Analyzing Great Screenplays
What do Crash, Shakespeare in Love and Sideways have in common? According to Dr. Linda Seger, author of And the Best Screenplay Goes To…, these films boast scripts that are rich, complex, and original. Believing all three Oscar-winning screenplays to be worthy of study, Seger devotes her new book to analyzing why they are so great.
“I love a great script and a great film,” Seger says. “It speaks to me on so many levels: telling me something about my life, my loves, my yearnings, what I care about.” After writing eight books on screenwriting, Seger certainly knows something about the subject. She has also consulted on over 2,000 scripts and given seminars on screenwriting in various countries around the world.
Seger hopes this book will give readers “a whole new set of tools” to use in their own writing as they strive to create award-winning scripts. As someone interested in learning how to write a successful screenplay, I found Seger’s analysis of Crash, my favorite film of 2005, especially helpful. I appreciate the way Seger explains how a writer can explore a theme through action, story and character, rather than talking about the theme through long speeches. Crash included an unusual structure (an Interweaving Structure, Seger calls it) as well as numerous diverse characters, yet held my interest throughout and ended up making me want to be a better person. How many movies have that kind of impact? After watching Crash, I had a better understanding of racism as it rears its ugly head in today’s world. And, after reading Seger’s analysis of the script, I see why the film -- as well as the screenplay -- won an Oscar. Pointing out that Crash sets up stereotypes, Seger writes, “it then proceeds to break them by showing that the characters are more than the expected, predictable, cliché.” She also describes how Crash uses the sense of touch in making its thematic statement -- “that people don’t touch and that’s partly why racism endures…It then brings people in touch with each other to show resolution.” A revealing interview with Paul Haggis, writer-director of Crash, and co- writer Bobby Moresco follows Seger’s fascinating analysis of the Crash script.
It’s no surprise Seger chose Shakespeare in Love as one of the screenplays for this book. She majored in English and theatre in college and graduate school. “I have always loved Shakespeare,” she admits. The movie charmed her, and she admires the way it deals with the creative process, writer’s block, love, “and even Hollywood.” Her in-depth analysis concentrates on showing how a writer can make a period piece contemporary.
To me, Sideways fails to measure up to Crash or Shakespeare in Love. In fact, I enjoyed reading Seger’s section about this film much more than seeing the movie. However, anyone interested in writing a screenplay about a buddy road trip should find valuable tips here as Seger answers the question “How can a writer take a simple subject -- about two guys going to the wine country to taste some wine -- and make it fascinating enough to hold our attention and deep enough to win an Academy Award?”
The author’s passion for film and writing shines throughout And the Best Screenplay Goes To… I tip my hat to Seger for sharing her advice and expertise with us. This is a book not only for wannabe screenwriters but also for anyone who loves movies.
For more information about And the Best Screenplay Goes To… (published by Michael Wiese Productions, February of 2008), please click here. Also available at Amazon.com and other online bookstores.