And we still don't know anything.

Film One of my favourite writers has died. I think most of us would be able to sort the books we've enjoyed onto three metaphoric boxes. Those which we'll read once then move on, those we like enough to keep on the shelf and return to now and then and those books which have a profound effect on who they are. William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade is in the third category for me.  My love of movies can probably be traced backwards to reading that book.  My interest in film studies was founded in those pages which led to doing the MA a decade ago.  But most importantly my understanding that creativity and problem solving go hand in hand, that writing is most often about setting yourself a task and finding the most imaginative way of achieving it and also that you can take that approach with life in general.

It's a book more spoken about than read I suspect.  One of its key themes, "Nobody knows anything" is parroted a lot by people who rarely know the context. The full quotes is "Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one."  In other words, nothing is a sure thing but you can certainly have a hunch.  More often than not, especially in the realm of blockbusters, those releasing pictures know that they either have a resilient classic on their hands which will stand the test of time or some piece of shit which they can make a fast buck on.  The makers of Black Panther had a hunch that it would do ok, if not necessarily the stellar numbers which ensued judging by the marketing campaign.  The makers of Fan4stic knew they has some prime horseshit and let it die.

Honestly you should read this book next.  The anecdotes are worth it and there are plenty in there which haven't still done the rounds as well as those which have, about the making of All The President's Men (the clashes with Redford, Berstein and Ephron) and Marathon Man ("My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?").  But there's also clear instructional material on writing screenplays, how to construct a narrative and how to deal with source material in adaptation, that whatever it is should be dealt with as raw material rather than some holy scripture.  That film is a different media to print and attempting to do a direct adaptation does a disservice to both.  The chapter on A Bridge Too Far alone is an incredible resource as Goldman explains how he chose the various stories and then set about working out how they'd be crosscut across the film, making the most of what was sure to be an incredibly starry cast.

His other books are all just as entertaining in varying degrees but I have a soft spot for his collected writing for the likes of Premiere Magazine about specific Oscar years in which he dissects the contenders, such as noticing that framing structure in Saving Private Ryan is utter nonsense because it's from Ryan's point of view which means the film ends with some of the key emotional threads unresolved.  I remember reading these on their original publication and thrilling at window they offered on how the needs of production impacts on the writing process and his sheer honesty.  His most recent film credits have been as a script doctor on a diverse range of projects and you can usually tell that there was a moment when everything fell into place and then the director began to ignore Goldman's advice.

Of all his films, All The President's Men is still my favourite.  As Screentrade explains, not everything which appears on screen is his but the overall structure and much of the dialogue survives.  His approach was to show the audience what they don't know.  For example, that there were two break-ins at the Watergate, the first successfully planted the listening devices and it's the bundling of the second visit, shown in the film, which led to them being caught.  He also decided that the public were all too aware of the back half of the Woodstein story and Nixon's resignation so he concentrated on writing about the parts people didn't know as well, essentially ending his film half way through the book at a moment of failure.  In that way he could show that you can't succeed unless you make a few mistakes along the way.  RIP.

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