Friday, September 23, 2011

Book: Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon (2011)

Screenwriting guru Robert McKee has his prominent disciples and, even more impressively, has been incarnated onscreen by the great Brian Cox. Personally I found his magnum opus Story to be an impenetrable brick, full of charts and jargon that made no sense. My copy came with an Allen wrench. I still have no idea what it’s for.

Actors/writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have written a riposte not only to McKee but every other screenwriting manual. They tell you up front they’re not interested in helping you realize your vision. They want to write movies studios want to make, and they have the credits (both Night at the Museum films) to prove it.

The book is funny, studded with irreverent footnotes.* One section consists of nothing but the addresses of every In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles, along with a glossary of secret ordering terms. Another offers the hidden hierarchy of studio parking passes.

Of course, this information is actually useful. That’s the secret of the book: it’s relentlessly practical about the very specific business of writing big-budget Hollywood movies. The vast majority of which, as the authors state repeatedly, “suck donkey balls.” They include some of their own work in that category. There’s very little here about developing characters, yet plenty about how to take notes from executives and stars (two very different tasks), how to handle getting fired off a movie – the authors stress “there is a 99 percent chance you will be fired off of EVERY SINGLE SCRIPT YOU EVER WORK ON” – and then how to get hired back on. The brief section on plot, in which the boys claim that every studio movie from Casablanca to The Matrix has exactly the same structure, may be a work of genius. And several of the “free movie ideas” scattered throughout I could easily see opening at a multiplex. I probably wouldn’t go to them, and odds are they’d suck donkey balls, but they could get made. Dismiss it as a joke, but WMFFAP is the rare instructive book on writing movies.

* I once had dinner at a New York restaurant next to Thomas Lennon. He seemed very Thomas Lennony.