Recommended: Beyond Screenwriting
Most books about screenwriting are written by academics and others who know how to analyze story and convey the basics of script construction, but who have never had a pitch or script optioned, never dealt with studio notes, never been in a writer’s room … in short, who have never gotten paid to write movies or on a TV show. This is not one of those books.
Beyond Screenwriting: Insider Tips and Career Advice from a Successful TV and Film Writer (affiliate link) is a true insider’s guide (and you know how we feel about insider info here at Your Industry Insider). Author Sterling Anderson has been a working writer in Hollywood for almost 20 years. His credits include “The Unit,” “Medium,” and “Heist,” in addition to the Emmy-nominated “The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn,” which starred Sydney Poitier. He has also taught screenwriting workshops and undergrad and graduate classes at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. (For more on his background, see his 2011 Industry Pro profile.)
Written with co-writer Andrea Goss Knaub, this book is constructed around many of the recurring questions Anderson has gotten from his students and other aspiring screenwriters and TV writers over the years. He provides many examples from well-known scripts, as well as some his own work. The book begins with chapters on story, characters, scenes, dialogue, structure for film scripts, and structures for TV scripts and then goes into more on the “being a working writer” side of the story. His focus is always practical, even when he is conveying information on the craft. He answers such questions as:
What types of stories sell/attract big audiences?
Why should you avoid creating incidental characters and if you do create one, NEVER give them dialogue?
What is a show bible and how important is it?
Why are some scripts on a set comprised of a rainbow assortment of colored pages?
What do producers need to know in order to buy a pitch?
What types of characters attract name actors?
And yes, there are chapters on how to get your script read and how to get an agent.
Reading “Beyond Screenwriting” is not a guarantee of success in the industry, but it will definitely broaden your understanding of how the business works and give you some concrete advice on how to tailor your writing to give you the best chance of success. You will also be entertained, as I was, by Anderson’s tales from the trenches, starting as the son of a single mother growing up in a home without indoor plumbing through being an award-winning Napa wine maker, and ending up as a successful writer working with David Mamet. It’s a good story, and Anderson knows good stories.