Screenwriting Advice From The Past

March 18th, 2012 by

If you are a screenwriter, you should know about Anita Loos. Loos was one of the most influential writers in the early history of American cinema, associated with 136 film projects per IMDB.

Married to writer John Emerson, the pair wrote one of the earliest books on screenwriting in 1920: “How to Write Photoplays”. Here is some advice from early in that book:

“Your local motion picture theater is indeed your greatest ‘tool.’ You should attend motion pictures regularly, see as many as possible, and think about them after seeing them. Try to analyze them and get the author’s point of view. Try to realize what it was that sold those stories. Become familiar with the current stars and directors. Note the sort of situations that bring out the finest acting in such famous stars as Mary Pickford, Charles Ray, Constance and Norma Talmadge and then imagine a few original scenes yourself. If you concentrate in this way, you will no doubt be astonished at your own faculties of imagination.”

Hmm. Where have I heard this before? Something about Read Scripts, Watch Movies, Write Pages. Also a nice plug for the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series [next up: "Michael Clayton" the week of March 26th].

“Keep a diary or at least some form of a notebook. Clever ideas do not remain long in the human memory. They flash upon you just before dozing at night, or in the bathtub or at the other inconvenient times. They flash away with the same irresponsible zest. Never lose a minute in putting that original thought down in the written word. Be sure you have a stock of ideas on hand.”

That sounds familiar, too. Like you always need more than one in your gun.

“Above all things the scenario writer should keep alive. Just keep yourself with lively, laughing, thinking people, think about things yourself, and cultivate a respect for new ideas of any kind. Take care of these small ideas and the big plots will take care of themselves.”

Let’s see. Lively, laughing, thinking people? Hey, sounds like GITS! So basically 92 years ago, Anita Loos was suggesting that this blog was the place for you to be to get great screenwriting advice, even before GITS existed. That is how great a writer she was!

Thanks, Anita!

Next week, I promise we’ll have more serious Screenwriting Advice From The Past, but it is nice to know at least some of the ideas we promote here have an established track record… especially when that track record is almost a century long!

You can read “How to Write Photoplays” via Google books online here. Evidently you have to be in the U.S. to do it [not sure about Canada].

And check this out! David Joyner emailed me with a link to a screenwriting book even older than the Loos & Emerson tome: Writing the Photoplay by J. Berg Esenwein and Arthur Leeds. Copyright in 1913! And again, it is available to read online, this one through the Gutenberg project. So now we literally have a screenwriting book 99 years old!

6 thoughts on “Screenwriting Advice From The Past

  1. All the images say “Image not available”

    1. Scott says:

      Jordan, are you outside the U.S.? I have updated the OP with the quotes in text. So even if you can’t see the page excerpts, you can read what’s in the book.

      1. Yup. Canada. You greedy Americans save all the best images for yourselves ;)

        1. Scott says:

          I don’t understand why Google would do that. But thanks for alerting me. Here I thought, “Well, this is cool. I can actually clip and paste the actual content from the book into my blog post.” Nope.

          1. Thanks Scott. BTW I’ve only posted a couple of times, but I really enjoy your blog, especially your “Business posts” that contain personal anecdotes. Thanks for doing this!

  2. Scott says:

    You’re welcome, Jordan. Hopefully I’ll have a new Business of Screenwriting post this Thursday. Insanely busy just now.

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