Sy Field, author of Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting starts out by telling us the difference between a novel, play and screenplay. The screenplay has unique characteristics that any movie fan or aspiring screenplay writer feels intuitively and can sometimes point out, but Fields description and definition are nonetheless eye opening.
One of the best things about Field’s book is that it reveals the inner secrets of how to write a movie script for aspirants who aim to be screenplay writers. The art of screenplay writing has developed a long way from D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” but, on the other hand, it is still the media in which sound and sight can both allude to and symbolize and point to deeper meaning. A novelist may write that the heroine’s face is reflected in the window with the night shinning through it; a playwright may stage the illusion of her face reflecting in the window with the simulated night shinning through it; but a film can show the heroine’s face reflected in the window with the night shinning through it. And instead of hearing what this scene means, or listening to characters relate within the scene, viewers can see for themselves what this scene means to characters and to events in the film.
The dynamics are that, essentially, a novel may have a clock that is prominent as observed by the character(s) or narrator but the reader never hears it ticking or watches the progress of the hands. A play may have a clock but the audience never knows the characters’ thoughts about the clock unless inferred from action, commented on or delivered in soliloquy. A movie may have a clock and the audience can hear it and watch and see it in relationship to other seemingly unrelated things--like a tow truck outside a window or a boy playing stickball in the city street--that give new meaning to the clock, which may be unrelated to a character’s words thoughts or actions
Dramatic structure is explicitly detailed by Field. True, this is most useful to the aspiring writer, but eager film fans are equally enthralled and enlightened by understanding the structure and mechanisms of a screenplay. If no greater values accrues to knowing film’s dramatic structure, the movie-goer will have a greater yardstick by which to measure films and can then say exactly where and in what regard a film fails, which, as all movie-goers know, is one of the favorite past-times of armchair critics. Speaking of which, anyone aspiring to be a movie critic will find a jump-start to film analysis in knowing dramatic structure.
Field’s book Screenplay opens the movie enthusiasts’ understanding of movies and deepens their appreciation of films and the film experience. After reading Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, maybe you can even outsmart the Motion Picture Academy and pick this year’s or next year’s Oscar winners.
[Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting reviewed from the Reviewer's private library.]