Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Vale’

I picked up the book The Technique of Screen Writing (published in 1944) about ten years ago at a used book store in Baltimore, Maryland. Not to take anything from any screenwrtiting gurus, but contrary to belief screenwriting books did not begin with Syd Field’s classic book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting. Was Syd Field even born in 1944? Screenwriting books didn’t even begin with Eugene Vale’s The Technique of Screen Writing, but since we admire many movies from the 30s & 40s, it’s good every now and then to find the kind of thinking that was kicking around Hollywood during that golden era.

“It is necessary to understand that a story is nothing but a series of items of information. The story teller informs the listener about persons and events….The best approach is to ask: what is essential? In reducing the total information to that which is important, the good writer can tell a story in a smaller amount of space than the writer who is not capable of picking out the essential facts. Since the space of the motion picture is limited, the writer who knows how to select essential information can tell about more events and happenings than the writer who has mixed essential and non-essential information…While the means of expression must be handled in the most economical way, the amount of information must not be sparse but adequate.”
The Technique of Screenplay Writing (1944)
Eugene Vale
Page 69-71

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This past Sunday night I turned on a preseason pro football game between Minnesota and San Francisco. My first thought was, “good I’ll get my first look at the great quarterback Bret Favre, in what is likely to be his last season.” But Favre was already out of the game and I quickly lost interest and turned off the TV. That seems like a good lead into a screenwriting thought that is so old it was published in a book long before Brett Favre was even born:

“If we attempt to write interesting stories, we cannot search for interest in the story itself, but must look for qualities in the story which are more or less universally interesting.

Let us imagine you watch a football game between two teams, both of which are unknown to you. No matter how exciting the game, you will not feel interested—at least not until you know something about the teams. The very game or even a less exciting game, if played by your home team, will become intensely interesting. The interest cannot lie in the quality of the game, but in the relation which you have to the game. The interest of the story depends upon the relation which the spectator has to the facts of narration.”
Eugene Vale
The Technique of Screenplay Writing (published in 1944)
page 207

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Most people would point to Syd Field’s book Screenplay as the book that started a modern day trend in screenwriting theory. It was in fact the first book I ever read on screenwriting, but it is not the oldest book I own on screenwriting. That honor goes to The Technique of Screenplay Writing by Eugene Vale.

While Field’s book was first published in 1979, Vale’s book was first published in 1944. Vale’s book came out 65 years ago. The book is so old that it has a plug from Billy Wilder on the back, “I congratulate you on your clear analysis of the vast field, and wish for your book the great success it so richly deserves.” That alone should make you track down this book to read.

I picked up the book for three dollars in a used bookstore in Baltimore, Maryland ten years ago. And it’s where I found the screenwriting quote for today.

“A story without a struggle can never be a dramatic story…there are millions of different kinds of struggles, but in all this variety the dramatic struggle has its definite requirements. It is a struggle to eliminate the disturbance.”
                                               Eugene Vale
                                               The Technique of Screenplay Writing
                                               Page 129

That’s bare bones simplicity. Look no further than Billy Wilder’s film The Apartment to see this fleshed out. Jack Lemon struggles to climb the corporate ladder and has to deal with executives who want to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs.

Not being able to use your own apartment has its conflicts and Lemon’s main struggle throughout the film is to “eliminate the disturbance”—and still climb the corporate ladder. It ended up winning five Oscars including Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen, for Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond.


Scott W. Smith

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