Screenwriters often joke that "no one ever paid a dollar at a movie theater to watch a screenplay." Yet the screenplay is where a movie begins, determining whether a production gets the "green light" from its financial backers and wins approval from its audience. This innovative volume gives readers a comprehensive portrait of the art and business of screenwriting, while showing how the role of the screenwriter has evolved over the years.

Reaching back to the early days of Hollywood, when moonlighting novelists, playwrights, and journalists were first hired to write scenarios and photoplays, Screenwriting illuminates the profound ways that screenwriters have contributed to the films we love. This book explores the social, political, and economic implications of the changing craft of American screenwriting from the silent screen through the classical Hollywood years, the rise of independent cinema, and on to the contemporary global multi-media marketplace. From The Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone With the Wind (1939), and Gentleman's Agreement (1947) to Chinatown (1974), American Beauty (1999), and Lost in Translation (2003), each project began as writers with pen and ink, typewriters, or computers captured the hopes and dreams, the nightmares and concerns of the periods in which they were writing.

As the contributors take us behind the silver screen to chronicle the history of screenwriting, they spotlight a range of key screenplays that changed the game in Hollywood and beyond. With original essays from both distinguished film scholars and accomplished screenwriters, Screenwriting is sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in Hollywood, from movie buffs to industry professionals.


There is an inevitable “to-be-transcended-ness” that circumscribes the work of the professional screenwriter. Cinematography, editing, sound, costume and production design, makeup, casting, and acting are manifested in movies as solidly as the medium itself can allow. In simple craft terms, we can see the final fruits of the designer’s or the cinematographer’s labors in and as images onscreen. Above them, directors claim authorial dominion—or have had it claimed for them—through the intersection of the other crafts as film style and directed performance. Of all the crafts that are involved in the production of motion pictures, however, screenwriting is defined the most clearly by the instability of its own product. It is unique both in being at once present in the product of every other craft, as inspiration, as guide, and even as direction, yet (with the exception of instances of visual text such as intertitles) also simultaneously absent from the screen. The very nature of this material absence defines screenwriting as, to some extent, having already been moved beyond.

Of course, audiences hear dialogue when it is present and we invest in characters as their onscreen actions and interactions unfold as drama. Indeed, it is easy to suggest that the traces of screenwriting and typically of its default text, the screenplay, may be discerned most clearly through the pleasures of structure and story. In this way the unseen work of the screenwriter must be evident in . . .

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