Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless – Book Review

Joseph McBride is mainly known as a film historian who has written books on Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Steven Spielberg.  He’s even taken direction from Orson Welles, on his unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, as well as written a book on him.  You’ll also notice his name on the screenplay of cult classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. 

He even knows who Jack Pennick is, but what you may not know is that he has taught screenwriting for a decade at San Francisco State University.  When he took up the professorial role he started looking for a book that would serve as the text for his class.  Most texts offered rigid rules or cookbook type recipes for making (or baking?) your screenplay.  What he was looking for was something that taught to write in your own voice, not the voice of the author of the textbook. 

To put it mildly – he didn’t find one that he liked.  The obvious solution was to just write one.  Writing in Pictures is the result and if you’ve ever wanted to write a screenplay you need to pick it up.   His goal is to demystify the process with straight talk and no gimmicks.  He takes many of the mistakes he encountered with his students and informs you of them so that you won’t repeat them.

Begin with adapting, keep practicing, and then move on to original works in your own voice which you find and hone along the way.  To that end, the exercise will include step-by-step practice adapting two short stories for screenplay, but don’t worry along the way he entertains and weaves stories of both his experiences and those of folks like Billy Wilder and other Hollywood luminaries. 

I found the read both instructional and fun.  I don’t know if you’ll see my name on any screenplays in the future, but if you do you have Joseph McBride to thank. 

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