January 17, 2012

Tales from the Script (2009)

DURING HIS ACCEPTANCE SPEECH for his honorary Oscar at the 2001 Academy Awards, legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, West Side Story) said, “I accept this rarest of honors on behalf of screenwriters everywhere…we have suffered anonymity far too often…please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay.”

After watching director Peter Hanson’s documentary, Tales from the Script, it’s debatable whether Lehman’s plea has ever been considered. Featuring interviews with dozens of screenwriters – including William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Guinevere Turner (American Psycho), John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing), and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) – the film pounds home the painful truth to those who don’t know it: While the screenplay may seem critical to a film’s creation, screenwriting is arguably the most put-upon, degraded, and ultimately discarded profession in Hollywood. “An abused entity,” as Ghost scribe Bruce Joel Rubin puts it.

Of course, Hanson is aware that people like to hear other people’s war stories, and that’s what makes Tales from the Script so engaging. Nearly every experience the screenwriters discuss has significant amounts of hardship or heartbreak. The fact that these people create stories for a living makes the tales they tell even more compelling.

But the film isn’t just a bunch of screenwriters lamenting their trade. They offer advice on a myriad of topics: how to deal with producers, directors, and actors; the screenwriter’s role on a movie set (spoiler alert: there isn’t one); and how to cope when your script or project is taken away from you (“Learn to love it,” Carpenter says wryly).

While Tales from the Script is largely about the harsh reality of being a screenwriter in Hollywood – bad pitch meetings, disingenuous agents, endless rejections, moronic “notes” from studio execs – it does have occasional bright spots. Hearing how some of these established screenwriters got their big break is fascinating, and Justin Zackham’s story of how he wrote The Bucket List (and got it made with Rob Reiner, Morgan Freeman, and Jack Nicholson) is probably the most inspiring story in the film.

If it’s not already, Tales from the Script should be required viewing for all film school students and aspiring screenwriters. Because much like Tales from the Crypt – the horror series from which this film cribs its name – the life of a screenwriter can often be scary, and sometimes downright terrifying.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Tales from the Script is not rated, but does contain about two dozen profanities, including several F-bombs. There are also a couple of brief scenes of gore from the film BloodRayne. 13 and older would probably be the appropriate age for viewing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She would probably find it pretty interesting. And it’s not all just male screenwriters – Hanson also has several female screenwriters telling their stories, including a doozy by Guinevere Turner and her experience writing a script for Z-list director Uwe Boll (the aforementioned BloodRayne).

Tales from the Script
* Director: Peter Hanson
* Screenwriters: Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman
* Stars: Scores of screenwriters
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Tales from the Script from Netflix >>

1 comment:

Retro Hound said...

I really enjoyed this. One of my favorite things to watch is documentaries on making movies. I once fancied myself a screenwriter, so I like to watch and read about this stuff. It's available instant or DVD on Netflix.


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