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Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (Anglais) Broché – 29 novembre 2005

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Chapter One

What Is a Screenplay?

“Suppose you’re in your office. . . . A pretty stenographer you’ve seen before comes into the room and you watch her. . . . She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on the table. . . . She has two dimes and a nickel—and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove. . . . Just then your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello—listens—and says deliberately into the phone, “I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.” She hangs up . . . and you glance around very suddenly and see another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes. . . .”

“Go on,” said Boxley smiling. “What happens?”

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. “I was just making pictures.”

—The Last Tycoon

F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald, drinking far too much, deeply in debt, and drowning in the suffocating well of despair, moved to Hollywood seeking new beginnings, hoping to reinvent himself by writing for the movies. The author of The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, This Side of Paradise, and the uncompleted The Last Tycoon, perhaps America’s greatest novelist, was, as one friend put it, seeking redemption.

During the two and a half years he spent in Hollywood, he took the craft of screenwriting “very seriously,” says one noted Fitzgerald authority: “It’s heartbreaking to see how much effort he put into it.” Fitzgerald approached every screenplay as if it were a novel and often wrote long backstories for each of the main characters before putting one word of dialogue down on paper.

Despite all the preparation he put into each assignment, he was obsessed with finding the answer to a question that haunted him continuously: What makes a good screenplay? Billy Wilder once compared Fitzgerald to “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job. He did not know how to connect the pipes so the water could flow.”

Throughout his Hollywood years, he was always trying to find the “balance” between the words spoken and the pictures seen. During this time, he received only one screen credit, adapting the novel Three Comrades by Erich Maria Remarque (starring Robert Taylor and Margaret Sullavan), but Joseph L. Mankiewicz eventually rewrote his script. He worked on rewrites for several other movies, including a disastrous week on Gone With the Wind (he was forbidden to use any words that did not appear in Margaret Mitchell’s novel), but after Three Comrades, all of his projects ended in fail- ure. One, a script for Joan Crawford called Infidelity, was left uncompleted, canceled because it dealt with the theme of adultery. Fitzgerald died in 1941, working on his last, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon.

He died believing himself to be a failure.

I’ve always been intrigued by the journey of F. Scott Fitzgerald. What resonates with me the most is that he was constantly searching for the answer to what made a good screenplay. His overwhelming external circumstances—his wife Zelda’s institutionalization, his unmanageable debts and lifestyle, his excessive drinking—all fed into his insecurities about the craft of screenwriting. And make no mistake: Screenwriting is a craft, a craft that can be learned. Even though he worked excessively hard, and was disciplined and responsible, he failed to achieve the results he was so desperately striving for.


I don’t think there’s any one answer. But reading his books and writings and letters from this period, it seems clear that he was never exactly sure what a screenplay was; he always wondered whether he was “doing it right,” whether there were certain rules he had to follow in order to write a successful screenplay.

When I was studying at the University of California, Berkeley, as an English lit major, I read the first and second editions of Tender Is the Night for one of my classes. It is the story of a psychiatrist who marries one of his patients, who, as she slowly recovers, exhausts his vitality until he is “a man used up.” The book, the last one Fitzgerald completed, was considered technically faulty and was commercially unsuccessful.

In the first edition of the novel, Book I is written from the point of view of Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress who shares her obser- vations about meeting the circle that surrounds Dick and Nicole Diver. Rosemary is on the beach at Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera, watching the Divers enjoying an outing on the sand. As she watches, she sees them as a beautiful couple who appear, at least from her point of view, to have everything going for them. They are, she thinks, the ideal couple. Rich, beautiful, intelligent, they look to be the embodiment of what everyone wants for himself or herself. But the second book of the novel focuses on the life of Dick and Nicole, and we learn that what we saw through Rosemary’s eyes was only the relationship they showed to the world; it was not really true. The Divers have major problems, which drain them emotionally and spiritually, and ultimately destroy them.

When the first edition of Tender Is the Night was published, sales were poor, and Fitzgerald thought he had probably been drinking too much and might have compromised his vision. But from his Hollywood experience, he came to believe he did not introduce his main characters early enough. “Its great fault,” Fitzgerald wrote of Tender Is the Night to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “is that the true beginning—the young psychiatrist in Switzerland—is tucked away in the middle of the book.” He decided that when the second edition was printed, he would interchange the first section with the second and open the novel with Dick Diver in wartime Switzerland in order to explain the mystery about the Divers’ courtship and marriage. So he opened the book focusing on the main character, Dick Diver. But that didn’t work either, and Fitzgerald was crushed. The book was financially unsuccessful until many years later, when Fitzgerald’s genius was finally acknowledged.

