Screenwriting : Is Craig Mazin right to hate on screenwriting books? by Alex Bloom

Alex Bloom

Is Craig Mazin right to hate on screenwriting books?

Craig Mazin is well known for his vocal umbrage when it comes to screenwriting books. Our latest post takes a look at how to bullet proof your Act 1 by following Jeffrey Allan Schechter's 12 Key Plot Points In Act 1. We've broken down the first act of Craig Mazin's Identity Thief by way of example, and sure enough it follows the beats to a tee. What do you think -- is Craig right to hate on books when his scripts follow most of the conventions perfectly and these books help some screenwriters? Or are they just a waste of time and you'd be better off analyzing a movie and reading a screenplay? And what's your theory on how Identity Thief follows Jeffrey's formula when Craig's obviously not following the book? You can check out the post here: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/act-1-of-your-screenplay/ Thanks guys!

12 Secret Script Beats You Should Include in Act 1 of Your Screenplay
12 Secret Script Beats You Should Include in Act 1 of Your Screenplay
You have probably heard that Act 1 of a screenplay should include at least two script beats, or "plot points": a call to action (sometimes called a screenplay Inciting Incident) and an Act 1 turning point at the end.
William Martell

I think all books should be burned. Books should not be used in any form of education. There should be no math books in grade schools, kids should just figure out math on their own! They have fingers and toes, right? Let them learn math that way! And writing skills: hey, let them just figure out how to write sentences on their own. Yeah, they don't even know letters because we destroyed those books as well, but they can scratch something on paper with a pencil and eventually figure out how to communicate, right? Education is the problem!

Danny Manus

I refuse to get caught up in this argument or anything to do with Mazin again. One word - No.

CJ Walley

I really don't think Craig Mazin is in a position to genuinely empathise with most aspiring screenwriters. I have a lot of respect for his experience, but he comes across as near bullish in his opinions. I've always found books a very effective way of learning for myself. The argument against them seems to stem from this belief that we all read screenwriting books and take them as gospel. Now, if we're all that gullible, surely any form of opinionated guidance is just as dangerous, be it via books, blogs, classes, consultants, or producers.

Alex Bloom

Hey Danny, what was your disagreement with Craig?

Danny Manus

We have had a few over the last few years. He hates consultants. I AM one. We're not big fans of each other but whatever.

Alex Bloom

Yes that's strange why he hates consultants. And screenwriting books. I would be interested to know what he thinks of a book that lays out 12 beats of Act 1 that his script follows to the letter. Obviously he didn't follow Jeffrey's book, but it all seems to fit somehow...Maybe I should ask him on Twitter. Or not ? : )

Danny Manus

I would absolutely NOT ask him. And here's what he'll say - he never heard of the book or Jeffrey and chances are Jeffrey wrote the book to fit other people's movie/story beats - not the other way around. He thinks that writers can either do it themselves or they're not made to do it. Yes, you can make almost ANY movie fit ANY story paradigm you want. That's why they all work - and don't work - in the same breath. I could come up with 100 beats like Todd Klick does and then just go FIND 40 movies that fit that beat sheet and claim I found the key to structure. I am a fan of books, but I'm not a fan of telling writers a story HAS to be written this one single way in order for it to be right. Craig hates consultants because he thinks only majorly successful WRITERS can teach other WRITERS. I disagree.

Alex Bloom

So do I. Thanks Danny, you've talked me out of it : )

Anthony Cawood

So Danny, you agree with Craig on books on structure then? Something for you to both build on ;-)

Danny Manus

No, I think the books are very helpful as guides, they just shouldn't be taken as gospel and exacts.

William Martell

All of my books start with the Tools Not Rules disclaimer. The strange thing is that people can be divided into Seekers and Parrots and Reactionaries. Seekers are looking for information and looking for different methods and different opinions so that they can find what works best for them. They are seeking tools. Parrots just want to be told how to do it and want rules they can blindly follow. The problem is that some people who pick up a book are Parrots and are just looking to blindly do whatever the books says without having to think about it... and those folks gravitate towards rules even where there aren't any. My disclaimer is to warn those people you will find no rules in this book, you have to think for yourself. The third type, Reactionaries, are really Parrots: they are blindly anti education and anti book and anti knowledge. They fear that education will lead to them blindly following some rule because they know they aren't Seekers. They know they are weak. I think any book that tells you X has to happen on page X of your screenplay is designed for the Parrots... and that doesn't mean a Seeker can't find some good information in it. Just means X doesn't have to happen on page X. There is only one rule in screenwriting: the script has to be great. No one cares what you did to make it great, no one cares if X ends up on page Z, all they care about is that the script is great. Everything is a tool that you might (or might not) use to make the script great.

