MOVIE WRITING

Edmund Wilson rounded criticized Hollywood as “an intractable magnetic mountain which twists American fiction askew.” Wilson further complained about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West: “Their failure to get the best out of their years may certainly be laid partly on Hollywood with its already appalling record of talent depraved and wasted.”

What is a screenplay? It is a play shot on film. It runs about 15,000 – 20,000 words which makes it the length of a short story. Indeed, a movie script generally has a protagonist who meets other humans (antagonists, supporting characters, dead people). It has the same limits as a short story. A single theme, a straightforward point of view. Done well a screenplay is an excellent piece of literature, and is sometimes better than its literary genesis.

Entertainment has its rules. There are rules for writing screenplays (more than using Movie-Writer Pro, or some other application). When Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler collaborated on Double Indemnity, novelist Raymond Chandler did not like all the rules. In a later interview Wilder was complimentary about Chandler although he did not understand the rules.

There is considerable money to be made by anyone who can write short stories and also can write a screenplay. That money dwarfs money derives from books, essays, magazine articles and the world influenced by Edmund Wilson. Perhaps Wilson was feeling poor in his medium.

Is it necessary for a writer to live a “depraved and wasted” life in Hollywood? Fitzgerald arrived in Hollywood depraved and wasted. He had started those ways at Princeton. Nathanael West, being in California and good friend of Fitzgerald, wrote novels, but as his literary competitors demonstrated (Chandler and Hammett), drinking one’s self to death was not required. The movies did not drive anyone to die drunk anymore than the movies drove Eager Allen Poe to die a drunk’s death.

The scorn of Edmund Wilson that screenwriters have nothing to add to society and are overpaid comes from ignorance from someone who wrote no fiction of note and was deeply embedded in the New York literary club and the East Coast Establishment. Not every movie shows excellence, but used correctly movies can compete completely with books and periodic literature.

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