What strikes me so vividly is what Fitzgerald didn’t see; his opening section focusing on how Rosemary saw the Divers was more cinematic than novelistic. It’s a great cinematic opening, setting up the characters as others see them, like an establishing shot; in this first edition, Fitzgerald was showing us how this model couple looked to the world, beautiful and rich, seeming to have everything. How we look to the outside world, of course, is a lot different from who we really are behind closed doors. My personal feeling is that it was Fitzgerald’s insecurity about the craft of screenwriting that drove him to change that great opening.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was an artist literally caught between two worlds, caught between his genius as a writer and his self-doubt and inability to express that genius in screenplay form.

Screenwriting is a definite craft, a definite art. Over the years, I’ve read thousands upon thousands of screenplays, and I always look for certain things. First, how does it look on the page? Is there plenty of white space, or are the paragraphs dense, too thick, the dialogue too long? Or is the reverse true: Is the scene description too thin, the dialogue too sparse? And this is before I read one word; this is just what it “looks” like on the page. You’d be surprised how many decisions are made in Hollywood by the way a screenplay looks—you can tell whether it’s been written by a professional or by someone who’s still aspiring to be a professional.

Everybody is writing screenplays, from the waiter at your favorite bar or restaurant to the limo driver, the doctor, the lawyer, or the barista serving up the White Chocolate Dream Latte at the local Coffee Bean. Last year, more than seventy-five thousand screenplays were registered at the Writers Guild of America, West and East, and out of that number maybe four or five hundred scripts were actually produced.

What makes one screenplay better than another? There are many answers, of course, because each screenplay is unique. But if you want to sit down and spend six months to a year writing a screenplay, you first have to know what a screenplay is—what its nature is.

What is a screenplay? Is it a guide, or an outline, for a movie? A blueprint, or a diagram? Or maybe it’s a series of images, scenes, and sequences strung together with dialogue and description, like pearls on a strand? Perhaps it’s simply the landscape of a dream?

Well, for one thing, a screenplay is not a novel, and it’s most certainly not a play. If you look at a novel and try to define its fundamental nature, you’ll see that the dramatic action, the story line, usually takes place inside the head of the main character. We see the story line unfold through the eyes of the character, through his/her point of view. We are privy to the character’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, words, actions, memories, dreams, hopes, ambitions, opinions, and more. The character and reader go through the action together, sharing in the drama and emotion of the story. We know how they act, feel, react, and figure things out. If other characters appear and are brought into the narrative line of action, then the story embraces their point of view, but the main thrust of the story line always returns to the main character. The main character is who the story is about. In a novel the action takes place inside the character’s head, within the mindscape of dramatic action.

A play is different. The action, or story line, occurs onstage, under the proscenium arch, and the audience becomes the fourth wall, eavesdropping on the lives of the characters, what they think and feel and say. They talk about their hopes and dreams, past and future plans, discuss their needs and desires, fears and conflicts. In this case, the action of the play occurs within the language of dramatic action; it is spoken in words that describe feelings, actions, and emotions.

A screenplay is different. Movies are different. Film is a visual medium that dramatizes a basic story line; it deals in pictures, images, bits and pieces of film: We see a clock ticking, a window opening, a person in the distance leaning over a balcony, smoking; in the background we hear a phone ringing, a baby crying, a dog barking as we see two people laughing as their car pulls away from the curb. “Just making pictures.” The nature of the screenplay deals in pictures, and if we wanted to define it, we could say that a screenplay is a story told with pictures, in dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure.

That is its essential nature, just like a rock is hard and water’s wet.

Because a screenplay is a story told with pictures, we can ask ourselves, what do all stories have in common? They have a beginning, middle, and an end, not necessarily in that order, as Jean-Luc Godard says. Screenplays have a basic linear structure that creates the form of the screenplay because it holds all the individual elements, or pieces, of the story line in place.

To understand the principle of structure, it’s important to start with the word itself. The root of structure, struct, has two definitions that are relevant. The first definition means “to build” or “to put something together,” like a building or car. The second definition is “the relationship between the parts and the whole.”

