A Continuation of the History of American Screenwriting 2000-2018, Part I

Little Films

by Tom Stempel Volume 22, Issue 10 / October 2018 23 minutes (5550 words)

FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film
By: Tom Stempel
Word Count: 5,591

(Thirty years ago I wrote FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film, the first such history. A second edition came out in 1991, and a third edition in 2000. That third edition is still in print. It occurred to me that perhaps it was time for a Thirtieth Anniversary Fourth Edition. I approached Syracuse University Press, the publisher of the third edition. The editor I dealt with thought the idea was “exciting,” and the reader she had who re-read the third edition and my outline for the new chapters agreed. But in the discussions at the publisher, the production department felt that it would cost so much to produce that they would have to charge more than they felt readers would pay, in spite of the money they have made over the last twenty years on the third edition. The editorial board listened to the discussion on both sides and decided not to do the fourth edition. Typical Hollywood story: the creatives loved it; the suits didn’t.

So what we have here is the material I gathered for the fourth edition, divided into three articles. This one, the first, is about what I call “Little” films: low to medium budget independent films. The second part will deal with “Big” films: big budget films. The third part is about the return of the studio system, in which John Lasseter, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kevin Fiege have become the Thalberg, Zanuck, and Wallis of today. You will find more than a little overlap between the articles.)

The Oldtimers

In the first edition of FrameWork (Stempel, 1988, pp. 237-8) I ended the book with a description of an appearance by John Sayles at the Motion Picture Academy. Before that I had described how Sayles had been one of the founding fathers of the rise of independent filmmaking in the seventies and the eighties. He wrote low-budget scripts for himself to direct outside the studio system. As the evening at the Academy went by, more of the questions from the Hollywood crowd were about how he managed to do what he did. Would the major studio system be able to adjust to Sayles, or would he be better off on his own? And did the younger Hollywood types in the audience detect the beginning of the decline of the studio system?

As the years have passed, it has become clear that low-budget (well, in Hollywood terms, not in terms of real money) filmmaking has become an important and influential area of American filmmaking. (It also happened that the studio system survived in some interesting ways, which we will take up in Part III.) With the exception of his work as a script doctor on big studio films (and one big studio picture he got credit on, the 2008 Paramount film The Spiderwick Chronicles; although he is third in the screenplay credits so it may have been a script doctoring job that got out of hand), Sayles has stuck to writing and directing his own films.

As has been his approach from his earliest films, Sayles has continued to show, in more depth than most mainstream films, a feel for all the aspects of American culture. Sunshine State (2002) and Silver City (2004) follow in the pattern he established with City of Hope (1991) and Lone Star (1996), taking a wide view of local politics. In Casa de Los Babys (2003) he focuses on six American women who go to live in a hotel in Mexico while awaiting possible adoption of children. Here as in his other films Sayles, more than most screenwriters, has a real sensitivity to other cultures as we see how the American women deal with the culture.

City of Hope, John Sayles (writer, director, and pictured)

Sayles’s films have their flaws. He can get preachy on the liberal side of the pulpit, and sometimes his characters, who are usually interesting, are flat. Both are problems in the 2010 Amigo, which is about American soldiers in the Philippines in the Spanish-American War. His 2013 Go for Sisters suffered by coming out at the same time as the good television series The Bridge, which handled the Mexican-American border crossings and its related characters much better than Sayles did. Maybe Sayles needs a tough producer to oversee his scripts, but then that is not what independent filmmaking is all about.

Like Sayles, Woody Allen has also gotten uneven in his dotage, but in more ways than Sayles. His films of the early 2000s seemed to be mostly returns to what he had rightly called in Stardust Memories (1980) “the early, funny ones.” Small Time Crooks (2000) was a slightly smoother Take the Money and Run (1969), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) was vaguely reminiscent of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), and Anything Else (2003) was a terrible variation of Play It Again, Sam (1972). Most of those latter films were not particularly financially successful, which led to a striking change in Allen’s films.

