Screenwriters have always been viewed as Hollywood’s stepchildren. Silent-film comedy pioneer Mack Sennett forbade his screenwriters from writing anything down, for fear they’d get inflated ideas about themselves as creative artists. The great midcentury director John Ford was known to answer studio executives’ complaints that he was behind schedule by tearing a handful of random pages from his script and tossing them over his shoulder. And Ken Russell was so contemptuous of Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay for Altered States that Chayefsky insisted on having his name removed from the credits.
Of course, popular impressions aside, screenwriters have been central to moviemaking since the first motion picture audiences got past the sheer novelty of seeing pictures that moved at all. Soon they wanted to know: What happens next? In this truly fresh perspective on the movies, veteran Oscar-winning screenwriter Marc Norman gives us the first comprehensive history of the men and women who have answered that question, from Anita Loos, the highest-paid screenwriter of her day, to Robert Towne, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, and other paradigm-busting talents reimagining movies for the new century.
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I teach several classes for the Stephens College Low-Residency MFA in Screenwriting, including History of Screenwriting. In fact, I created the curriculum for that course from scratch and customized it to this particular MFA in that it covers ‘Screenwriting’ (not directors) and even more specifically, the class has a female-centric focus. As part History of Screenwriting I, the first course in the four-class series, we focus on the early women screenwriters of the silent film era who male historians have, for the most part, quietly forgotten in their books. In this series, I share with you some of the screenwriters and films that should be part of any screenwriters education. I believe that in order to become a great screenwriter, you need to understand the deep history of screenwriting and the amazing people who created the career. — Dr. Rosanne Welch