A collection of screenwriting discussions by little-known and unproduced screenwriters.
This peculiar book is a collection of postings on craft by a group of predominantly aspiring screenwriters. In 2003, Von Altendorf, a former independent filmmaker, began hosting the A-List, an online discussion group on the website of American Zoetrope’s Virtual Studio. After abruptly pulling the plug on the popular group and disappearing for many years, Von Altendorf remerged on Zoetrope in 2010 and began hosting the B-List, the group whose dialogues and musings are presented in this volume. The postings are grouped into chapters on aspects of craft, such as Audience Bonding and Story Development, but, disappointingly, many discussions are rushed—advice on plot, character and theme gets a mere five pages—and the absence of a substantial discussion on dialogue seems like an obvious oversight. However, some of the selections, particularly those by Von Altendorf, are redeemed by a true passion for craft. His tips, such as his method of analyzing screenplays using “scene cards” or his thoughts on making scripts appealing to low-budget filmmakers, are pithy and informative. Unfortunately, many of the postings are simply padding: aimless, repetitive and of limited value to readers not familiar with the group members’ professional struggles. The few brief samples of contributors’ works struggles to establish their credentials as master craftspeople, and there are no selections from produced scripts to show their analyses in action (a close reading of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders is promised but never materializes). Von Altendorf describes his Hollywood career as having been “cut short” and his contacts are as “stale as dry cheese,” yet his entertaining style and the tantalizing biographical snippets sprinkled throughout his sections—his remembrance of the late actor/director Alejandro Rey is the book’s highlight—suggest that he would be an excellent candidate for memoir. Maybe even a biopic.
By turns inspiring and underwhelming, this compendium is more of a yearbook for the B-List group than a useful guide for writing screenplays.