Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s

Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s

Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s

Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s


Patrick McGilligan continues his celebrated interviews with exceptional screenwriters in Backstory 5, focusing on the 1990s. The thirteen featured writers--Albert Brooks, Jean-Claude Carrière, Nora Ephron, Ronald Harwood, John Hughes, David Koepp, Richard LaGravenese, Barry Levinson, Eric Roth, John Sayles, Tom Stoppard, Barbara Turner, and Rudy Wurlitzer--are not confined to the 1990s, but their engrossing, detailed, and richly personal stories create, in McGilligan's words, "a snapshot of a profession in motion." Emphasizing the craft of writing and the process of collaboration, this new volume looks at how Hollywood is changing to meet new economic and creative challenges. Backstory 5 explores how these writers come up with their ideas, how they go about adapting a stage play or work of fiction, how they organize and structure their work, and much more.


The world keeps turning, spinning madly one might say, and here we are at the fifth volume of the Backstory series, more than two decades after the publication of my first book of interviews with Hollywood screenwriters of the golden age.

Much has changed since the first book; in particular, there is now a common understanding and widespread use of the word backstory. I had to ask around about it in the early 1980s. the New York Times columnist William Safire, writing about its proliferation, credited the initial Backstory with helping to bring the old word into vogue again. Bless him. “Unfortunately for etymologists,” Safire wrote, “no interviewer asked the early screenwriters if they ever used the word backstory.” But I did, and they said they used the word to mean the “backstory” of the characters and plot of a script; that’s where the title of the first book, Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age, came from.

I have used it more broadly to signify the backstory of the profession, as well as the backstory of a particular writer, specific script, or film. the series up to now has tried to tell the backstory or history of the screenwriting craft, dating roughly from the late silent era up through the 1980s, which is the rubric of Backstory 4. I recommend the earlier volumes to you, if the word or series is new to you.

Hollywood keeps evolving, and so does screenwriting. Pen and pencil are for diehards now, as are three-by-five cards for plotting. Typewriters are out, computers in. Living in Los Angeles is also out; only three of the distinguished interviewees in Backstory 5 actually live in the Hollywood vicinity. Nowadays some top names prefer to live on the East Coast, flying—and whizzing their e-mails—back and forth from coast to coast. the business is still centered on Hollywood production, but . . .

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