Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book reviews

Part 2 of the script review should be up tomorrow. Here are some more book reviews to tide you over!

WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES 2nd Edition by Pamela Douglas (Michael Wiese Press, 2007)

When Pamela Douglas’ excellent manual was first released, the timing was unfortunate, because it was released exactly at the moment when American TV drama went through an incredibly creative period of innovation - and of course the book couldn't take these new developments into account.

Luckily, this second edition is bang up to date and answers all the questions which readers may have had about these new shows.

The new material is spread throughout the book. Some chapters are new – there’s a chapter on internet show sites as an extra resource to gain insight into the inner workings of a TV show, as well as a chapter on all the new forms of multimedia (web- and mobisodes, eTV and ITV and the like) which will become more and more important in the years to come.
There are new interviews with people like Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Damon Lindelof (Lost) Ann Donahue (CSI Miami) and Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter). These are as interesting and revealing as you could hope for.

And there is information on the most recent changes to screenplay structure – ABC’s mandatory six-act format is revealed, as well as a very recent seven-act structure which has been developed to maximize commercial breaks within the 1-hour slot.

The rest of the new material is interspersed with the existing text, which of course hasn’t lost any of its relevance. In fact, this edition is so up-to-date it already points out that the serial narrative-boom has ended, with only Heroes and Prison Break somewhat successfully continuing the trend (although both of these have gone downhill dramatically since).

The bottom line: if you didn’t get the first edition and you want to write (American-style) TV drama, or you want to understand how these shows work and why they are structured as they are, buy this book now. And if you do own the first edition, the new material definitely warrants a second purchase.




FAST, CHEAP AND WRITTEN THAT WAY: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies by John Gaspard (Michael Wiese Productions, 2007)

The companion volume to Fast, Cheap and Under Control, this book is a collection of interviews with writers and (primarily) writer-directors who have significant low-budget filmmaking experience. Every interview focuses on one film in particular, of which a short script excerpt is included.

The range of subjects is extremely wide: we have cult favourites like George A. Romero and Stuart Gordon, indie mavericks like Alex Cox, and deeply idiosyncratic artists like Miranda July. There are some well-known films up for discussion, and some which never broke out of the arthouse circuit.

In each case, Gaspard proves to be a sympathetic interviewer who asks a lot of pertinent questions and manages to give a good impression of the subject’s personality as well as his or her artistic process. The films are divided into thematic chapters, and include short story and play adaptations, biographies and autobiographies, genre films, ‘true stories’, love stories and art film.

To be fair, not every interview is equally helpful with regards to the instructional aspect of the book – some of the artists work solely on instinct and have no real system or practical tips to impart. But there is plenty of good advice to be found throughout the book. And to make it extra useful, Gaspard collects the thirty most important tips and comments on them from his own experience in the final chapter.

One thing which is missing here is advice on writing really cheap action or science-fiction movies (straight-to-DVD). But it’s clearly a deliberate choice to prove that a low budget is no impediment to crafting films which are highly successful on an artistic and critical level.

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