DOWSE guide to the movies                                                                                         

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  Book Review


DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

The Complete Book of Scriptwriting

J. Michael Straczynski
Titan Books trade paperback, 424 pages 14.99
review by Trevor Mendham

J.Michael Straczynski (JMS) is best known as the creator of Babylon 5 and the doomed Crusade. What is less well known (at least to me) is his vast range of experience in the television industry - everything from The Twilight Zone to Murder She Wrote. Having worked not only as a writer but also as a script editor and producer, etc, JMS has seen the scriptwriting game from both sides of the desk. The Complete Book Of Scriptwriting is a distillation of his experience, which includes some blunt opinions. As an extra bonus the full script to a Babylon 5 episode - "The Coming Of Shadows" - is included.
 From a UK point of view, the first thing to note is the very parochial nature of this book. Not only is it US-centred, it's very specific to Hollywood. JMS assumes that everything worthwhile in TV and film takes place in California, and also that all his readers want to live and work there. Much of the detail is thus inappropriate for a non-US audience. That said, it remains a fascinating and useful book. JMS covers every aspect of scriptwriting: from the nuts and bolts such as terminology and page layout through to the workings of the studios and how to pitch your idea. There is some advice on story construction, though this is not a book about creativity - he assumes that you already have your tale to tell.
 The book is centred on television and film scripting, with shorter sections covering animation, radio and stage plays. If your main interest is those fields then you probably want to look elsewhere. Whilst these sections are interesting, they're clearly aimed at the TV scriptwriter who fancies trying a different medium.
 This is definitely a pragmatic, hands-on manual, yet it also manages to be inspirational. JMS writes in a very chatty, personal style. Reading this book feels like a conversation in the pub with a knowledgeable friend. He points out in depressing detail how difficult it is to succeed in the scriptwriting game and how illogical and annoying the industry is. He then proceeds to reassure you that despite everything it is worth persevering, that it is worth the effort.
 Unlike many 'How To' books, this one won't just be left on the shelf gathering dust. It'll be referred to again and again.

Trevor Mendham

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