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Every once in a while I pick up William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade and flip through it. I don’t know if that or Syd Fields’ book Screenplay was the first book on screenwriting I ever read, but I remember discovering them both while in film school. Many have built on the foundation of structure that Fields laid out, but I don’t think that any writer has come close to writing a better overall book on screenwriting than Goldman’s since it was published back in 1983.

Goldman stands alone in being able to have a long lasting career as a screenwriter with a string of great movies as well as being able to explain the process of screenwriting. I’d guess that 90% of all screenwriting teachers and screenwriting book authors have never had a feature film produced from their work, and probably 8% have had movies made that were made but you’ve never heard of, never saw, did poorly at the box office, or did okay at the box office but really weren’t that good.

So for  William Goldman to write the national bestseller Adventures in the Screen Trade and also write the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, and All the President’s Men is unbelievable. And that doesn’t include all his films or all the script doctoring he’s done, or the two Oscars he’s won.

As a living, breathing screenwriter William Goldman is a giant and he stands alone. So if you haven’t read Adventures in the Screen Trade, seen his movies, or read his scripts, you now know where to start to begin understand screenwriting. All I’m doing here is pointing the way.

I’d also like to point out that Goldman has strong Midwest roots. He was born in Chicago and raised in Highland Park, Illinois and received his undergraduate degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio.  After getting his master’s at Columbia, Goldman wrote the novel Harper which got the attention of Paul Newman who would star in the film version of that book. (It’s worth noting that Newman was just a few years older than Goldman and had graduated from Kenyon College, also in Ohio.)

It’s also worth noting that before Goldman turned his talents to screenwriting he had already written five novels and had three plays on Broadway.

“If you want to be a screenwriter and you live in Des Moines, that’s a terrible curse to bear. It’s a terrible curse in Los Angeles, too—but at least you’re not alone. And oh boy, when you’re beginning, does that matter….”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade
page 84

Now Goldman wrote those words over 25 years ago and while it still may be a curse to want to be a screenwriter, at least the Internet has helped writers have one big support group. A great place to get information and network. And these days there are writers groups all over the country—even in Des Moines, Iowa. Not to mention filmmakers, too. (And don’t forget those film incentives.)

Tomorrow we’ll look at a couple recent success stories that couldn’t have happened 25-years ago.

(And just for the record, Des Moines is so hip these days it’s now known as DeMo. At least that’s what is known as by some of the creatives who live and work in the East Village.)

Scott W. Smith

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