Anthony Cawood

Very well made points and I totally agree, I take a little bit of learning from all of the books I read but slavishly follow none...

Phil Parker

Read a variety of them, including ones about emotion and character psychology, not just structure, then your own voice will come out of the mix.

Anthony Cawood

I do, just mentioned the structure ones as that's where the post started... and hopefully my voice is starting to emerge ;-)

Phil Parker

It takes a lot of practice doesn't it? Finding your voice? sheesh... well, just like anything worth achieving in life, I reckon. If reading scripts and watching movies is our homework, hey, life could be a lot worse right? :-) As for Craig Mazin, the guy is opinionated, but very smart (Harvard dude). I take his view on books/ coaches with a grain of salt. Whenever I hear them talk on his podcast about the craft of screenwriting, they seem to deliberately avoid using certain buzzwords like 'inciting incident' or 'turning points' but they are talking about them none-the-less. Craig just seems to hate the idea that anything about writing can be taught or boiled down into a recognizable form. He seems to think it should just happen naturally in the writer's brain somehow after reading a 100 scripts. Pish posh! That's exactly how the writer's of those book developed their theories- the observation and study of patterns.

Anthony Cawood

Yep, Craig is definitely but opinionated and grumpy but I think he know's that... and on the podcast John often calls him on both... I think his view is that you need some natural talent, understand films (via reading scripts and watching movies) and work hard at your craft. He does also mentor a few screenwriters, so he clearly thinks there is some value in coaching, sharing experiences etc... and he did share his thoughts on the craft and his experiences on reditt via an AMA - so he clearly thinks that people can learn something... even from him ;-)

William Martell

Act 1 is traditionally a quarter of your screenplay, as is Act 3. Act 2 is traditionally half your screenplay. Act 1 gets your cat up a tree (introduces the conflict). Act 2 you throw rocks at the cat (protag is trapped in the conflict, wrestles with the conflict, as the conflict escalates). Act 3 you get the cat out of the tree (resolve this conflict that has been getting more complex for the last fifty or so pages). (The Billy Wilder method)

Danny Manus

yea, I really don't agree with most of that.

William Martell

As I said before: No one cares how you write the script, they only care about the results. If your method (shorter act 1s and 3s) results in screenplays that sell and get made, stick with it. My method is working fine for me. If I were not getting results, I'd be rethinking my methods and seek more information (trashing anything I was doing which didn't work instead of hanging on to them).

Lisa Clemens

Brian Koppelman has a few words about books and the "gurus" who write them: http://briankoppelman.com/2013/12/31/con-men-gurus-and-the-screenwriting...

CJ Walley

What this all boils down to, in the case of Mazin and Koppelman's views, is the classic industry vs academia debate. It's weird in the screenwriting world as the line between the two is very much blurred. When we're a successful working professional, the world of academia can seem highly disjointed from the reality of industry. Its very easy for us to develop a facetious attitude toward it and resent those who earn a living within it. As we work our way up, we don't see lessons, tutoring, and understanding, we instead see experience, mentoring, and gut feel. But the reality is the only difference between industry and academia is the former answers to the bottom line and the latter tries to satisfy a set of absolutes. These guys don't write in a vacuum. They draft and the receive notes. And the irony is that the execs and producers who analyse and guide their material for commercial purposes can be the very same gurus and "con men" they love to publicly dismiss. I do respect their positions as career screenwriters, and I respect their point of view too. But they are generalising something which is highly complex and deeply insulting many people who are trying to make an honest career and who have genuinely helped a lot of amateurs progress. Yes there are people making money giving bad advice. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because many of us don't have a successful peer to guide us, a producer to hand back notes, or a manager to firm up our craft. And quite frankly, for those of us without connections, simply reading scripts and watching movies isn't enough to get us through the industry firewalls.

Floyd Marshall Jr.

Books serve as a reference. You just don't wake up knowing how to do something. You have to learn it. Even he had to open a book to learn how to write when he first started, his argument makes no sense.

