Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The “Interest” [Part 1]

August 26th, 2012 by

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

Married to writer John Emerson, the pair wrote one of the first books on screenwriting in 1920: “How to Write Photoplays”. I have been running a weekly series based on the book. You can access those posts here. Today: The “Interest” [P. 68]:

“What kind of a story is it?” will be the first question asked by the scenario editor when you have carried the office boy by storm. “Has it love interest, moral interest, or is it just another script?”

What he means by this “interest” query is to ask if your story has the element of human sympathy. It is a quality as elusive of definition as feminine charm, yet it is essential to any story more pretentious than the slap stick comedy.

Every motion picture must have something which strikes a responsive note in the hearts of the audience. Otherwise, it will begin to file out in the middle of the second reel, no matter how melodramatic the action or how imposing the scenery.

This is fundamental wisdom from decades ago: Make a script reader feel something. Create characters and a scenario that “strikes a responsive note in the hearts” of the reader. If you manage that, your story is much more likely to make an impression.

Next week, more screenwriting advice from 90 years ago.

If you live in the U.S., you can read “How to Write Photoplays” via Google books online here.

One thought on “Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The “Interest” [Part 1]

  1. Shaula Evans says:

    I’ve seen a similar question asked: “Is the story about something?”–not in the sense of, “does this film have a premise?”, but in the sense “does this film address a bigger, universal theme? does it speak to something larger than the immediate plot?”

    Not quite the same concern but…I feel like it is getting at the same sort of idea.

    I feel like some of the “cheaper” genres like horror and romcoms (cheaper in the sense both that they are less expensive to make and that the genre carries lower quality expectations than others) routinely fail to address these sorts of concerns, which may reflect that the people working in these genres aren’t aware of these storytelling concerns or don’t view they are important.

    And yet the films that stand out in even the cheesiest genres are the ones that DO make the audience feel something by addressing a bigger theme, films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives in horror and films like The Apartment and Tootsie in romantic comedies.

    It’s the difference between just hitting the major genre tropes and telling a good story inside a genre.

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