One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, when I was in my teens, was this: “You want to know what movies are good? Look at the WRITER, not the actors. The writer is the guy who actually makes up the story and the words the actors are saying.”
So I got interested in screenwriting, and the people who did it successfully, at a very early age. This led me to one of the best books ever on the subject; William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade.
I was already a fan; his adaptation of All The President’s Men remains to this day one of my favorite movies ever made, though he himself didn’t much like the way it turned out.
A lot of things people remember as facts were actually Goldman’s words, invented for the movie. In particular, the stuff with Deep Throat like “Follow the money.”
But Adventures in the Screen Trade was a revelation. It is revered not just by me but also by pretty much anyone who writes. Here’s Mark Waid…
Goldman was an immense, immense influence on me–not just with his fiction but with his instructional think-pieces. Other books have come and gone on my list, but ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE has always been and will always be the first (and only must-read) book I recommend to aspiring writers in any medium. It would take me hours to recount all the things I’ve learned from William Goldman about craft.
Goldman was absolutely a writer’s writer, a guy we all looked up to and sought to emulate, and he generously gave of his knowledge and shared his own struggles in dozens of memoirs of the craft over the course of his career.
Any of them is worth your time if you write for publication– ANY publication, from screenplays to books to magazines to blogs– but Adventures in the Screen Trade is the one to start with.
Goldman preferred to think of himself as a novelist, but the movies are where he made his mark on American culture. The number of lines he wrote that have since become catchphrases is probably higher than any other writer’s ever to work in Hollywood. The Princess Bride (probably the most beloved of Goldman’s movies, even more than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) alone has at least a dozen.
(Worth noting that this movie is, again, adapting his own novel.)
Whether he was doing an original, or something based on one of his own books…
…or adapting something from someone else…
… he was never less than good, and very often he was brilliant.
Back next week with something cool.