By Justin Morrow, NoFilmSchool: n the 80s, the joke was that everyone, no matter what they did during the day, had a screenplay to hawk. With Joe Eszterhas getting millions for scribbling the plot of One Night Stand on a cocktail napkin, and Shane Black writing Lethal Weapon at the age of 26, what didn’t look like hard work looked good to lots of people. Much of this can be laid at the feet of one Syd Field, whose Screenplay took thousands of years of dramaturgical what have you and condensed it into a friendly set of easy-to-follow rules that helped spark the screenplay goldrush of the 80s. Yet the number of working Hollywood screenwriters stays the same, roughly, from year to year. So what, then is the secret? Is there even a secret? You’ll have to read until the end to find out. (Suspense!)
After college, my friend moved to LA and wrote coverage (essentially, memos that said whether or not a given submission was worth considering further) for a mid-size production company. Most spec screenplays do not pass the reader. From time to time, my friend would send me some of the more out there scripts he read, along with his dumbfounded coverage, and both were always amazing to me.
It seemed that most of these potential movies had been designed by writers with a sort of narrative tone deafness, an insensitivity to story, or even how people talked to each other; this, combined with a lack of awareness of their deficiencies (the Dunning Kruger effect has shown that the worse you are at a given task, the more likely you are to rate yourself as being totally great at this task, which is why I will arm wrestle any of you, anytime) led to pages of contraction-less, expository dialogue about what was going on on-screen. In this TEDx talk, agent Julian Friedman addresses issues related to why good story is such a rare metal, and also, why America is story’s chief exporter around the world.