The parts and the whole. This is an important distinction. What is the relationship between the parts and the whole? How do you separate one from the other? If you take the game of chess, for example, the game itself is a whole composed of four parts: (1) the pieces—the queen, king, bishop, pawns, knights, etc.; (2) the player(s), because someone has to play the game of chess, either against another person or a computer; (3) the board, because you can’t play chess without a board, and (4) the rules, because you can’t play a chess game unless you play by the rules. Those four parts—the pieces, the player(s), the board, and the rules—are integrated into the whole, and the result is a game of chess. It is the relationship between these parts and the whole that determines the game.

The same relationship holds true in a story. A story is the whole, and the elements that make up the story—the action, characters, conflicts, scenes, sequences, dialogue, action, Acts I, II, and III, incidents, episodes, events, music, locations, etc.—are the parts, and this relationship between the parts and the whole make up the story.

Good structure is like the relationship between an ice cube and water. An ice cube has a definite crystalline structure, and water has a definite molecular structure. But when the ice cube melts into water, how can you separate the molecules of ice from the molecules of water? Structure is like gravity: It is the glue that holds the story in place; it is the base, the foundation, the spine, the skeleton of the story. And it is this relationship between the parts and the whole that holds the screenplay together. It’s what makes it what it is.

It is the paradigm of dramatic structure.

A paradigm is a model, example, or conceptual scheme. The para- digm of a table, for example, is a top with four legs. Within the paradigm, we can have a low table, high table, narrow table, or wide table; we can have a round table, square table, rectangular table, or octagonal table; we can have a glass table, wood table, plastic table, wrought-iron table, or whatever, and the paradigm doesn’t change— it remains what it is, a top with four legs. Just the way a suitcase remains a suitcase; it doesn’t matter how big or small, or what the shape is; it is what it is.

If we wanted to take a screenplay and hang it on the wall like a painting, this is what it would look like:

This is the paradigm of a screenplay. Here’s how it’s broken down.


If a screenplay is a story told with pictures, then what do all stories have in common? A beginning, middle, and end, though not necessarily, as mentioned, in that order; it is a story told in pictures, in dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure.

Aristotle talked about the three unities of dramatic action: time, place, and action. The normal Hollywood film is approximately two hours long, or 120 minutes; foreign films tend to be a little shorter, though that’s changing as we bridge the language of interna- tional film. But in most cases, films are approximately two hours in length, give or take a few minutes. This is a standard length, and today, when a contract is written in Hollywood between the filmmaker and production company, it states that when the movie is delivered, it will be no longer than 2 hours and 8 minutes. That’s approximately 128 pages of screenplay. Why? Because it’s an economic decision that has evolved over the years. At this writing, it costs approximately $10,000 to $12,000 per minute (and getting higher and higher every year) to shoot a Hollywood studio film. Second, a two-hour movie has a definite advantage in the theaters simply because you can get in more viewings of the movie per day. More screenings mean more money; more theaters mean more screenings, which means more money will be made. Movies are show business, after all, and with the cost of moviemaking being so high, and getting higher as our technology evolves, today it’s really more business than show.

The way it breaks down is this: One page of screenplay is approximately one minute of screen time. It doesn’t matter whether the script is all action, all dialogue, or any combination of the two—generally speaking, a page of screenplay equals a minute of screen time. It’s a good rule of thumb to follow. There are exceptions to this, of course. The script of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is only 118 pages, but the movie is more than three hours long.

Act I, the beginning, is a unit of dramatic action that is approximately twenty or thirty pages long and is held together with the dramatic context known as the Set-Up. Context is the space that holds something in place—in this case, the content. For example, the space inside a glass is the context; it holds the content in place—whether it’s water, beer, milk, coffee, tea, or juice. If we want to get creative, a glass can also hold raisins, trail mix, nuts, grapes, etc.—but the space inside doesn’t change The context is what holds the content in place.

In this unit of dramatic action, Act I, the screenwriter sets up the story, establishes character, launches the dramatic premise (what the story is about), illustrates the situation (the circumstances surrounding the action), and creates the relationships between the main character and the other characters who inhabit the landscape of his or her world. As a writer you’ve only got about ten minutes to establish this, because the audience members can usually determine, either consciously or unconsciously, whether they do or don’t like the movie by that time. If they don’t know what’s going on and the opening is vague or boring, their concentration and focus will falter and start wandering.

Check it out. The next time you go to a movie, do a little exercise: Find out how long it takes you to make a decision about whether you like the film or not. A good indication is if you start thinking about getting something from the refreshment stand or find yourself shifting in your seat; if that happens, the chances are the filmmaker has lost you as a viewer. Ten minutes is ten pages of screenplay. I cannot emphasize enough that this first ten-page unit of dramatic action is the most important part of the screenplay.