Up until 2005 Allen’s films, with the exception of Love and Death (1975), were all filmed in and around his native New York City. Starting with Match Point (2005), ten of his next twelve films were filmed in places as varied as England, Spain, France, Italy, and in the case of 2013’s Blue Jasmine, San Francisco. Why the change from a previously provincial filmmaker? Money. Since his films were not as profitable as they had been, at least in the American market, financing from American sources was limited. In the early years of his career, he had guaranteed financing from United Artists, followed by Orion. Then it began to vary. In the 2000s, more money was available from foreign sources.

Working in Europe opened up Allen as a writer. One of his worst films of the period was shot in New York, Whatever Works (2009), another of his darker, nastier films. His European films have a freshness his New York City films no longer have. The best of the European films is 2011’s Midnight in Paris. Gil and Inez are on a vacation in Paris with her parents. One night Gil is out for a walk and as the church bells strike midnight, a 1920’s cab pulls up and the riders invite Gil to a party. He assumes it is just a costume party, then comes to realize he is now actually back in the twenties. Allen is great at recreating some of the famous figures of the time. He has Salvador Dali become fascinated with the word “rhinoceros,” which becomes a great running gag.

Gil is writing a novel about a guy who works in a nostalgia shop, which gives you the theme of the movie. Gil is nostalgic for the Paris he once visited and for Paris in the ’20s. Adriana, a ’20s artists’ muse and mistress he meets, is nostalgic for turn-of-the-century Paris, a great turn in the plot that also carries out the theme of the film.

Another of the best of Allen’s films of the period is one not filmed in Europe, Blue Jasmine. Allen has throughout his career created some brilliant female characters, and here he comes up with one of his best, Jasmine. She’s the wife of a New York financier who has left her with no money. She moves in with her sister and her husband and causes chaos. Jasmine is another of Allen’s neurotic women, but she’s not just neurotic. Allen has created the deepest, most complicated character, male or female, he has ever written. Jasmine is also charming (not as often as she thinks she is), extravagant, bitter, funny, and has a mind that runs over 100 miles an hour on a slow day. We watch her explaining her situation in great detail to someone. We learn in the middle of the scene her listeners are her two nephews, who are about ten or eleven. That makes the rest of the scene even funnier. And weirder.

Blue Jasmine

Many of Allen’s films of the period are good, but not quite up to the level of those two. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) is a charming story about two young women, Vicky and Christina of course, who are on a vacation in Barcelona and get involved with a painter, who has an ex who turns out to be a holy terror. The problem with the script is that Allen has loaded it up with narration that tells us what we keep also getting in the dialogue. To Rome With Love (2012) is four shaggy dog stories rolled into one movie. It also is charming, but lighter weight than Midnight in Paris, without that film’s thematic richness.

In addition to Whatever Works, there are some of Allen’s later films where the screenwriting is just mediocre. Magic in the Moonlight more than establishes that Stanley does not believe in spiritualism. Stanley won’t shut up about it. One critic said it read like a first draft, since overwriting like that is something that often happens in a first draft.

And sometimes Allen is just a victim of his upbringing. I wrote in the first edition of FrameWork (Stempel, 1988, pg.211) that Allen’s films are “ not only written, but seen to be written. Because they are written and shot in New York, Allen’s films have finally persuaded the provincial New York cultural establishment, decades after the putdowns of screenwriters began, that being a screenwriter might be all right after all.” But Allen may not believe in that of which he had managed to persuade them. In the otherwise wonderful Midnight in Paris, Gil is a screenwriter who is now working on a novel. But Allen never tells us what kind of a screenwriter he is. Allen seems to still stick to the New York idea that all screenwriters are hacks. But what if Gil had written Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Blue Jasmine?


Richard Linklater was born and raised in Texas. After college he moved to Austin, where he began his filmmaking career. And he has stayed there, as much a regional filmmaker as Woody Allen was in his early years. Like many independent filmmakers of the nineties, such as Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, Linklater focused on dialogue. His 1991 breakout feature Slacker was nearly all dialogue as the camera followed a bunch of people around as they talked about such things as Madonna’s pap smear.

Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise was originally going to be set in Texas as well, but John Sloss, one of the producers, suggested that (like Woody Allen a decade later), they might be able to find European funds to make it. 1 So the script, by Linklater and Kim Krizan, a writer and actress (she appeared in Slacker and Dazed and Confused [1993]), was reset in Vienna. Jesse, a young American man, meets Celine, a young French woman, and convinces her to spend the day and evening with him. They walk and talk. Boy, do they walk and talk. And fall in love. And the next morning agree to meet each other back in Vienna in six months. They are young, in love, and stupid enough not to get each other’s addresses or phone numbers.

Both the actors Linklater hired to play the two, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, also wrote. Years later, in an interview in Creative Screenwriting, Delpy recalled,

It was interesting because with Before Sunrise (1995), Ethan and I basically re-wrote all of it. There was an original screenplay, but it wasn’t very romantic, believe it or not. It was just a lot of talking, rather than romance. Richard hired us because he knew we were writing and he wanted us to bring that romance to the film. We brought those romantic ideas and that’s how I wrote something that actually got made, without really getting credit for it.

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise was a modest indie hit, and that would have seemed the end of it. But the participants kept wondering what happened to Jesse and Celine. Had they shown up in Vienna six months later as planned? Nobody else cared, but Linklater, Hawke, Delpy and Krizan did. Krizan wrote the story for Before Sunset (2004), but Linklater, Hawke and Delpy wrote the script. Jesse has written a novel that is very clearly based on his one-night stand, and he is having a book signing in Paris. Guess who shows up? And they walk and talk some more. The script is a lot tighter than Before Sunrise, and the characters are richer because they have had more life experience. Jesse has written the novel and Celine has been having troubles in her environmental work. The choices of where they walk in Paris are very smart, and the fact that he is supposed to catch a plane gives the film more tension than the first one.

Nine years later, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy returned to Jesse and Celine. In the Creative Screenwriting interview, Delpy said it was harder to write than the first two, simply because her view of romance had changed. “With the third one, it was probably the least romantic, because we’re evolving into less romantic beings, or at least, less fantasy-romantic beings. It’s not like it was when we were young.” Jesse and Celine have now been together for nine years and they have two children, even though they are not married. The characters are even richer than in Sunset, and because they have been together, the discussions are about what connect them, and what drives each of them crazy about the other one. The writers are wonderful at making any given character right one moment and wrong the next.

Where the first two films were primarily about the two of them, Midnight includes the series’ first multi-character scene. The two have dinner with friends, which lets the writers develop the themes of love and relationships from more perspectives than previously. The final major scene is a long argument between the couple in a hotel room that is so fierce we are afraid they will break up. A coda at the end suggests they probably won’t.

Most big studio sequels tend to longer and noisier than the Before series. The studio films are driven primarily by money: if the first one made money, so can a second, and a third, and so on. Sometimes it works out that way. What Linklater was doing instead was using the sequel genre to see how he and his three co-writers could explore their characters over time. It was a much more inventive use of the ideal of sequels.

Linklater continued his exploration of characters in terms of time in his 2014 Boyhood. In 2002, Linklater had the idea of following a boy as he grows up over twelve years. Rather than recasting every couple of years in film time, Linklater decided to take one boy and follow his fictional character over twelve years in real time. The script starts with Mason as six years old. His parents are divorced, his father is still involved in his life. Just as Linklater kept in touch with Hawke and Delpy, he kept in touch with Hawke (the father), Patricia Arquette (the mother), and Ellar Coltrane (Mason). They would all get together once a year, discuss what was going on in Coltrane’s life and work out a few scenes and shoot them. Linklater describes the unusual working method on Boyhood:

On that [first] day [of shooting] I had the script for that year, and kind of broad outlines for all twelve years. I had the geography of the piece, and I knew it would be very process-orientated because I was allowed this roughly one year period in between where I could concentrate on the next year. It’s such a unique process because as a writer you’re not really given that chance because you just write a script. But in this case I got to write a part of a script, shoot it, edit it, and have that inform the continual writing process. That was an incredible gift and opportunity that the time allowed. I think there was a random element to it that had its own timeline and preparation.

