I think we all need at least one really nice positive thing about the entertainment business every single day of the year, including weekends. Sometimes it may be something simple, like a video that showcases something fun and sometimes it may be a movie poster that embraces the aesthetic we all want Hollywood to aspire to. Sometimes it may be a long-winded diatribe. Sometimes it’ll be from the staff and extended family of CHUD.com. Maybe even you readers can get in on it. So, take this to the bank. Every day, you will get a little bit of positivity from one column a day here. Take it with you. Maybe it’ll help you through a bad day or give folks some fun things to hunt down in their busy celluloid digesting day.
William Goldman’s Four Screenplays
When I was growing up everyone in my extended family knew I wanted to work in the film industry. Which of course meant that come Christmas or a birthday I would be inundated with movie-related gifts. While I would’ve loved to add to my VHS collection, the gifts were almost always books. And though the monotony of receiving all these books year after year was a bit tiresome, it was obviously pretty great too — I was a film nerd after all. But for every cool book I got (like Cameron Crowe’s Conversations With Wilder) I probably got three or four books destined to live in a box until I discovered the wonders of used book stores in college. There were a wide variety of repeated duds, from pretty but useless coffee table books full of stills from films I didn’t care about, to biographies about someone I disliked or didn’t know well enough to be interested in. But the number one kind of book I constantly received and couldn’t have been less into were books in the “How To Write a Perfect Script in 30 Days” model.
There were numerous reasons why these books bored me, but at the most basic level I was always discouraged from taking them seriously when I would read the author’s bio and it often wouldn’t list a single produced screenplay; instead saying something ambiguous like “James McLastname is a Hollywood screenwriter” or “James McLastname has written for film…” That wouldn’t exactly fill me with excitement to pour over the man’s insights into crafting a hot screenplay. Especially when I probably also got a sweet book about the History of Hammer films or something from someone else. On top of it all, even though I wanted to be a filmmaker, oddly enough I didn’t really think about the writing aspect much. Like the vast majority of people out there, I thought of a movie as belonging to the mighty director. I often didn’t even look at the name of the writer in the credits. Then someone gave me William Goldman’s Four Screenplays.
It seemed like a boring gift when I first held it in my hand. It is just the scripts for these movies? The name William Goldman didn’t mean anything to me either. But The Princess Bride was one of my favorite movies. And I was also a fan of Misery. (I hadn’t yet seen the other two films). What initially sucked me into the book were Goldman’s essays, which would eventually lead me to discover his landmark classic Adventures in the Screen Trade (but that was a while off still). Then I started looking at the scripts. I’d never really read a screenplay before. Goldman’s scripts as presented in the book are wildly unorthodox, as far as industry standards are concerned – the rampant use of “Cut To” and often absence of sluglines, for example – but I didn’t know that at the time. I had made a zillion home movies with my friends, some fairly complicated for a kid. But they were always done in a Curb Your Enthusiasm style, where I’d created an outline and then ad-lib the individual scenes. For whatever combination of laziness and ignorance, I’d never really thought about writing shit down ahead of time.
Four Screenplays changed that. I started becoming interested in what a movie looked like on the page. When I took a trip to Los Angeles in high school, I found an amazing store in Hollywood (sadly not here anymore) that sold nothing but scripts. I went hog wild and bought probably around ten — Jaws included. It was fascinating to see the different styles different writers employed, all with the obvious goal of trying to get people to visualize what was in the writers’ heads. But for me it all began with Goldman’s four scripts. And from there blossomed into an interest in writing that has expanded beyond the realm of just screenplays.
So for that, I am thankful for Four Screenplays.