In American Beauty (Alan Ball), after the brief opening video scene of the daughter Jane (Thora Birch) and her boyfriend, Ricky (Wes Bentley), we see the street where Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) lives, and hear his first words in voice-over: “My name is Lester Burnham. I’m forty-two years old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead. . . . In a way, I’m dead already.” Then we see Lester as he begins his day. He wakes up and jerks off (the high point of his day, he adds), and then we see his relationship with his family. All this is set up and established within the first few pages, and we learn that: “My wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser, and they’re right. . . . I have lost something. I don’t know what it was, but I have lost something. . . . I feel sedated. . . . But you know, it’s never too late to get it back.” And that lets us know what the story is all about: Lester regaining the life he has lost or given up, and becoming whole and complete again as a person. Within the first few pages of the screenplay we know the main character, the dramatic premise, and the situation.

In Chinatown (Robert Towne), we learn on page one that Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), the main character, is a sleazy private detective specializing in “discreet investigation.” We see this when he shows Curly (Burt Young) pictures of his wife having sex in the park. We also see that Gittes has a certain flair for this type of investigation. A few pages later, we are introduced to a certain Mrs. Mulwray (Diane Ladd), who wants to hire Jake Gittes to find out “who my husband is having an affair with.” That is the dramatic premise of the film, because the answer to that question is what leads us into the story. The dramatic premise is what the screenplay is about; it provides the dramatic thrust that drives the story to its conclusion.

In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien), we learn in the first six pages of the screenplay the history of the ring and its magnetic attraction. It’s a beautiful opening that sets up all three stories. It also sets up the story as Gandalf arrives in the Shire. We meet Frodo (Elijah Wood), Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), Sam (Sean Astin), and the others, see how they live, and are introduced to the ring. We also get an overview of Middle Earth. This opening sets up the rest of the Fellowship, including the two sequels, The Two Towers and Return of the King.

In Witness (Earl Wallace and William Kelley), the first ten pages reveal the world of the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The script opens with the funeral of Rachel’s (Kelly McGillis’s) husband, then we follow her to Philadelphia, where her child witnesses the murder of an undercover cop, and that in turn leads to her relationship with the main character, John Book (Harrison Ford), another cop. The entire first act is designed to reveal the dramatic premise and situation and to set up the relationship between an Amish woman and a tough Philadelphia cop.

Revue de presse

Screenplay is one of the bibles of the film trade and has launched many a would-be screenwriter on the road to Hollywood.” —Library Journal

“Syd Field is the preeminent analyzer in the study of American screenplays.” —James L. Brooks, AcademyAward–winning writer, director, producer

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 336 pages
  • Editeur : Delta (29 novembre 2005)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0385339038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385339032
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,2 x 1,8 x 20,8 cm
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Julien Zaegel le 25 novembre 2009
Format: Broché
Les concepts exposés dans Screenplay, il y a trente ans, ont été digérés par toute l'industrie et on les retrouve dans un grand nombre d'ouvrages. La présentation est un peu rébarbative (mise en page à la PUF...). Mais on y trouve de très bons conseils, pragmatiques à souhait, dont la pertinence prend racine sur une expérience immense. Mérite le coup d'oeil.
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Amazon.com: 198 commentaires
42 internautes sur 47 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Mixed Feelings 12 juillet 2007
Par Nick - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
To sum up my opinion of the book in a short sentence: it's not the most amazing book ever, but I don't regret having read it. The good side of it is that the three act structure and all sound like a good plan to start working on a script. It does help a tonload to be able to cover so much ground in such a short time and with such big lines. I won't deny that. The card system is quite nice too, but you don't need 300 pages to learn that.

The thing that struck me the most was how redundant Field could get. Seriously, there are entire blocks of sentences that you will read over and over again. At first I thought that sounded really bad... I mean, if you're a famous script-writer and all, your writing should reflect that. So I was confused. Then, and I don't know if that saves it or not, I figured that the repetition was perhaps not so bad, since it kept hammering the same basic things in your mind, and since that helps to remember. It's a bit like a class, I guess.

I'm not saying that Field can't write, however, I think he merely opted for a personal style, oral if you want, and I don't think it's any fair to criticise too much on this aspect as other critics did. He's not writing a novel, he's writing about screenplay and he's talking to you.