Linklater’s approach means that the film does not have conventional continuity, as some things show up in one set of scenes and then are never mentioned again. The Harry Potter novels and Barack Obama, whom Mason and his friends campaign for in 2008, each show up only in a given year. It is a narrative rhythm that takes getting used to, but then draws viewers in.

Perhaps an even more inventive independent screenwriter than Linklater is Charlie Kaufman. After writing for the National Lampoon, Kaufman moved into television writing on such shows as The Dana Carvey Show (1996) and Ned and Stacey (1996-1997). Unlike some writers who felt they learned from writing for television, Kaufman did not:

I was writing before I did television. I always hated writing in a group, hated writing for networks, hated feeling like everything had to be softened for mass appeal. Characters couldn’t do anything that was at all questionable, and if they did, it had to be resolved with some kind of redemption shit. So I don’t know what I learned from television. (Nocenti, 1999, pg. 190)

In 1999 he wrote Being John Malkovich on spec (speculation), but his agents at CAA did not like it, feeling it and other screenplays he wrote were too full of heavy issues like memory and psychology (Norman, 2007, pg. 464). But Kaufman did not approach them from an intellectual way, but in terms what he found funny and interesting (Nocenti, pp. 98-105, 189-191). Eventually the script got into the hands of music video director Spike Jonze, who was on the same multiple wave lengths as Kaufman. Fortunately, so was John Malkovich, who agreed to play himself, and the picture was an art house hit.

Kaufman’s next script was Adaptation (2002), supposedly an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief. But Kaufman found the story by itself frustrating, so he added a subplot, turning the picture into a meta examination of screenwriting (Norman, 2007, pp. 466-474). “Charlie Kaufman” becomes a leading character, trying to write the script that we see being acted out. But “Charlie” also has a twin brother “Donald Kaufman” (whom the real Charlie gave a co-credit on the real screenplay), who makes suggestions on how to make the script more accessible to the public. This leads to a scene with Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox), one of the best known of the real life screenwriting gurus. Watching Cox give a bravura performance is more fun than reading McKee.

The characters in Kaufman’s first screenplays were rather thorny, but in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) they were lovable, at least by Kaufman’s standards. Joel is a quiet guy who has been in love with Clementine, then discovers she has forgotten him. She has had her memories erased by the Lacuna company. So he decides to have his memories of her erased, but as he does he decides he does not want to have his erased. We get his memories as we watch them fade and his efforts to retain them, as well as the team that is supervising his procedure. The team makes comments on the Joel/Clementine story in the way Charlie and Donald are commenting on the writing of Adaptation. The script for Eternal (by Kaufman, developed from a story by him, director Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth) successfully combines a truly romantic story and science fiction elements.

In 2008, Kaufman turned to directing with Synechdoche, New York, but both his screenplay and his direction were disastrous. The movie follows Caden Cotard, a small-time stage director whose wife leaves him. He gets a genius grant and uses it to create a stage production that is his life in every detail. The picture is very slow, partly Kaufman’s fault as a writer and partly his fault as a director; it’s half an hour into the 124 minute film before his wife leaves. None of the characters are that compelling. Kaufman does not give Philip Seymour Hoffman anything other to do than mope, and all Catherine Keener as Caden’s wife does is whine. The picture was not a success either artistically or financially, and it has temporarily put a crimp in Kaufman’s career.


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the writing for independent films is that each writer and each film has a distinct sensibility. We see this in Sayles’s political views and in Allen’s view of New York City. Noah Baumbach is like Allen a very New York regional writer. His first two films in the nineties were not well-received, but his third The Squid and the Whale (2005) was. In his earlier films he had, as screenwriting texts instruct us, tried to come up with a structure first. In Squid, he started out with dialogue (Greens, 2017, pp. 39-54). The story is partly autobiographical, about two kids who have to deal with their parents’ divorce. Baumbach captures the tone of the New York intellectual world, as he does in his later films Frances Ha (2012), While We’re Young (2014), and The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017), which also deals with children, now adults, dealing with yet another ego-driven father. If Baumbach seems to be a rather provincial writer when working on his own, he is not when he is working with his friend Wes Anderson. Baumbach and Anderson co-wrote 2004’s The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou about an oceanographer who tries to trap a mythical shark who had killed his partner. It is Jacques Cousteau chasing Moby Dick and like a lot of Anderson’s work (he directed as well), it is a little too precious, since the whimsy is overtaken by the realistic details of the physical production. Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, co-written with Owen Wilson), about an odd New York family, is like a Baumbach film strangled in its own whimsy.

