“Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss controversy over the authorship of Gravity”

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Scriptnotes
10 February 2015

My favourite writing podcast is Scriptnotes, a podcast about “screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters,” and this episode is worth any writer’s while — even if you are NOT a screenwriter.

Screenwriters John August (Big Fish, Go) and Craig Mazin (Hangover 2 & 3, Identity Thief) discuss recent controversy concerning the authorship of the movie Gravity and its alleged basis in a novel. Authors of novels and of screenplays may be surprised at how they dissect this case.

This is an especially instructive lesson on film properties and any author that might ever be in a position to sell film rights (i.e., any publishing author), or any author that might be hired to adapt an “underlying property,” can learn a lot from this.

They also give a tidy explanation of what the word “attached” means. This is usually confusing for writers, because of how it gets reported in the media. (In a nutshell, you should always ignore any reports of anyone being “attached” to anything.)

Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box (Alex Epstein)

This is an excellent book on the topic, and possible textbook material. Epstein gives a broad overview of television writing as a business, along with a narrower focus on the actual craft of writing for the medium. The book oscillates between this generalized overview and very specific advice about the actual craft, striking a nice balance where most similar books fail to do so. Most of these books are exclusively focused on the US industry, but Epstein is the creator of the Canadian Showcase series Naked Josh so he includes some small notes about the differences in the Canadian industry. It’s more CanCon than any similar book I’ve seen, but still almost totally US-focused.

How to Write for Television (Madeline DiMaggio)

Another book I am considering for a possible textbook. This provides a good overview of how television writing works in the U.S. and all of the steps of the creative process and explains much of the practical realities of tv writing. The emphasis is on what you need to understand about the world on the inside in order to break in as a freelancer and get a staff job. As a crash course in how the world works this is not bad, but there is not much useful information on the actual craft of the writing process itself.

Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman)

The shooting script for the film Adaptation contains a few interesting appendices — an interview with Kaufman and Spike Jonze and short responses to the film by Susan Orlean (whose book The Orchid Thief is the basis for the film) and Robert McKee (the screenwriting guru that Kaufman lampoons in the film). Otherwise, it’s just a shooting script, and as such there is really no difference between what you can read here and what you see on screen when you watch the movie. If you haven’t seen Adaptation, go see it — it’s one of the smartest, funniest, most cleverly structured metafictions out there in any form, although I prefer Kaufman’s later film Synecdoche, New York.

An odd story — I showed this film in my creative writing classes, and in the film a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman is having trouble adapting Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief as a Hollywood film. One student thought to herself, “I wonder if that’s a real book?” She ducked out during the film to get a drink of water after having this thought, and in the hallway people were giving away old books for some reason — and they gave her a copy of The Orchid Thief.