Of all the many, many things I have written, tried to write, and wanted to write, the one thing I have never wanted to do, or had any illusion I’d be good at, is writing a screenplay. Why, then, did I spend a good $11 and change on the e-version of a book about screenwriting, which I read in a single afternoon?
Well, basically because I heard Tom Lennon talking about the book in an inteview with Jian Ghomeshi on Q, and it sounded funny. Really, really funny. If you can’t tell from the cover (where the words “fun and” are crossed out so the title is Writing Movies for Profit), Lennon and Garrant are successful Hollywood screenwriters who have made a ton of money on movies that most people think are, well, pretty awful. (The Night at the Museum movies are probably the high point of their oeuvre, artistically speaking, which says a lot). They make no bones about the fact that this is not a book for people who want to write artistic, Oscar-nominated, film-festival films. This is for people who want to make a lot of money in the Hollywood studio system, churning out drivel that will make it big at the box office.
Their breezy, sarcastic tone is well-suited to the subject matter: these guys would be intolerable if they took themselves or their work seriously. Heck, even with the self-deprecating humour they’re still intolerable, or at least intolerably crass, at times. They don’t write books much better than they write movies, but what they do well is crack jokes and tell the truth about how the studio system works and what you have to be willing to do to make money in it. Abandoning any shred of self-respect as a writer should be pretty high on your list.
Mainly, I bought the book because I thought there’d be a bunch of funny anecdotes about working in Hollywood, because that kind of behind-the-scenes stuff intrigues me. There definitely were some anecdotes, but not as many as I’d hoped. However, any disappointment I experienced with this book is entirely my own fault. I mean, I bought what was clearly labelled as a how-to book even though I wasn’t at all interesting in learning to do the thing they were teaching me, so I should have known what I was getting. One additional caveat: this book is FULL of footnotes, that is, the funny, throwaway kind of footnotes that add another sarcastic joke to the jokes they’re already telling. E-books, at least in the format I’m reading (downloaded from kobobooks.com onto my Blackberry PlayBook and read in the Kobo app) do not do footnotes well, and I need to remember that. Whether they’re funny joke footnotes or serious scholarly footnotes, at this point, books with footnotes are easier to navigate on paper than in e-book format.
All in all, I’d have gotten everything I wanted out of this book if I’d picked it up in the bookstore, spent an hour flipping through it and having a few laughs, and put it back on the shelf. And I doubt Tom and Ben would mind me doing that since they have, as they tell you on every second page, already made A BILLION DOLLARS with their movies. Presumably any profits from the book are just icing on the cake. However, if you are in their target audience — that is, if you’d actually like to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter — then you really should buy this book and hang onto it, because I suspect their perspective on the business is more real and more honest than what you’ll find in most books on screenwriting.