Hanson, Peter & Herman, Paul Robert (Eds.) (2010) Tales From the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories. New York: Harper Collins.
I’m not a screenwriter or even an aspiring one, but I picked this book up because I enjoy movies and I thought it might help me understand what goes on behind the scenes. It did. The title is apt: most of these anecdotes fall into the category of “horror stories.” It’s about scripts rejected, discarded, ruined, stolen and rewritten, and screenwriters, the same, plus doublecrossed, outwitted, betrayed, and and rarely, successful. It’s a mean life, and if I learned one thing from it, it is that I would never want that job.
These short anecdotes come from a huge cross-section of screenwriters and Hollywood insiders but they all express the thrill, the drug-like high, of getting a script made into a movie, no matter how crummy it might be. And three-quarters of the movies mentioned, I never heard of (and I watch a lot of movies), and among the ones I had heard of, 90% were mediocre or ridiculous. There are only a handful of comments from writers of high quality movies, like The Sting, Ray, and so forth. I found it interesting that getting a script made is the holy grail, not achievement of any artistic quality. This is a kind of writing like no other.
The book reinforces my suspicion that making movies in Hollywood is all about return on investment and nothing about quality; and that the process for selection of scripts to be produced is essentially random, or it occurs by personal networking, never by qualitative analysis. Scriptwriting is by no means a meritocracy. The same is true, I guess for most popular and literary fiction. Still, it’s a harsh reality. Also, almost no movie has a single screenwriter anymore. It is all done by committee, which is usually obvious on the screen, and the reasons for that are fascinating.
The book itself is entertaining and an easy read. Entries are 100 to 500 words and are personal anecdotes, “war stories,” as it were. Reading it, one gets a sense of how the moviemaking process works, at least from the point of view of the writer. Recommended for any masochist who thinks they might be interested in writing movies.