William Martell

I also believe that Inciting Incident and End Act 1 are two different elements. One introduces the problem (and the story may even start with the problem already introduced) and the other is when the problem stops being peripheral to the protagonist and becomes something they are forced to deal with. Trapped in the conflict. So a couple of minutes into NORTH BY NORTHWEST Roger Thornhill is mistaken for spy George Kaplan and taken away at gunpoint. That is the Inciting Incident... but Roger then spends a great deal of time "outside the conflict", though they try to kill him with bourbon and a sportscar, Roger can just walk away if he wants to. He putters around with his mother, trying to find the real George Kaplan, but there is no real urgency to solve the problem, he can still just walk away... Until that moment when he is photographed with the knife in his hand over the dead diplomat at the UN. Now he has no choice but to find Kaplan, because that is the only way he can clear his name. Now we're in Act 2. Now Roger has no choice, he must struggle with the conflict. He is "inside the conflict". Before this he could have just gone home and that would have probably been the end of it. Kaplan would have gone on to Rapid City following the villains while Roger stayed in NYC. But once Roger is wanted for murder by the police in every newspaper in the USA he has no choice but to follow Kaplan, and deal with the danger. (If you wish I can do the same with CASABLANCA: Inciting Incident is when Rick gets the Letters Of Transit which the Nazis are searching for, but he's a man who sticks his neck out for no one... so Act 2 begins when Ilsa enters Rick's (with her husband). She is the one person he'd stick his neck out for, and that brings him inside the conflict.) Lots of scripts I read have a major flaw in that the conflict is introduced but the protag remains outside that conflict until the end of act 2 where he gets tossed into the cross hairs and then resolves the conflict. So you end up with a seemingly endless act 1 because the protag is peripheral to the conflict. No actual struggle. No actual act 2. But, in the end, it is whatever gets results. Whatever gets you the screenplay that sells or gets you assignments. If your method gets results, stick with it. If the method does not get results, open your eyes to other methods and give them a try.

William Martell

This seems to be proving Craig is right...

William Martell

Well, I will continue using my method because it gets results... which I believe proves that I am right.

Danny Manus

No offense Peter but both Craig and William are very successful writers working in Hollywood. And while i disagree with Craig often, if you've never heard of Craig who is a big wig in the WGA, has a hugely popular podcast - oh and his movies made a billion dollars - and you don't know who he is I'm wondering what makes you qualified to give this structure advice?

William Martell

I also disagree with Craig often, but thankfully I have friends who are even more successful than he is, and the #3 most successful writer (as far as box office is concerned) recommends my book, so I don't care what Craig says. Plus, I just sold another script while Mazin was doing his podcast (with that other guy). And my point is: it doesn't matter how you write the script, as long as it gets results (someone buys it or hires you). Craig's method works for him, my method works for me, Peter's method may work for him (I don't know). It's results that matter. Now I'm going to return to writing a script for Bruce Lee which includes the possibility of live sex, even though Bruce Lee is dead.

William Martell

Awesome.

William Martell

PS: Craig Mazin BO total: Total: $1,592.9 million. That's a lot of BO. I'd say his method works really well. Shall we compare it to your method's results?

William Martell

Worldwide (Unadjusted) Title (click to view) Studio Worldwide Domestic / % Overseas / % Year The Hangover Part II WB $586.8 $254.5 43.4% $332.3 56.6% 2011 The Hangover Part III WB $362.0 $112.2 31% $249.8 69% 2013 Scary Movie 3 Dim. $220.7 $110.0 49.8% $110.7 50.2% 2003 Scary Movie 4 W/Dim. $178.3 $90.7 50.9% $87.6 49.1% 2006 Identity Thief Uni. $174.0 $134.5 77.3% $39.5 22.7% 2013 Superhero Movie MGM/W $71.2 $25.9 36.3% $45.4 63.7% 2008 Note: Titles in grey are cameo or bit parts and not counted in totals and averages. Total: $1,592.9 million I think you may, you know, owe Danny an apology.

Danny Manus

Thanks, William. Ya see Peter, I WAS born a young black boy EAST of the Brooklyn Bridge. Howard Beach, Queens to be exact. And through my actual film education and subsequent dozen years working in Hollywood, I have learned a great deal more than 2+2=4. The biggest lesson being to do my research before I open my mouth. Guess that lesson hasn't hit your Borough yet? The other thing I have learned is that if you're just saying something because it's simple logic to YOU and it works for YOU even though it may be proven or seen as wrong by many others who actually do this for a living, then YOU might be the one doing the act known as "Bullshitting." Even if you're only bullshitting yourself. And if you actually knew me OR Craig Mazin, you'd know I'm literally the last person on earth who thinks Craig Mazin shouldn't be criticized. Here's what I do know... we may be full of hot air out here in LA (goddamn it was 102 today!), but we measure ABILITY by results...not theory.

William Martell

If screenplays were some theoretical thing, that might work... but they are a practical thing. A screenplay's sole purpose is to become a movie. So the only way to judge results is if that sperm script swam up the tickle tubes and fertilized the egg and gave birth to a movie. Some script that you may think is brilliant may not be brilliant in the real world, where it's all about screenplays as something which gets made into a movie. Your "improvements" may screw it up so that it never becomes a movie. So, are folks buying your screenplays or hiring you to write films for them? If so, that's great: your methods get results. I find it amusing that after bragging about your math skills you get the numbers so wrong. "We'll laugh in the car."

