Lew Hunter here! I've been a professional writer for almost thirty years, writing episodic television, television movies, and features. I've taught writing just about everywhere you can find people who want to tell a story, including Africa, China, Croatia, and South America.
There are a lot of good books. If you can afford the time and money, I say 'buy, and for God's sake, read them all!' I know most of you can't, so these are the books I recommend. Nearly all of the titles (and more) on my "Lew Hunter's Naked Screenwriting" handout you receive when you come to my classes are here. (A few on my handout list are out of print.)
Since no physical bookstore has them all, for your convenience, I have them here, with links to Amazon.com. Nearly all of them are at below list price, and most of them ship within 24 hours, worldwide.
PLEASE, I implore you, patronize your local independent new or used bookstore. You might even find some of these titles as used texts at your college bookstore. You can try Bookfinder.com or Half.com which are good sources for used and out-of-print titles.
Write On! Lew
As an executive at Disney, I was working with Ray Bradbury. (We were trying to bring his Martian Chronicles to television. It took ten years, but we did it! DVD.)
Since I wasn't a writer myself, I felt a little sheepish, giving him notes. Imagine, Lew Hunter giving notes to Ray Bradbury!
One day I was talking to him in the cafeteria and I summoned up my courage and asked Ray if he thought I could become a writer. He thought I knew something about writing, and he recommended these two books. (I've added Ray's own book on creativity as well.) You won't find a lot of nuts and bolts, but they'll help you think like a writer.
I've been listening to a lot of students who think my approach is formulaic. Forgive me for bragging, but in 1998, 9 out of the top 10 box office winners were written by my 434 graduates. It seems the ticket buyers disagree with the Doubting Thomases and Thomasinas. The rules of storytelling haven't changed since Aristotle.
Since the first storytellers enchanted listeners around the fire, people like stories with a beginning, middle, and end. There are common elements to every good story. Ignore them at your peril!
Aristotle sets down the foundations of good storytelling. Joseph Campbell tells you what makes a hero. Lajos Egri explains story and character logic.
You understand storytelling, and now you're ready to learn the nuts and bolts. You've - ahem - already read my humble tome, Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434, and you're looking for more.
You'll enjoy Adventures In The Screen Trade, William Goldman's anecdotal account of his career, which also includes his script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I think my friend and colleague William Missouri Downs has written the best and most widely dimensional book on screenwriting today -- it's even better than my own!
Andy Horton's written a terrific book about the character-centered screenplay. (Hmmmm.... maybe I should have put his with Joseph Campbell...) And I have nothing but the highest respect for my friend and office mate, Richard Walter. You can't go wrong with him!
I confess I don't know a lot about script-formatting and story generating software. Until November 1999, I never owned or used a computer! (Now my lovely wife Pamela has to tear me away from the Internet!) All the scripts I've sold were written on my trusty manual typewriter, which I'm KEEPING. I give you the margin settings in my book and they're in every good general screenwriting text.
Although I'd rather you spend your money on movie tickets and video rentals, if you must have special formatting software, Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter are the more common choices amongst students.
One of the things I tell my students is comedy has to flow naturally from the characters and situation. No one knows characters better than Andy Horton. That's why I recommend his book.
When I was just getting started, I wrote one-liners and jokes for some of the big names at the time. Sol Saks has been around since God was a child, writing for everyone.
If you don't live in the greater Los Angeles area, it's probably difficult for you to meet and talk to professional screenwriters, unless you attend an expensive seminar in some exotic far-away locale. Here's the next best thing, collected interviews.
Cameron Crowe's excellent Conversations With Wilder, an extended interview with Billy Wilder is a must-have. Mr. Wilder had such a varied pallette, directing (and writing some) "Some Like It Hot," "Sunset Boulevard," "Fortune Cookie," "Stalag 17," and many, many others. (He's also in my forthcoming "Lew Hunter's Naked Screenwriting, 24 Academy Award-winning Writers and Directors Talk about Writing.")
My colleague Bill Froug (he hired me to teach at UCLA) has several terrific collections of interviews. Here they are, along with a partial list of interviewees.
|Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
(Insights and Interviews)
Frank Darabont The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption
Callie Khouri Thelma & Louise
David Peoples Unforgiven
Janet Peoples 12 Monkeys
Bo Goldman One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Larry Gelbart Oh, God!
Stewart Kaminski Hidden Fears
Laurence Dworet Outbreak!
