“The Everything Screenwriting Book” Review

Of all the books out there on screenwriting, this on one not to waste your money on.

Because it was published in 2003, it contains a lot of unavoidable “errors.” For example, author Robert Pollock could not have foreseen the death of the video rental store or the rise of video streaming or social media. We can forgive and ignore these and other things and move on to the more serious problems with the book.

First, it’s easy to wonder why Pollock was hired to write the book in the first place. He has only one screenplay that was turned into a movie to his credit, a generally panned 1981 film called “Loophole.” At the time the book was written, he was a professor at a community college in Connecticut, and while he “had connections” with the Hollywood film industry, they do not appear to have been deep. (In a made-for-Hollywood irony, the book was published eight days after the author’s death.)

Second, Pollock alternately plays to the novice screenwriter’s dream of writing the surprise blockbuster script and then turns around and tells that novice how many scripts fail to even get a serious reading. The latter fact is likely still true today, so it’s disingenuous at best to then continually dangle the ideas of the big-dollar contract the novice dreams and of having big-name stars headline his or her movie when so few achieve those dreams.

Third, many of Pollock’s references to movies and directors were dated even when the book came out, going back as far as the 1940s and 1950s, while he barely mentions those from the 1990s and early 2000s. It seems that he was less familiar with the more recent films and directors than those of his youth.

Fourth, the advice the author gives the reader is often so vague and generic—write a good script, make sure there’s plenty of tension in it, get to know people in Hollywood—that it’s useless. He even encourages the reader to write in the active voice, but most of his own writing is passive and stiff: “one should…,” “it is recommended that….” At other times, Pollock seems to assume the reader knows as much about a topic as he does, which also means leaving out key information.

Finally—and this may not have been Pollock’s fault—the book contains intrusive little pull-quotes throughout, with headings like “Alert!” or “Essential” or “Fact.” By themselves, these would not have been a problem, and if done well, could have been quite useful. But instead, they seem to have been inserted at random. They often had little to do with the text they were inserted into, and by placing them in the middle of a titled section, they disrupted the flow of the text with their irrelevancy. I suspect this was a characteristic style of the hundreds of books in the “Everything…” series (I’ve seen things like it in other books for novices) but it was so badly done that many times it tempted me to throw the book across the room in frustration.

Bottom line: don’t waste your money. (I’m glad I got this book for free from a friend. And I know now why he was getting rid of it.)

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