The best books on writing for the big screen

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the author of four books of interviews with filmmakers: Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson (a Guardian Book of the Year), Story and Character: Interviews with British Screenwriters, Hampton on Hampton (an Observer Book of the Year), and The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft. I have written original and adapted screenplays and stageplays, on spec and to commission; contributed film interviews and reviews to UK magazines and newspapers; chaired Q&A events at book and screenwriting festivals; and recently published my first novel, The Vetting Officer. My next nonfiction project is a book of conversations with bestselling author and screenwriter William Boyd, for Penguin.


I wrote...

The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

By Alistair Owen,

Book cover of The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

What is my book about?

Producers and audiences are hungrier than ever for stories, and a lot of those stories begin life as a book – but how exactly do you transfer a story from the page to the screen? Do adaptations use the same creative gears as original screenplays? Does a true story give a project more weight than a fictional one? Is it helpful to have the original author’s input on the script? And how much pressure is the screenwriter under, knowing they won’t be able to please everyone with the finished product?

The Art of Screen Adaptation reveals the challenges and pleasures of reimagining stories for cinema and television, and provides a frank and fascinating masterclass with the writers who have done it – and have the awards and acclaim to show for it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Alistair Owen Why did I love 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…

By Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales from the Script as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few modern art forms are as misunderstood as the craft of creating movie scripts, but "Tales from the Script" puts readers in the trenches of the Hollywood development process. Readers will revel in the exploits of Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon"), John Carpenter ("Halloween'), Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption"), Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally"), William Goldman ("The Princess Bride"), David Hayter ("Watchmen"), Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost"), Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver"), Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham"), and dozens of others. They'll learn how these writers surmounted the incredible odds against breaking into Hollywood, transformed their ideas into films that topped the box…


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

Alistair Owen Why did I love 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.

By William Goldman,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Adventures in the Screen Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now available as an ebook for the first time!

No one knows the writer's Hollywood more intimately than William Goldman. Two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter and the bestselling author of Marathon Man, Tinsel, Boys and Girls Together, and other novels, Goldman now takes you into Hollywood's inner sanctums...on and behind the scenes for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, and other films...into the plush offices of Hollywood producers...into the working lives of acting greats such as Redford, Olivier, Newman, and Hoffman...and into his own professional experiences and creative thought processes in the crafting of screenplays. You get…


Book cover of Making Movies

Alistair Owen Why did I love 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.

By Sidney Lumet,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Making Movies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Invaluable.... I am sometimes asked if there is one book a filmgoer could read to learn more about how movies are made and what to look for while watching them. This is the book.” —Roger Ebert, The New York Times Book Review

Why does a director choose a particular script? What must they do in order to keep actors fresh and truthful through take after take of a single scene? How do you stage a shootout—involving more than one hundred extras and three colliding taxis—in the heart of New York’s diamond district? What does it take to keep the studio…


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

Alistair Owen Why did I love 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.”

By John Yorke,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Into The Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The best book on the subject I've read. Quite brilliant' Tony Jordan, creator/writer, Life on Mars, Hustle

We all love stories. But why do we tell them? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way? John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers' Academy, has brought a vast array of drama to British screens. Here he takes us on a journey to the heart of storytelling, revealing that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative forms - one that echoes the fairytale journey into the woods and, like any great art, comes from deep within. From ancient…


Book cover of Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script

Alistair Owen Why did I love 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.

By Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Little Miss Sunshine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the official screenplay book tie-in to the uproarious American family road comedy. Brazenly satirical yet deeply human, Little Miss Sunshine introduces audiences to one of the most endearingly fractured families in recent cinema history. Meet the Hoovers, a motley six-member family who treks from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California, to fulfill the deepest wish of seven-year-old Olive, an ordinary little girl with big dreams.

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, and Alan Arkin, the film strikes a nerve with everyone who's ever been awestruck by how their muddled families seem to make it…


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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


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