I didn't buy this because I wanted to write a movie, I was curious about the script as a form of writing. Now I feel secure enough to consider writing a whole movie even though I never intended to, and that's pretty cool, I have to admit.

On the flip side, I have my doubts about Syd Field. Now, maybe I'm a dumb person, but I wasn't able to find a single movie written by him. And he doesn't mention any of his own scripts! He mentions those of others, oh yes, that he does, but I can't recall him mentioning one of his own personal scripts. (My bad and apologies if he did and I didn't see or forgot.)

Syd Field hated "Pulp Fiction" when he first saw it. That's bad. I mean, if you can't see right off that "Pulp Fiction" is a great movie, moreover, as a specialist of films, then I worry. I saw it years ago when I was a teen and it struck me as special even though I was no film specialist. So I don't know. It seems that Field eventually liked it when he was able to put it in his 3 act structure, by dividing the stories as units onto themselves. Fine, but do you need that to enjoy a movie or think it's great? No. In fact, if you are rendered unable to enjoy a movie because of that, then it majorly worries me.

As to the 3-act theory itself, I think it's a great tool to use for structure and for the writing of a movie, but I wouldn't base everything on it more than that. See, I think anything has a beginning, middle, and end, and that you can find those 3 things anywhere. It's too vague to be really meaningful, although it can be useful. I see it as something like construction lines in drawing: you use them, but then you erase them. And I think that's also how Field sees it; he doesn't think of his "paradigm" as impossibly rigid.

Other thing that worried me about Field is that he claims to write biographies for his characters that encompass their parents, grandparents, and, yes, past lives. Alright, that can always give you cool ideas that you'd not think of if it hadn't been for the character's past life as a fisherman in Antarctica, but that sounds far-fetched.

There are other things in Field's style that antagonised me from the beginning. Cliché zen analogies and such didn't do much to make like the text, and repeating the same things without backing them up doesn't convince more.

Also, and maybe I'm dumb, but I would have started the book with the form of script-writing. That's the first thing you look at when you consider writing a script! That's what I bought the book for, originally. Very little of the book is consecrated to that, and it's among the final chapters.

So what's the result of my reading this book? Well, I feel like I could start working on an actual movie script right now, and that alone isn't so bad, but I don't know that another book couldn't have done the same. The read itself wasn't too bad, although the redundancy can get seriously annoying. I also felt like the chapters weren't properly delimited, like you'd talk of a topic in this chapter and 4 chapters further, you find yourself reading about the same thing again.

I would recommend that to anyone who's interesting in scrip-writing, but be careful. It does give you a good basis for working up the spine of a script, and that's what the book was written for, so even though I gave it only 3 stars, I'd still recommend it (for lack of a better, since I never read anything else on script-writing).
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Hollywood of the 80s 17 août 2007
Par Robert Baumgardner - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I liked this book. Coupled with Syd Field's Screenwriter's Workbook, I managed to write a first draft of a screenplay. I've never been able to complete a play or screenplay before reading these books! This book gives you the background of screenplays and writing, plus his theory of what makes a good Hollywood screenplay. The workbook gives you a step by step process of writing one.

One drawback is that this book was written in the 80's. Sometimes it sounds so dated. The other drawback is it only explains one type of screenplay, the standard Hollywood 3-act narrative.

Overall, this book was a great help in writing a readable well structured screenplay.
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A good book, but disappointing 6 décembre 2012
Par Ellell Bee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Larry Brooks, whose "Story Engineering" I swear by, swears himself by this book. I couldn't wait to read it.

I was disappointed. Brooks presents Syd Field's information far more concisely, and in a much less anecdotal manner. If you buy "Story Engineering," you can skip this one.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Amazing Book (at least the first two thirds of it) 19 mars 2010
Par Aerosynth929 - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
"Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" by industry giant Syd Field is considered to be the bible of modern screenwriting texts, and has been for many years. It's a well-deserved badge of honor.

Field approaches the art of screenwriting logically, positively, explaining step by step the hows, whats, and whys of the biz. He addresses the technical points of length, description, planning, all in a way that makes absolute sense to any reader... regardless of their knowledge of the film industry, educational level, or age. He uses popular film examples to underscore his methods, which help enormously. This book gives any reader the right foundation to begin a screenplay with absolute confidence.

As an aside..... let's also not forget that the way Syd Field writes--his prose--is so reader friendly, and so understandable... he could be writing completely random crap and it would still be an absolute pleasure to read it. I've found that most writing "how-to" texts are extremely boring, procedural... very INSTITUTIONAL... this book is not at all institutional, and it's very easy on the eyes and brain when you're reading it.

