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When Herman J. Mankiewicz first met Orson Welles he was, to put it mildly, a mess. Mankiewicz was first a newspaperman acting as a Berlin correspondent for the Chicago Tribune as well as a drama critic for The New Yorker. His knowledge of this landscape led to much of the touching particulars used in Citizen Kane to construct the megalomaniac at its center.
He was at the height of his prowess through the s and s with much of his work going uncredited including Dinner at Eight, Dancers in the Dark, and uncredited input on a little film called The Wizard of Oz. His humor was sleek, his satire bracing, his handling of character steadfastly nuanced. Mankiewicz embodied a sparkling levity that he made look easy, which embodied a signature of Hollywood at the time that is sorely missed.
Sometimes, nice guys finish first. Levinson, like Woody Allen before him, began his career writing jokes for variety shows, which led to a partnership with Mel Brooks, with whom he co-wrote High Anxiety and Silent Movie.
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Hecht was famously brought to Hollywood by a telegram from Herman J. One of his greatest gifts was undoubtedly his dialogue, which was tough, sly, and brimming with panache. Selznick who hired Hecht for ultimately uncredited work on Gone With the Wind. Hecht brought wit to gangster films and noir like Notorious, had a hand in definitive screwball comedies including His Girl Friday and Monkey Business, and injected bracing emotional truth into action-adventure films like Gunga Din.
For a film auteur so steeped in mystery, David Lynch has let the public in on an awful lot of his creative process. The mind-bending collapsing of story, the melding of characters, the startling images; you enter a dream when you see one of his films. Mulholland Drive? Never mind that you have to figure out a way to interpret the crazy creatures and lands Tolkien imagined. You also have to organize it so it makes sense, make all the hard-core fans happy, and keep it moving quickly enough that your average casual moviegoer is eager to hand over 15 bucks to watch 10 hours of your childhood obsession.
And not just from husband-and-wife duo Jackson and Walsh. What they produced ultimately feels as magical as the worlds it created.
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Their fourth would not suffer the same fate. Back to the Future , which Zemeckis directed, was a smash hit sci-fi comedy that launched Michael J. Fox to stardom, spawned two sequels and remains a part of the pop-culture Zeitgeist 30 years later. Not that anyone could have predicted it.
Finally, with the help of Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis and Gale got the movie made and followed it with two successful sequels, all of them relying on the wry humor of exceedingly relatable characters existing in a completely unrealistic world. The two screenplays that Scott Frank considers his most uncharacteristic also, in some sense, contain the secret to his success. That would be Out of Sight.
Or Minority Report. Or Logan. Or Get Shorty. Or … But they embody his ease with emotions. He crafts classy, high-level, character-driven hits. The heir apparent to James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe, Apatow navigates the tricky middle ground between comedy and drama, landing in the realm of the great humanist filmmakers, who see life as something worth laughing and crying about in equal measure.
For the duration of his singular career , Linklater has simply done things his own way, precisely how he wants them. This is not to say Linklater has never changed: There is a wisdom and comfort in his recent work, an old dog not afraid to learn some new tricks. Turns out the slacker was the ultimate professional the whole time.
Everyone from Owen Wilson to Noah Baumbach has collaborated with him. We believe in his movies because we feel the love and care he puts into every page. Though his sensibility and fingerprints are on every single one of his films, Spielberg has only one solo screenplay credit: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It may be the most humanist film to ever climax with the arrival of an alien spaceship. Artificial Intelligence. And you know what?
It works. As a screenwriter, you have to appreciate that. His scripts for Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo balance a taste for sheer epic grandeur with a deep sympathy for strugglers thrust into extraordinary and extraordinarily demanding circumstances. Whether working with Shakespeare or Sondheim or James Bond or Xenomorphs, Logan knows how to mine a fascinating idea or two from what could easily be a cut-and-dry adaptation job or franchise gig.
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He makes blockbusters for the adventurous, thinking moviegoer, who appreciates a bit of self-doubt in or homoerotic tension between two Michael Fassbender—played robots. Maybe Arriaga just needs time to develop into a director worthy of his own writing. Or maybe the partnership was inimitable, a temporary marriage of egos that helped lead the 21st-century Mexican film Renaissance.
There was a period in the late s when just about everybody had The Usual Suspects on their list of the greatest scripts ever written. Not all of these movies were hits, but they have all helped to make McQuarrie the kind of screenwriter whose name in the credits immediately makes discerning viewers take notice. Which is odd, because Foote was a chronicler of small-town life, his tales filled with subtle longings, simmering regrets, and muted emotions — a far cry from the blistering works of fellow TV pioneers Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky.
Foote was never one to take random gigs or to compromise his vision; he stuck to writing about the people and places he knew best, and he wound up doing it for almost 70 years, a career of startling longevity. His adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird is arguably the greatest literary adaptation in history.
Gary Ross worked as a political speechwriter before moving to movies full-time, and his best work has the feel of an American fable. An ordinary man becomes the president of the United States. A teenage girl from the backwoods takes a stand against an oppressive government. To borrow an image from Pleasantville , Gary Ross paints in vibrant primary colors.
He writes with so much heart and confidence. She passed away in at 62, shortly after turning in her draft for The Empire Strikes Back ; Lucas would go on to rewrite the script with Lawrence Kasdan, but he ultimately gave Brackett co-credit alongside Kasdan because, as some film scholars have opined, her core story beats survived.
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Post- Matrix , the Wachowski siblings have gotten a bad rap. But few purveyors of popcorn material approach their work with as much humanity and emotional intelligence as they do.
Even in their breakout indie film Bound is as sweet a love story as it is a smart little clockwork crime yarn. But the Wachowskis are filmmakers who think in big-budget scale because the themes they return to — heroes transcending a restrictive society, and tapping into their secret, quasi-mystical potential — are big-budget themes. Few screenwriters in the past two decades have been as fearlessly inventive.
And the script for Cloud Atlas is also brilliant. It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with Howard; the pair would team up with Opie again on Splash , Parenthood , and EDtv. Their lines are sharp, hilarious, and play much deeper than gags are supposed to play.
But his two films co-written with Nicholas Pileggi are arguably the peak of his career. Though The Departed comes close. Few writers could capture basic human phenomena like Robert Altman. Miller — showed he could also find magic on a more intimate scale. His comeback Short Cuts was a sprawling character study that was as ambitious as it was relatable. Few screenwriters and novelists have had the kind of creative partnership like the one between Frank Darabont and Stephen King.