Thursday, February 5, 2009


If you wanted to be a painter, before attempting to have a career of your own you’d study the masters; Rembrandt, Monet, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Dali, Van Gough, Picasso and some of your contemporaries like Warhol and Buffet etc.

If you wanted to be a musician you might go to Juilliard and study Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Vivaldi along with Muddy Waters, Clapton, The Who, The Clash and Daft Punk.

So it always amazes me when I talk to a young screenwriter and ask “have you read any Shane Black?” and I get the answer “No.”

Are you kidding me?

Now if you're one of the aspiring screenwriters that answered “no”, don’t take this personally as you're in great company. But unfortunately it’s a great company of unsold screenwriters.

Do yourselves a giant favor and read the masters AND your contemporaries. The masters show you the basics and classic style. Your contemporaries show you how those same basics are being adapted into screenplays audiences are enjoying today.

It’s sort of like here’s Henry Ford’s original V8 engine (a work of art and genius), and here’s Chevy’s first small block V8 (a work of art and genius), and here is the V8 in the new BMW 7 series (a work of art and genius).

Here’s a list of screenwriters I’d recommend you read. It is in no way everything you should read, but it’s a start.

Shane Black
The Wachowski’s
William Goldman
Oliver Stone
Ganz & Mandell
John Hughes
Lawerence Kasdan
Cameron Crowe
Charlie Kaufman
David Mamet
Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Billy Wilder


  1. Yes, I will begin my journey with the first book! Make a plan, start at the beginning. Definitely will look into Shane Black. I notice a conspicuous absence of women screenwriters on the "list". Any reasons for this?
    Having taken University film courses helped with an understanding of International Cinema; there are a lot of talented contemporaries out there. ps I know Paul Haggis' family! This does not a screenwriter make, however, it probably helps. There must be a lot of "who you know" in the business, n'est pas? Jane Jones

  2. I certainly agree with you about Shane Black and William Goldman. Although my personal tastes also run towards the brilliant minimalism of that first ALIEN film script by Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett - and the work of Eric Red (THE HITCHER etc).

  3. Most working screenwriters are guys.

  4. I would add Tarantino to the list. While not always great films, his scripts are a blast to read. I also recommend Robert Towne and John Huston.