Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field


Reviewed by Shane P. Carr


© 2001, Beth Adele Long

I want to thank Forward Motion’s Stage, Screen, and Literary Fiction Moderator Robin Catesby for inspiring this issue’s book review. A couple of months ago I became interested in learning the art of screenwriting. I went to Robin for a suggestion on what material would help introduce me to this form of writing and guide me through the techniques and styles it encompassed. She answered without hesitation: Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.   


I picked up the book a few days later, and after reading it -- not once, but twice -- I wanted to let Robin know that it was just what I was looking for, and I am now in the preliminary stages of writing a screenplay of my own.  Thanks again, Robin. 


Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting introduces aspiring writers to the art and technique of screenwriting in an easy-to-understand step-by-step format.  Field starts with the very foundations of the screenplay, foundations that I have found crucial to every form of writing. The book begins by defining what a screenplay is and then breaks the screenplay down into its basic parts, beginning with the setup of your main character. What follows is a step-by-step guide to bringing your lead character into conflict and resolving that conflict through a series of scenes and plot points.


Field gives readers excerpts from well-known screenplays such as Chinatown and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Through these excerpts he demonstrates how the screenwriter introduces the characters and builds suspense while revealing the conflict. He then shows readers how to resolve the conflict through various plot points and twists.


Readers are also given a chapter on the process of adapting a novel into a screenplay. Field explores the techniques and legal aspects of writing a screenplay adaptation, as well as protecting your creative rights and the creative rights of the original author.


There are exercises at the end of each chapter that help reinforce what the reader has learned. Field also cites numerous movies to use as case studies of quality screenwriting.


Approximately three quarters through the book, readers are introduced to the actual format in which screenplays are written. Field gives hearty and blunt advice on what to do, and what not to do, when formatting and submitting your screenplay. He also gives sound advice on finding an agent to represent your work. He presents tips on checking you prospective agent's credentials and track record in the field of screenwriting.


Field then abolishes the many myths of the field and gives a realistic outlook of what it is like to work with Hollywood producers and companies. 


Finally, Field gives an overview of numerous software programs specifically tailored for screenwriters. Although some are a bit dated, most are available in the latest Windows and Macintosh versions. Specifically noted are various word processors as well as The Final Draft and Screenwriter+ programs.  


I assure you that after reading Screenplay you will have a strong foundation for the screenwriting process and the hard work that is involved. You will be able to decide if it’s a field you wish to pursue with your writing. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing a screenplay, or for anyone who just wants to know what is involved in the screenwriting process. 




Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting 
by Syd Field


ISBN: 0-440-57647-4     

U.S. Retail Price: $13.95