ON STORY by Barbara Morgan


Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films
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Iconic Hollywood filmmakers speak candidly about narrative, their process, and juicy experiences from the industry.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says moderator Jane Summer. “At no other event will you see a lineup like this one. Now let’s meet our real-life heroes.” She was speaking specifically about Ron Howard and the other talented writers, directors, and producers on her panel at the Austin Film Festival, but the same could be said for every chapter in this follow-up to On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft (2013), offering even more curated highlights from the festival and its sister PBS series. The minds behind some of the most successful and well-crafted films of late-20th- and early-21st-century Hollywood cover a range of topics, from philosophical examinations of characters to the audience’s relation to a story. They also gladly offer pieces of showbiz mythology that film buffs crave: a pre–L.A. Confidential Brian Helgeland carrying unwanted scripts down Sunset Boulevard; Harold Ramis bought his first home with reviews of Animal House as collateral; Jonathan Demme nearly chose Laura Dern over Jodie Foster for the character of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Insights into process will also enthrall budding writers—e.g., Thelma and Louise scribe Callie Khouri’s admission that she opened screenplay guru Syd Field’s book once and never looked at it again, which is surprising since Thelma is often considered a pinnacle of mainstream Hollywood three-act structure. Editors Morgan and Perez achieve these fresh revelations by choosing well-known projects and then pulling deeper, more fascinating observations from the creators. The results are impressive. However, for today’s worldly film students, the scope may seem limited, as it largely ignores the avant-garde and foreign cinema and features few discussions about the tastes and technologies currently rocking the industry. But for those interested in this specific milieu of Hollywood, there are few other examinations as personal, surprising, and well-executed.

An invaluable resource for film buffs and future storytellers interested in the creation of great Hollywood films over the last 40 years.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4773-1090-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Univ. of Texas
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016


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