930), The Big House (1930) and The Secret Six (1931). This research provides insight into the nature of the problems Marion faced and exposes the day-to-day frustrations and complications in the life of one screenwriter struggling to create art within a convoluted matrix of censorship negotiations as the Production Code was being drafted and ratified.
Portuguese screenwriter/director Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015) survived almost the whole history of cinema, starting in the silent film epoch with Douro Faina Fluvial/Labor on the Douro (1931), and premiering his last film, O Velho do Restelo/The Old Man of Belem (2014), on his 106th birthday. During the political dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, from 1933 to 1974, Manoel de Oliveira had to deal with exhaustive supervision over his projects and screenplays. The documentation held by the Portuguese National Archive reveals the complex conditions imposed by the censors (Secretariado Nacional de Informação (SNI), the Portuguese National Secretary of Information), as well as the filmmaker’s screenwriting strategies to circumvent those rules (not always with success, unfortunately). Throughout the files of Angélica (1954), Acto da Primavera/Rite of Spring (1958), A Caça/The Hunt (1958), among other film projects that did not succeed in passing the SNI evaluations, we can observe how decisively censorship influenced Portuguese cinema and the screenwriting of that time. This article explores how, under the tight control of the SNI, Manoel de Oliveira was not allowed to follow the original ‘finale’ foreseen in his screenplay A Caça/The Hunt and how, instead, he was bound to film a new ‘happy-ending’ according to the regime’s premises.
The subject of this article is the screenwriting discourse in Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1954. In a small national film industry like the one in Czechoslovakia, there were always significant influences of bigger film industries (e.g., United States, Germany, USSR). After World War II, the USSR inspiration became dominant and many Soviet production and screenwriting manuals were translated into Czech. I will explore how the cultural transfer changed the screenwriting discourse in Czechoslovakia, first in a historical perspective and then through an analysis of the following topics: frameworks of screenwriting discourse; screenplay development; authorship; and screenwriting organization. The methodology of screenwriting discourse analyses will be used to explore how Soviet manuals transformed screenwriting discourse after the nationalization of the Czechoslovak film industry in 1945.
In the nationalized Czechoslovak film industry, between 1952 and 1956, eight very rare three-column screenplays appeared. The historical evidence of this different screenplay format has been overlooked by historians up to now. Three-column screenplays are not just a dead end of screenwriting practice; they can also be read as evidence of basic tendencies within the Czechoslovak film industry in the 1950s. One effect of nationalization of the film industry was the attempt to standardize the organization of script development. The administrative intervention caused the modification of the script format, but instead of standardization, the effect was a multitude of formats, of which the three-column technical screenplays were a by-product. In this article I read these three-column screenplays within the industry context of the first half of the 1950s in Czechoslovakia and offer an in-depth analysis of particular three-column screenplays.
This article examines the development of television scripts in the crime drama genre within the context of US commercial broadcasting in the network era. In 1968, public discourse around race relations, civil rights and violence reached a height following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy, and the release of a government study on urban uprisings by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Ironside (1967–75, NBC) and N.Y.P.D. (1967–69, ABC) are two crime dramas that drew on recent events related to black militants and white supremacy in order to appeal to viewers with socially relevant entertainment during this time. The archival records of screenwriters Sy Salkowitz and Lonne Elder make it possible to trace the development of one episode from each series over the course of multiple drafts. This analysis of the script development process explores the relationship between public discourse, industrial context, commercial agendas and creative priorities. Ironside and N.Y.P.D. are both crime dramas, but an examination of both series yields points of divergence which help to illustrate the norms of the network system in terms of act structure, genre tropes, and the oversight of standards and practices.
The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives , Lajos Egri (1972)Originally published by Simon&Schuster in 1942 as How to Write a Play New York: Touchstone, 320 pp.,ISBN-13 978-0-67121-332-9, p/bk, $18.00
Review of: Screenwriter: The Life and Times of Nunnally Johnson , Tom Stempel (1980)San Diego, CA: A.S. Barnes & Company Inc., 269 pp.,ISBN 978-0-49802-362-0, h/bk, $35.00 (New)
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