My only criticism with this book is a big one... though it doesn't necessarily diminish the importance of the work itself. This book is 18 chapters long, but for all intents and purposes, it basically ends after Chapter 13 ("Screenplay Form").

Chapters 14-18 discuss extreme subjects unrelated to the "foundations of screenwriting." They discuss adaptation and collaboration... matters FAR ABOVE (and not particularly applicable) the neophyte, aspiring screenwriters that would be reading a book such as this one. Yet, Chapters 14-18 also discuss very simplistic matters that are likely FAR BENEATH those that would be reading this... things such as getting into the mood to write, devoting time to your writing, dealing with family who may be opposed to you spending so much time writing, et cetera. These same chapters are also filled with personal, broad philosophical observations about writing in general, the process... observations that any B-average Freshman English student could spit out without thinking too hard. There are also boring, stereotypical observations about the film industry and Hollywood society... things that any resident of Los Angeles can tell you even if they've never in their life been involved in the entertainment industry.

I recently discussed this book with my best friend, a USC grad who had read this book as part of a film course in college. I was shocked, but very soothed, to hear him exactly echo my sentiments about the last third of this book. I hope Field spices this text up a bit if he does another revision.

Yet, despite my disappointment with the latter third of the book, the first two-thirds are absolutely brilliant. This book is a must-read... dare I say a REQUIRED READ... for anyone interested in the whole screenwriting process.

Kudos to Field. I really learned a lot from this book. I most certainly recommend it.
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The Pioneering Book on Screenwriting 29 octobre 2007
Par C. J. Singh - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Reviewed by C.J.Singh

This review focuses on the latest edition of Syd Field's SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting, published in December 2005.

Syd Field published the book in 1979, the first book ever on the subject. In his memoir, GOING TO THE MOVIES -- A Personal Journey Through Four Decades of Modern Film, published in 2001, he says: "There were three printings within the first six months of publication, and it wasn't long before many of the major college and universities across the land were using it as a text (p 239)."

Introducing the SCREENPLAY book, Syd Field writes, "This not a `how-to' book....I call it a 'what-to' book, meaning if you have an idea for a screenplay, and you don't know what to do or how to do it, I can show you (p 8)." Very well, let's see.

Write down your answers to the following three questions. First: What is your story about? Who is the main character? What is the dramatic situation? ("You've got approximately ten pages of screenplay or approximately ten minutes of screen-time to establish this.") Second: What is your screenplay's ending? Third: What is your screenplay's inciting incident? -- defined as the incident "that sets the story in motion; it is the first visual representation of the key incident, what the story is about, and draws the main character into the story line (p 129)."

The major structuring form, Syd Field emphasizes is the classic three-act paradigm: Act I, set-up; Act II, confrontation; Act III, resolution. The typical length of a screenplay is 120 pages and the three acts take 30, 60, and 30 pages. Next, he introduces the concept of plot points: How do you get from one act to the next? "The answer is to create a Plot Point at the end of both Act I and Act II. He defines plot point as "any incident, episode, or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction (p 26)."

Does this paradigm hold for most, if not all, screenplays? Yes, says Syd Field, and tries to establish it by analyzing the structures of linear screenplays such as CASABLANCA and THELMA & LOUISE as well as nonlinear screenplays such as THE HOURS and THE ENGLISH PATIENT.

In the companion book, THE SCREENWRITER'S WORKBOOK, Syd Field adds three plot points to the basic three-act, two plot-points paradigm. The new plot-points are the midpoint at about page 60 and pinches at about pages 45 and 75 in the standard 120-page screenplay. These concepts of midpoint and pinches certainly enhance the structural guidelines presented in the earlier book. One of the strengths of Syd Field's books is his focusing on form, not on content, which is up to the creative writer. Form, of course, interactively affects content; nonetheless, Field wisely refrains from micromanaging techniques of content generation.

I must say the three Syd Field's books I've read so far could certainly use consultations with a professional copyeditor, a copyeditor who'd excise his annoyingly repetitive pedagogy. According to social psychologists, repetitive communication is the behavioral tendency in teachers caused by the practice of their profession ("deformation professionelle" carry-over to their communication pattern). Syd Field's penchant for repetition probably arose from leading numerous lectures and workshops? The three books, totalling over one-thousand pages, could be easily edited into an excellent 450-page book.

-- C J Singh
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