Featured Book of the Month
And The Best Screenplay Goes to... by Dr. Linda Seger
Learning from the Winners: Sideways, Shakespeare in Love, Crash
If you're hoping to be a successful screenwriter, there's one skill you need to master and master fast: how to break down and analyze a successful movie to find what of its qualities you should emulate to make your work better.
Linda Seger, screenwriting guru and author of the seminal Making A Good Script Great, gives you a nice head start on the process in her latest book And The Best Screenplay Goes To..., which examines in detail the biology of three Oscar-winning scripts: Sideways, Shakespeare In Love, and Crash.
Each film is subjected to a minute analysis, broken down into specific categories relevant to the particular story involved. The analysis is followed by 10 study questions to get you thinking. Then you'll find interviews with each of writers of the scripts, and finally, there's a story beats breakdown on each, with setups, turning points, and climaxes all clearly noted.
True, the movie is not the script, so lest you think Seger watched the DVD and critiqued that, fear not -- not only did she go to the scripts for her analysis, in some cases she read multiple drafts, and she's included comments pertaining to some of those earlier versions. An unusual choice, but it certainly sheds light on the process.
The real strength of this book is how each movie is investigated in a different way. They're such different movies, and they present different challenges to the analyst. Seger takes all this into account, and doesn't try to cookie-cutter them with any sort of canned metrics. Each gets a custom treatment, keyed to the movie's specific personality.
Sideways, for example, is big on character, so Seger delves thoroughly into their backstories. Shakespeare in Love has several subplots interwoven throughout, each of which Seger teases out and discusses. And Crash is a study in clashes of identity, through which Seger patiently leads the reader.
You'll probably want to screen these movies yourself before reading the book. Seger does a good job laying them out for you, but you'll be lost if you don't know the film. You really should see these movies anyway, if you haven't already -- so screen the DVD, then read the relevant section.
Screenwriters will get their fill of tips and gambits here, not only from Seger but from the writers themselves, from their discussions of their own processes. You'll get lots of ideas on your approach to story and how to go about realizing your vision.
There were sections where I could've done with less explication of every twist and turn in a scene, and more gist. If that bothers you, of course, you can just skim those parts. Also, I kind of hoped to see some critical discussion of the films -- sure, they're Oscar winners, but no film is perfect, is it? Seger, as a script consultant, must've had some idea on how to make them better. Her approach was instead to let you decide on your own whether certain gambits worked or not, which was appropriate to the educational tone of the book.
In the end, the impression one takes away from this book is that there are as many ways to write an Oscar-winning film as there are Oscar-winning films. If you were hoping to get some quick formulas, how-to's and bullet points, you'll be disappointed. But if you want to get an idea of how to analyze a movie, how to figure out what makes a movie tick, a skill you need in order to be a successful screenwriter -- this book is right up your alley!
StoryPros Verdict: Recommended
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