One of the best biographies of a writer – and a female writer at that – Without Lying Down tells the story of Frances Marion, the highest paid screenwriter and a double Oscar winner whose career spanned the Silent Era and transformed into Talkies quite well (judging by the Oscars). Since she surrounded herself with a cadre of other female screenwriters at the time, the book is a marvelous introduction to a time when women ran Hollywood. — Rosanne
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You got to the next question which is my first exercise in class — Name the writer. Lucky if they can. If it’s a writer/director, they can. Otherwise, they can’t and they suddenly are embarrassed because they adore the words of a person whose name they can’t tell you. If they have a favorite book they can tell you who wrote it, but they don’t know who wrote their favorite film. So it’s my goal to make them know that. I can’t stand the Auteur Theory because I think it’s bullshit. Directors aren’t the authors of their film. I don’t want to insult any directors in the class but you can’t direct something that doesn’t exist on the page first. It’s a collaborative thing and directors have lovely, but they’ve been given all the credit for far too long because, as we know, it goes back to all the book reviews in Cahiers and they came up with that theory. It’s nonsense.
This is about strategies in teaching film and television history and current events — which is what David will do when I am done — and so, gee, I’m all about the chicks so we have Dorothy Parker and we have Tina Fey. There is a direct line between those women and if you love Tina Fey then you had better study a little bit of Dorothy Parker or you don’t understand why Tina Fey works today. So, why study screenwriting history? That’s actually the first screen of a lecture that I give on this very topic to my students on opening day because when you mention movies nobody says, “You know I love that shot in… ” They say, “My name is Inigo Montoya.You killed my father. Prepare to Die.” They remember the words in the movies. They remember the screenwriting, but when we look at the history of tv and film, we’re not doing that. We’re teaching directors. Everyone can name their favorite films and they can normally name the director of those films.
I am also on the editorial board for Written By Magazine and the book review editor of the Journal of Screenwriting so if anyone’s interested in writing book reviews for the Journal of Screenwriting which publishes out of the UK, please let me know because I am always looking for book reviewers and you get the book for free, but also I have — the schools that I teach at have subscription to the journal. I have students read journal articles because I want them — it is a Masters Program — I want them to have a comfort level with that, but I have my undergrads at least do one journal article reading as well to have an accessibility to that. And then I get the schools and/or the kids to read Written By Magazine every month. We do a different screenwriter or television writer on the front cover. It’s a wonderful inside look at how the process of writing is done. The subscription is not that expensive, rather than a textbook for undergrads, but we also publish most of that online for free at the Written By web site, so they can read these articles on their own as assignments and learn about these writers. So I think all that stuff is valid for the class.