European Screenwriting And Beyond

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Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930) used to like saying that his films had a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order. Although popular cinema in France and Italy, for example, had recognized screenwriters critically, such a playful and eclectic approach to screenwriting and filmmaking as suggested by Godard's comment has traditionally characterized the more personal cinemas of many nations of Europe and elsewhere. What became known as the "auteur theory'' was simply an acknowledgment of a European film tradition wherein filmmakers thought of themselves as the complete "author" of the film, from script to final cut. While writers calling themselves screenwriters emerged in Hollywood as early as the late 1920s, there were few European filmmakers or writers who would call themselves "screenwriters." In contrast to Hollywood, where few have ever been both writers and directors on the same film, in Europe and other countries around the world, the "double-duty" position of writer-director has been the norm. The advantage of the auteur approach is that films get made with a consistent vision and with a minimum of interference from teams of writers, producers, and others. Thus an Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918) film such as Det Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957) or Trollflojten (The Magic Flute, 1975) is easily recognizable as a "Bergman film'' because of his control from page to screen in all aspects of filmmaking. And François Truffaut's (1932-1984) films became recognizable as "Truffaut films'' because of his consistent themes and characters, even when he only cowrote a script as in Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962).

But even with auteurs there are variations, as with those auteurs who actually liked to write with a team or partner. La Dolce Vita (1960), for instance, was written by director Federico Fellini (1920-1993) and three script friends: Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Ennio Flaiano. Furthermore, many European practices would be unheard of under WGA standards and contracts for assigning screen credit. The Greek filmmaker-screenwriter Theo Angelopoulos (b. 1935) likes to share story ideas with the Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra (b. 1920) and sometimes others, even if they do not actually write the script but simply write notes or give advice and feedback.

The differences between Hollywood scripts and those of Europe and other countries over the years should be acknowledged as well. Ingmar Bergman's scripts read more like short stories than scripts, for he knew he was writing for himself, and thus the script was more like an outline; he knew he would figure out later what he wanted for lighting, sets, and actors' performances.

One reason for the rigid and set format and look of the Hollywood script is that it is the result of negotiation between many people, who in some cases may not even know each other. By writing a script with his novelist friend, Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997), for Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains, 1966), based on Hrabal's novel, Jiri Menzel (b. 1938) of Czechoslovakia avoided what most young American screenwriters must do: write so that complete strangers "get" your story, characters, and themes.

Many independent scripts seem more like Hollywood offshoots than risk-taking, innovative works. But there are certainly thousands of scripts written by individuals throughout the country and the world who have taken workshops such as those given by Syd Field and Robert McKee or have attended script conferences such as those in Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, New

Mexico, as well as in Hollywood (the Hollywood Film Festival, for instance, at www.hollywoodfilmfestival.com). A variety of online script courses (such as UCLA's www.filmprograms.ucla.edu) and Web sites exist that are dedicated to help "pitch" and list scripts and to inform writers about what producers are looking for. An ever-growing number of screenwriting magazines offer to help the independent and aspiring screenwriter, including Screentalk (www.screentalk.biz) and Scr(i)pt (www. scriptmag.com).

The hundreds of books on screenwriting that now exist have become quite specialized. Noah Lukeman's book is summarized by its title, The First Five Pages, while Thomas Pope's Good Scripts Bad Scripts is subtitled Learning the Craft of Screenwriting Through 25 of the Best and Worst Films in History. Other books on screenwriting include Erik Joseph's How to Enter Screenplay Contests and Win and Max Adams's The Screenwriter's Survival Guide.

Despite these numerous guides, it is ultimately the quality of the script that counts. No one has summed up the importance of screenwriting better than the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: "With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script, a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can't possibly make a good film'' (p. 193).

SEE ALSO Adaptation; Auteur Theory and Authorship; Direction; Production Process; Sequels, Series, and Remakes; Studio System

FURTHER READING

Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing. New York: Touchstone, 1960.

Engel, Joel. Screenwriters on Screenwriting: The Best in the Business Discuss Their Craft. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Delacorte, 1982.

Friend, Tad, ''Credit Grab: How Many Writers Does It Take to Make a Movie?'' New Yorker, 20 October 2003: 160-169.

Froug, William. New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter. Los Angeles: Silman-James, 1992.

Goldman, William. Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. New York: Warner, 1983.

Gordon, Bernard. Hollywood Exile, or, How I Learned to Love the Blacklist: A Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

Horton, Andrew. Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay. 1994. Updated and expanded edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Hunter, Lew. Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434. New York: Perigree, 1994.

Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like An Autobiography. New York:

Vintage Books, 1983. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ReganBooks, 1997.

Seger, Linda. Making a Good Script Great. Hollywood, CA: Samuel French, 1988.

Sturges, Preston. Three More Screenplays by Preston Sturges. Edited by Andrew Horton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Thompson, Kristin. Storytelling in the New Hollywood:

Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Andrew Horton

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