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Almost anyone can remember their favorite movie quote and the actor who said it, but they rarely know the person who actually put the words together. The name of the person responsible for these quotes appears briefly at the end of the credits, just before the director. Rarely present on a press tour, or seen during interviews, yet the architect of any film: the screenwriter. The reason they are overlooked by the public spotlight could most likely be the stereotype associated with writers as being anti-social and less talkative people, which can hurt the public’s interest.
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But another reason could be the lack of appreciation from the studios and the press writers they have suffered since the start of history of cinema. Individual screenwriters are not cherished like studio or media actors or directors. For example, the last writer to host Saturday Night Live was Buck Henry in 1980 and the last screenwriter to have a multi-movie deal with a major studio was William goldman. Contemporary use of studio writers is a quick entry and exit process, unless the writer is also a director. The director has traditionally been known to be the true writer of a movie, but what about the real writers who build the worlds, write the words, and basically create the blueprint for movies?
Some of the greatest screenwriters in history
There have been many writers throughout history who have stayed on the page and never moved in the director’s chair, or acted on screen. But the screenwriters who have achieved the most critical and commercial success also make their films, their creative power making them authors. Examples include Stanley kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Paul thomas anderson, and Sofia coppola. Sadly, screenwriting and the film industry as a whole have been dominated by cis-white men, which is why most of the writers mentioned below are.
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Screenwriting as a unique art has really started to take off with Billy Wilder, who began writing films in the late 1920s, and Ernest Lehman, who was known for his ability to create tension and suspense in his scripts. Lehman was the mastermind behind the multi-Oscar films’from north to north-west‘,’West Side Story‘, and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolfe?‘. Wilder was known for his iconic dialogue and creative range. He won six Oscars throughout his career, and wrote legendary films’The apartment‘,’Sunset Boulevard‘, and ‘Sabrina‘.
William goldman was increasingly recognized by the mid to late 20th century, with hits like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid‘,’All the president’s men‘, and ‘The princess to marry‘. Goldman’s trademarks included charming candor, memorable characters, and wildly imaginative stories. These three paved the way for the way the movies were written and the way the stories of the cinematic narrative were told. Many others have stood on the shoulders of these screenwriting geniuses and transcended the craft even further – writers such as Paddy chayefsky, Robert Towne, and David Mamet, which include all the attributes of Wilder and Goldman in their work.
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Some contemporary screenwriters
Shortly after Goldman and Wilder’s heyday, someone who confused stories from a perspective not too familiar to cinema at the time was emerging. His rom-com style of storytelling has dominated the big screen ever since – writer Nora Ephron. Eprhon basically created the modern day romantic comedy with powerful female characters, as can be seen in his films’When Harry meets Sally‘,’Insomnia in Seattle‘, and ‘You’ve got mail‘.
When it comes to modern screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin is arguably the most critically and commercially successful contemporary screenwriter. Charlie kauffman is also a renowned postmodern screenwriter, writing innovative cinematic achievements like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Spirit‘,’Being John Malkovich‘, and ‘Adaptation’. His career as a screenwriter then evolved into a career as a director. Noah Baumbach followed a similar path, writing alongside the legendary filmmaker Wes anderson before making his directorial debut.
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Diablo Cody is also one of the sharpest and most inventive writers of the 21st century, with her unique and brilliant film ‘Juno‘ and ‘Young adult‘. As it becomes easier and easier to find ways to record great content, more and more screenwriters are trying their hand at filming and editing their own material. This reduced the number of individual screenwriters, but increased the number of filmmakers with original voices on platforms to reach the mainstream.
The art of the screenplay: the basis of every film
A screenplay, in general, is a story about a character with a problem. To learn the craft of script engineering, one can turn to the many books that teach the skills needed to write a successful script, such as: “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder, “The Hollywood Standard” by Christopher Riley, “The hero with a thousand faces” by Joseph Campbell, Syd Field “The Foundation of Screenwriting, “and of course the crown jewel, “Adventures in the Screen Trade” by William Goldman. These books offer incredibly insightful knowledge about screenplay history, storytelling methods that have worked in the past, and what producers look for when reading a screenplay.
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Scenarios follow many structures. There’s the traditional three-act structure, with a setup, a complication, and then a resolution. Typically in this structure, a character starts out in a comfort zone, something crucial happens, and they have to overcome adversity to get wicked, which they usually always do. Most films are written in three act structures, such as’Star Wars’, ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark‘, and ‘Die hard‘.
Then there’s the Observation Structure, which looks like a series of vignettes in which a character deals with several smaller issues, not a single big one. A great example of this would be one of that of David Macdougall movies, or that of Richard Linklater ‘Lazy‘. Another popular structure is the parallel / hyperlink structure, where multiple stories are told and usually each character in the movie is connected in some way. Examples of this structure are the Oscar-winning films’crash‘ and ‘Magnolia‘.
These are important storytelling techniques that were discovered in the creative writing process of cinema. There’s no doubt that every member of the production process is just as important to making a great movie, but the writers are the ones who draw the plans that everyone can work on. They present it all in a certain artistic format, while other people connect different components to bring it to life. The writers deserve to be praised just like the actors and directors by the press and the studios, and it is time to change society’s view on them.
By Armando Brigham
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