Danny Manus

Ohh See, I made the mistake of thinking I was arguing with a professional adult who actually had a clue about the film and screenwriting business and not some two-bit wannabe who makes up rules for themselves but has yet to find success with any of them so he figures if he puts down everyone's else's methods and talents his will seem greater. The problem is, my friend, you brought a knife to a gun fight. And as someone from Brooklyn, you should understand - that's a losing equation. Oh shit, there's that math again. You're right, Craig's Billion dollar revenues, Bill's 20+ years writing produced screenplays and my 10+ years developing them and running a successful consulting business helping writers mean nothing in the face of your completely proven, successful, million dollar screenwriting method that no one's ever heard about. Please, could you fix all our scripts? Please? No one ever said that if a movie made money, that it's well written. No one would ever ever say that. But im guessing your bias against us LA hot air breathers must be the reason you never made it out here. Or perhaps the view is just better from your side of the Brooklyn Bridge, ya know - from the outside looking in. If you're wondering what that sound was... a mic dropped.

Danny Manus

No one is arguing that Hangover 2 isn't a derivative, formulaic piece of shit. It is. It also happened to make like $400M. It's not a barometer of good writing, but it's the barometer of success that is used to get writers more work.

William Martell

Math skills: "The same thing that makes me qualified to say "2+2=4" when I don't have a Ph.D in mathematics. The statement is either true or it isn't true." Yet you can't even get the numbers right! Which is why you owe Danny an apology: you said he was wrong that Mazin's work had made a billion dollars, when it has made over $1.5b. You were obviously wrong, but seem unable to break out of your fantasy land and see that. Now I am out of here. You have shown your true self in your posts.

William Martell

Dan: He keeps arguing that he is right (with zilch to back it up) but I am the one who has said that if your methods get results (even Peter's methods) that is all that matters. And I believe that. There is no one correct way because there are so many variables. For every "rule" someone can come up with there are great movies or successful movies that break that rule. So the only real rule can be what gets results. What gets your script noticed and then sold or lands you an assignment. It's all about the practical side: a script's only purpose is to become a movie or land you an assignment based on the writing.

Danny Manus

Well there ya go...This guy Peter insults Craig and his work, I try to DEFEND him and I'm the one that gets called out on Twitter. Oh well.

Trey Wickwire

Wow. I was going to post on this thread but after reading all that I'm kind of speechless.

Cherie Grant

LOVE these threads.

Danny Manus

You're seriously a joke.

Richard Toscan

Most screenwriting books are based on the author's analysis of successful screenplays. If you're a natural screenwriter in your genes, then you don't need the books. If you're like most writers, they can help you understand how the pieces work when you read screenplays in draft form.

Danny Manus

I, too, am done dealing with you, Peter. I have no interest in debating an amateur story Theorist when I could be helping story practitioners and writers who don't already think they know everything despite zero evidence to support the theory. I see you worked as a designer for 15 years and now call yourself a producer despite having no credits. Sounds about right. If you think improving story comes from adding semicolons, congrats on having the most grammatically correct awful script out there. But hey - how about you post YOUR work and we can all take a look? Love a guy who insults LA yet went to school here? Me thinks someone couldn't quite hack it, eh? I'm done with this.

Dave McCrea

damn. you can literally see the venom flying off the screen on this thread

C Peterson

I've read all the books, they are helpful, but a some point you have to realize, those are your feet under your legs, and stand on them. E. E. Cummings makes a few words splattered on a page entertaining. The point is to entertain. I think that get's lost in dissecting the "how to" do it.

Cherie Grant

FFS it's not going downhill just because of a few heated discussions that pop up from time to time. Christ, the melodrama.

Cherie Grant

I'm truley not holding my breath.

Joshua Maislin

Some people internalize story structure better than others and are able to communicate that structure without any explicit learning tools. I think Craig Mazin is offended by the cringeworthy products of people who have studied and regurgitated a shallow prescriptive story structure without the fluidity and naturalness of someone who's really internalized an abstracted robust story structure. There's also that phrase "Hope Industry" -- the idea that there's a whole industry built around preying on writers' vanity and the delusion that they can be successful by throwing money at something. I think Craig Mazin is sensitive to that notion. This thread was a fun read btw!

Oriel Kerr

Wow! This thread is something else, lol.

Tony McFadden

Not sure how I landed on this, but it seems like there's a "Peter" who is no longer here, or has deleted all of his posts. Makes for a very bizarre read. (My opinions on structure and books are mine, and probably not worth sharing. My total BO to date [checks bank balance] is roughly $0.00)

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