Anderson’s sly approach works best in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The script is inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian writer from between the wars. Anderson discovered his novels and borrowed details from several of them. Anderson and Hugo Guiness wrote the story and Anderson the screenplay. The script is set in a mythical hotel in a mythical part of Europe in the thirties. The look of the film matches the whimsical tone of Anderson’s writing, and the speed of the plotting keeps the audience involved, mostly in trying to keep up with what is going on. Anderson had also corralled an all-star cast and more importantly, given nearly all of them some good stuff to say and do.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alexander Payne’s films tend to be set in his native Nebraska, and have a very dry, Middle American sense of humor. Payne and Jim Taylor, his writing partner, first made an impact in the nineties with Citizen Ruth (1996) and Election (1999). After co-writing the slyest and funniest of the Jurassic Park films, III (2001), he and Taylor wrote two of their best films, About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004), both adaptations of novels. About Schmidt provided one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles as a recent retiree driving to his estranged daughter’s wedding, and Sideways provided Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh with their best roles. Sideways is set in California, but still has Payne’s Midwestern sensibilities. Payne directed but did not write Nebraska (2013), but Bob Nelson’s screenplay has Payne’s feel for his home state and the kind of people who live there, even though most of the film takes place in Montana.

Like Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson first came to prominence in the nineties, in his case, with Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999). Both films have a wide view of their subjects (the seventies porn business in the former, life in the San Fernando Valley in the latter). Anderson tends to overwrite, with the final films overstuffed with characters and scenes that end up being trimmed to get into a reasonable running time. The storyline with Amber Waves in Boogie Nights feels as though there are missing scenes. Anderson can write tighter screenplays, as with Punch-Drunk Love (2002), but he seems to prefer the epic size. In The Master (2012), the primary focus is on three characters, as opposed to the multiple characters in Magnolia. The strength of Anderson’s scripts comes from the freshness with which he observes the subject matter. The Master is about a cult, but there is nothing obvious about the cult.

Different Sensibilities

Sofia Coppola was born into the movie business. When she was a baby, her father Francis Ford Coppola cast her as the baby being baptized in The Godfather (1972). She was good in the part, which was not a demanding one. When Winona Ryder pulled out of The Godfather III (1990), Francis put Sofia into the role of Mary Corleone. And then directed her more like her father than her director. It was not a good performance, but that is not surprising, since Francis’s direction of women in his films has always been uneven.

Sofia, on the other hand, has focused her films primarily on the female characters. She writes them well, and then directs them well. Her first feature was The Virgin Suicides (1999), about five teenage sisters who commit suicide, and while it is narrated by one of the boys who were fascinated by the sisters, the focus is on the girls. The guys seem mostly clueless. Her next film was also her best, Lost in Transition (2003). Sofia had earlier had a fashion business, which led her to do fashion shows in Japan. Her experiences in a foreign country suggested there might be a film, which she wanted to be romantic, and which she wanted to star Bill Murray (Cohen, pp. 67-75). She was not interested in plot, which she said she “did not feel like writing” (Cohen, pg. 68). Murray plays Bob, an actor who has come to Japan to film a television commercial, and he meets a young married woman Charlotte, whose photographer husband is off working. Rather than have a conventional romance, they have a friendship with romantic overtones. This is exemplified by a long scene of the two of them lying on a bed, just talking, but never touching. It is not the sort of scene you can imagine a male screenwriter writing.

Coppola’s best film after Lost in Translation is The Bling Ring (2013), based on a Vanity Fair article about a group of kids in Los Angeles who rob the homes of celebrities. Coppola’s minimalist style works well here, letting the kids, mostly girls, reveal themselves as shallow and amoral. Coppola has John Huston’s ability to watch her main characters sweat, especially after the girls are caught. Their parents are not much better, with the mother of one horning in on the cops’ interview with the daughter. As in her other films, most of Coppola’s male characters are clueless.

