Over the past few months I’ve been watching a shift play out in the world of aspiring screenwriters. A new set of gurus are challenging the old guard, generating a discussion about the true nature of what it takes to become an effective story teller.
Used to be that if you wanted to learn about the ins and outs of writing for Film and TV, outside of the usual academic routes, your best options lay in books and seminars of instructors like Syd Field, Michael Hague, and Robert McKee. I have a great amount of respect for these guys and very much enjoyed reading and learning from their books, but they all share one common aspect with many college professors, and that is they don’t actually work in the industry as screenwriters. Does that prevent them from being good instructors? Not if you ask me, but if you happen to pose the same question to Brian Koppelman, the scribe behind such movies as Rounders, The Knockaround Guys and Runaway Jury, his six second answer comes down to this:
(Click on upper right for sound / mute.)
This Vine clip by Koppelman was the first of his fascinating and addictive Six Second Screenwriting Lessons series, which, is now up to over a 190 clips as of this post. Drawing from his experience as a working scribe, Koppelman has used these Vine bits to come out strongly against what he calls “the Screenwriting Instruction Industrial Complex,” by which he means the instructors mentioned above.
He is not alone, fellow writers John August and Craig Mazin, hosts of the Scriptnotes podcast have taken a similar tone when asked repeatedly about what books they would recommend for beginning writers. Mazin has compared the authors of “how-to” books to “reverse engineers” who never managed to actually build a house.