Zen and the
Art of Screenwriting
(Insights and Interviews) 2
Richard Donner Lethal Weapon, The Omen
Scott Frank Get Shorty, Dead Again
Brian Helgeland L.A. Confidential, Payback
Nicholas Kazan Reversal of Fortune, Fallen
Frank Pierson Dog Day Afternoon, Cool Hand Luke
Eric Roth The Horse Whisperer, Forrest Gump
Lauren Shuler-Donner Any Given Sunday, Bulworth
Aaron Sorkin A Few Good Men,The American President
Robin Swicord Little Women, Practical Magic
|The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter
Nunnally Johnson The Grapes of Wrath, The Two Faces of Eve
IAL Diamond Some Like It Hot, The Apartment
Buck Henry The Graduate, Catch -22
Stirling Silliphant In the Heat of the Night
William Bowers The Gunfighter, My Man Godfrey
Ring Lardner, Jr. M*A*S*H
William Brown Newman The Man With the Golden Arm, The Great Escape
Edward Anhalt The Boston Strangler, Jeremiah Johnson
Fay Kanin Rhapsody, Teacher's Pet
Lewis John Carlino Seconds, The Great Santini
David Giler Myra Breckinridge, Aliens
Patrick MacGilligan performed a marvelous service for all of us by collecting interviews of the best surviving writers from the Golden Age in his Backstory series. Want to see crisp and clever dialogue surrounded by cascading plot points? Take a look at any of the classics, even the B-movies of the Thirties and Forties. The following two volumes include writers of the Fifties and Sixties. A complete list of the writers interviewed in each volume follows:
|backstory 1: Writers
of the Golden Age
Charles Bennett Foreign Correspondent, The Man Who Knew Too Much
W.R. Burnett High Sierra, The Great Escape
Niven Busch The Postman Always Rings Twice, Duel in the Sun
James M. Cain Double Indemnity, Interlude
Lenore Coffee Young at Heart, The End of the Affair
Phillip Dunne Forever Amber, The Robe, The Agony and the Ecstacy
Julius J. Epstein Casablanca, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Pete 'n' Tillie
John Lee Mahin Captains Courageous, Showboat, Not time for Sergeants
Richard Malbaum Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, A View to a Kill
Casey Robinson The Corn is Green, Passage to Marseille,
Allan Scott Top Hat, Imitation of Life
Donald Ogden Stewart The Philadelphia Story
Writers of the Fifties
Leigh Brackett The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye
Richard Brooks Blackboard Jungle, Deadline, U.S.A, Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood
Betty Comden and Adolph Green On the Town, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Singing in the Rain
Garson Kanin Adam's Rib, Born Yesterday, Pat and Mike
Dorothy Kingsley Kiss Me, Kate, Seven Brides for Sevn Brothers, Valley of the Dolls
Arthur Laurents Rope, West Side Story, The Way We Were
Ben Maddow The Asphalt Jungle, High Noon
Daniel Mainwaring Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Walter Reisch Ninotchka, Gaslight, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Curt Siodmak The Wolf Man, The House of Frankenstein, Donovan's Brain
Stewart Stern Rebel Without a Cause, The Ugly American, Rachel, Rachel
Daniel Taradash From Here to Eternity, The Other Side of Midnight
Philip Yordan The Harder they Fall, God's Little Acre, Studs Lonigan
Writers of the Sixties
Jay Presson Allen Prime of Miss Jane Brodie, Prince of the City
George Axelrod The Seven Year Itch, The Manchurian Candidate
Walter Bernstein Fail-Safe, The Molly McGuires
Horton Foote To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Mercies
Wallon Green The Wild Bunch, Eraser
Charles B. Griffith Little Shop of Horrors, Eat My Dust
John Michael Hayes To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Butterfield Eight
Ring Lardner Jr. A Star Is Born, Forever Amber, M*A*S*H
Richard Matheson The Omega Man, The House of Usher
Wendell Mayes The Spirit of St. Louis, Death Wish
Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. Long, Hot, Summer, Hud, Norma Rae
Arnold Schulman A Hole in the Head, Goodbye Columbus, Tucker, A Man and His Dream
Stirling Silliphant In the Heat of the Night, Charly, Shaft
Terry Southern Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider, The Magic Christian
Besides a good dictionary, here are a couple of other books you should have. (Why a dictionary? Spell-checking is not enough. Readers have a pile of spec scripts to read and they're looking for any excuse not to finish yours. Spelling counts.) Elements of Style (otherwise known as Strunk & White is the fundamental guide to usage and punctuation. Although it's been recently updated, the previous edition is still worthwhile. (I'll bet you can find a clean, used copy if you walk into any second-hand book store.)
When I'm near a computer, I use Internet Movie Database as my general reference for questions about cast and crew credits. But I also like Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide.
Thanks for visiting my bookstore!
Write On! Lew