Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
I’m glad I read Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting twice before reviewing it. After only reading it once I probably would have said it was a bit patronizing, repetitive and not very insightful.
Fortunately, I put the book aside for a while, and came back to re-read slowly, digesting each paragraph carefully. What we actually have here, is a nice novel size guide to screenwriting that every screenwriter should keep within arms reach.
I don’t really subscribe to any one screenwriting guru or trainer. (Although I do like Robert McKee’s Story a lot). I think screenwriting is something that cannot be taught; but it can be learned. Anyone who is serious about writing films should immerse themselves in the world of screenwriting. For that reason, I read just about every reputable book on the topic.
Syd Field’s Screenplay is definitely aimed at a more general, beginner audience. But don’t let that deter you from dipping into this book. Many of his ideas can be found in the works of different writers under different names. For example, McKee talks about the successful Inciting Incident as having a set-up and a payoff. In Syd’s view, they are two separate events: the inciting incident and the key incident. Anyway you look at it, it’s reassuring to know that two respected experts have arrived at similar conclusions independently.
Syd’s writing is unavoidably a bit repetitive. That serves to remind me that he is writing for a more general audience. But what he’s really trying to do is emphasize just how crucial those points are to a successful screenplay. Screenplay comes across as a light read the first time around. But if you go back to it and treat it as a serious read, digesting each point carefully, you will be impressed by Syd’s knowledge and insight. The newer edition makes use of many examples from contemporary cinema, and that can only be an added comfort for younger readers discovering Syd’s work for the first time.
This is actually the only book of Syd’s I’ve read. But the writing style is warm enough that I would consider reading anything else by him. It’s good work. This book is sure to be on my shelf until it falls apart, and then I’ll immediately order the latest edition.