The best books on writing for the big screen

The Books I Picked & Why

Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

By Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman

Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Why this book?

“You never really succeed,” Andrew W. Marlowe tells the editors of Tales from the Script, “You always fail at a higher level.” So: first you can’t finish your script, then you can’t get it read, then you can’t sell it, then you can’t get it made, then it’s made – but badly. Or, in Marlowe’s case, it’s made into Air Force One and you’re asked to repeat the trick. “Even when you get to the top there’s this realization: ‘Okay, the view is great, but tomorrow I gotta get up and start climbing the mountain again.’” If you find that depressing, don’t be a screenwriter. If you see it as a challenge, read on…


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Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

By William Goldman

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Why this book?

In his sardonic 2002 memoir, What Just Happened?, producer Art Linson remembers an ex-studio head saying that if he’d greenlit the movies he’d passed on and cancelled the movies he’d made, the end result would have been the same. Screenwriter William Goldman famously put this a different way: “Nobody knows anything.” As a double Oscar-winner, for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, he knew as much as anyone – and a lot more than most – and his 1983 classic anatomises the business and craft of screenwriting in tones both magisterial and gossipy.


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Making Movies

By Sidney Lumet

Making Movies

Why this book?

Before you sit down and write a movie, it might be a good idea to find out how they’re made – and what better guide than the director of 12 Angry Men, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon. Sidney Lumet actually liked writers (not always a given with directors) and worked with some of the best, including Paddy Chayefsky (Network) and David Mamet (The Verdict). Mamet’s brilliant work adapting The Verdict is also examined in Goldman’s book, and together they provide a fascinating insight into the combination of art, commerce, ego, and chance which comprises the script development process.


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Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them

By John Yorke

Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them

Why this book?

Like a lot of screenwriters, I’ve got Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story on my bookshelf. One day, I might even read them. But they’ll need to be very good indeed to beat John Yorke’s Into the Woods, which I’ve already read twice. More than just another “How to” book on screenwriting, it’s an accessible and insightful study of storytelling through the ages, by a leading TV producer and script editor, and an elegant distillation of how all stories, from the fireside to the multiplex, begin with and finally boil down to: “Once upon a time, in such and such a place, something happened.”


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Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script

By Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script

Why this book?

Once upon a time, in a small apartment in Brooklyn, an unemployed, unproduced, unagented writer sat down to start a script. Three days later he finished it. Twelve months of rewrites and he sold it. Four years later it was made. And a year after that it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. But, Michael Arndt notes in his modest introduction to the shooting script, this isn’t “a rewards-of-virtue narrative”; it’s a story about the razor-thin line between success and failure – and how, as Dwayne says in the movie, you should “do what you love and fuck the rest”. Words to live – and write – by.


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