It goes without saying that Hollywood is not all glitz and glamour. Behind the façade of Prada and premieres, special effects and starlets, is a truly cutthroat industry staffed with individuals that would put Blackbeard to shame.
Lurking in the background of all of this is the lifeblood of Hollywood - the lowly screenwriter. Everyone remembers Brad Pitt's and Edward Norton's performances in Fight Club, but ask them to name the writer of the outstanding screenplay (Jim Uhls) most people will draw a blank.
When it comes to the world of film and television, writers often get the short end of the stick, as public recognition usually goes to actors and directors. But for those of us who stubbornly remain in our home office, slaving over our "baby" in hopes of one day seeing it on the silver screen - recognition or none - The Hollywood Standard is a must-buy.
This book is pretty easy to understand, but it does make some underlying assumptions. Its pace and terminology might be a bit fast for someone with little to no knowledge of screenwriting; someone in that position might want to look for any one of the many scripts floating around on the internet - many of them from films that have already been made. Comparing the script to the movie will give one a good idea of what all the terminology means. It might also be a good idea to pick up a basic premiere on the screenwriting format just to get started, but most of this information can also be found online. (Just make sure to check it against a book such as The Hollywood Standard; not everything on the internet is correct, as we all know.)
The book starts with a short introduction, then a quick start guide, and a list of deadly mistakes. While the quick start guide might be helpful for someone who just wants to verify something without paging through the entire book, it seems a little odd to stick it up front. Especially since the quick start guide continues to make references to the various chapters in the book, which go into format in much greater detail, and sometimes even re-hash what is said in the quick guide. My thought is that this section should go in the back of the book as a sort of summary, followed by the deadly mistakes. There are an awful lot of mistakes mentioned throughout the book, but to end with a list of the biggest no-no's would be a good idea in order to keep them fresh in the readers' mind.
For the hardcore software buff, do no fear; there will be no bashing of your beloved Final Draft, Movie Magic, or Scriptware. This book is not about aesthetics or which program is better - it is simply about how to properly write a script that will be taken seriously. Because it doesn't matter how many bells or whistles your piece of software has, if you don't know the basics of Hollywood format, your script will end up in the recycle bin.
The book is also honest about the Hollywood script reader - the poor sap who is tasked with reading mountains and mountains of submitted scripts. While it is easy for the embattled writer to lament the rejection of yet another script, think how you would handle having to wade through mountains of them every day. Would you read each one? I highly doubt it. Mr. Riley mentions the "fan test," where the reader starts at the back of the script and fans forward to the front. If it doesn't follow proper formatting, it goes in the trash. If there are multiple misspellings, it goes in the trash. If it includes an estimated budget, cast suggestions, or cute pictures, it goes in the trash. You could have the next Casablanca, but if half the words are misspelled, it will never be read.
For those who already have at least a limited working knowledge of screenwriting, this book goes into depth, and even minutia, on how to properly format a script. The information might seem a bit overwhelming, especially to a first-timer, but it’s worth the effort to slog through it. It might be a good idea to read through any old or half-finished scripts and compare them to the techniques in the book, or even try to compose a "test" script to practice. It's a lot easier to write a script properly from the beginning than to have to go back and re-format a completed one.
This book might not be suited for the writer/director intent on having control of their own movie from the beginning, since that sort of writer can pretty much wing it when it comes to script format. Although, sometimes it's still beneficial to have a Hollywood-style script, just in case a studio wants to pick it up. Think of the movie Swingers; John Favreau was hell-bent on both directing and starring in the film, but the studio said no way. If he hadn't had a properly formatted script, Swingers might never have been made. Plus, for the writer/director, it’s also a good idea to have one just in case things get too hectic and one has to hand it off to a writer.
The biggest market for this book will be the writer hoping to sell their script to a studio, who don't really care about directing except perhaps as a hobby of making a few microfilms on the side. For those whose true passion is writing, this book could be a very good resource
Script formatting can look intimidating at first, and for the self-taught it takes a while to figure things out. As my own tendency toward cheapness forbids me from buying a whole library of script-writing books, I had previously just picked up techniques here and there from scripts on the internet. Of course, this method leads to some pretty sloppy scripts, and a lot of trial and error. For the beginner or amateur, this book is a great resource.
A veteran screenwriter might not find anything to use here, but there's always room for improvement in this business, and always new things to learn.
The book we were sent to review was the galley of the second edition; its size will be changed to more closely match the standard script size, and the binding changed to "layflat," which will allow writers to consult it while working. Though I was only given a sample book without these new modifications, it seems like both will be a big improvement. Mr. Riley certainly knows his subject, though I'm sure that among the experts, there are still disagreements about "proper" formatting.
While the MSRP is $24.95 on this book, our special link with Amazon.com has it for $16.47 (as of this publication date). Even if you pay full MSRP, however, it's still not a bad deal. While the book might prove difficult for beginners and not as useful for the experienced, it could be invaluable for those who fall into the middle category. This book is chock-full of lots of helpful information, and just about anyone could find something to take away from it.
The Hollywood Standard is a very in-depth instructional guide that could be a great resource for the amateur writer. An invaluable resource for every microfilmmaker? Perhaps not. But it could possibly be the difference between a script winding up in the garbage or the silver screen.