Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting - Syd Field

I began this book completely uneducated as to screenwriting – I'd watched and enjoyed films, but had no idea what went into the process of crafting them. Field starts out by explaining the basics of film structure and theory (very useful if, like me, you're a total beginner), then goes on to dedicate individual chapters to specifics like character, plot, and each section of the film. He finishes by explaining the process of turning a freshly-written screenplay into an eventual film, which again was very useful new information for me.

Field has an open, conversational style that makes for approachable reading and ease of understanding. I did find that some points felt rather laboured, and that he takes a rather didactic tone (sometimes it felt like I was being told what to think and feel, as well as what to do, during the screenwriting process), but on the whole this was very engaging and pleasant to read considering it is, essentially, a textbook.

As my own background is in literature, it was especially interesting for me to see the very different methods by which a screenplay must tell a story – by showing only the external, in particular tiny details that would be implicit in a novel – as opposed to the forms I'm more used to, where the reader is usually privy to what goes on in the protagonist's head, and any external cues we're given are those perceived specifically by that character.

I couldn't help but feel a bit annoyed by Field's assertion that for a film adaptation of a novel “you are not obligated to remain true to the original material.” I can see that there are great challenges involved in transferring a story from one medium to another (more than I'd appreciated before reading this book), but I, and probably many others, are familiar with that sense of disappointment that comes when you see a much-anticipated screen adaptation of a beloved novel and it just isn't the same, it doesn't capture what you loved about the book at all. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with a screenwriter reading a novel and feeling inspired to write a screenplay on a similar theme – just please, please, unless you're willing to be faithful to the original, don't label it as an adaptation.


Next up: Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

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