Lost in Translation

When Diablo Cody made an impact with Juno (2007), her first screenplay, the hype about her was that she was an ex-stripper. The more scripts she wrote for film and television, the less the issue was brought up. I mention it here merely for the historical record. She wrote a blog about her stripper days, which became a best-selling book Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper (Cody, 2006). The writing was striking, but in a literary way. Nonetheless, her friend and later manager Mason Novick suggested she try writing a screenplay (Clines, 2007, pg.22). Juno became a huge art house hit and won Cody an Academy Award.

Juno is about a 16 year old who accidentally gets pregnant. She decides not to have an abortion, which pleased pro-lifers. Until they saw the movie and found out why she decided not to. She and her friend find a couple in the Penny Saver (a free advertising supplement) to adopt the child, but that does not work out the way they all planned. The script is a fresh look at the subject of teen pregnancy, sharper, funnier, and more accurate than most movies and television shows give.

Cody’s next film, Jennifer’s Body (2009), is a combination teen girl friendship/horror movie. Jennifer and Needy are BFFs until Needy realizes Jennifer is a cannibal and eats the boys she dates. When Jennifer has eyes on Needy’s boy friend, Needy takes action. As I wrote in my on-line column, “This is not a feminist or even post-feminist take on the horror genre. Cody is not writing like a Woman Writer, but like a woman who writes, with her own particular and sometimes peculiar sensibilities. Cody likes both Jennifer and Needy for different reasons and feels the conflict between them and the hurt it causes, especially to Needy.” The picture was not the hit Juno was, partly because of the backlash to Cody’s success.

Her next film, Young Adult (2011), worked better. Mavis, a writer of young adult novels, decides to go back to her home town to break up the marriage of Buddy and Beth, who have just had their first child. Mavis does not care, since she thinks she and Buddy are meant to be together. Mavis also drinks too much, has a messy apartment, and is glad to see her boyfriend go overseas to do good deeds. And yet we like her, because when she is on-screen, stuff happens. Again, not a traditional feminist heroine. Needless to say, things go spectacularly wrong for her.

In 2009-2011 Cody created and ran the striking television series The United States of Tara, and came back to television in 2016 as the creator of another television series, One Mississippi. She is not the only writer, female or male, to go back and forth between television and film.

In 2013 Cody decided to direct for the first time with the film Paradise. The script was terrible. It is about Lamb, a young woman brought up in a religiously strict community who decides to go to Las Vegas to sin. You can see the possibilities, but the sins Cody involves her in are merely ones like drinking alcohol and rhythmic dancing. Cody could have done a lot more with those even if she did not want to get into industrial strength sins. Cody did not help her own case by hiring Julianne Hough to play Lamb. Hough has neither screen presence nor acting talent to bring it off, and Cody did not have the directorial skills to work around it.

In an interview in the LA Weekly after the movie came out. Cody said she really had not wanted to direct and after the experience does not want to do it again. “I would never have directed in the first place if I hadn’t felt obligated to increase the number of female directors by putting myself in that position. I have no idea how somebody makes a movie like Saving Private Ryan. Are you fucking kidding me? This was my fucking Avatar, and it killed me.” This may just be like women complaining after giving birth that they never want to have another child, but she has not directed since. She has of course kept on writing scripts.

Part 2


Banks, Miranda J. The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild. (2015) New Brunswick; New Jersey. Rutgers University Press. The subtitle is misleading, since the book is more a history of the Writers Guild than screenwriting. Its first half covers a lot of familiar material, but the second half covers the post-blacklist period up to the present very well. I do get mentioned, but with my name misspelled.

Cody, Diablo. Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. (2006) New York: N.Y.: Gotham Books.

Clines, Peter. “Now Playing: Juno,” Creative Screenwriting (November/December 2007).

Cohen, David S. Screen Plays: How 25 Scripts Made it to a Theatre Near You—-For Better or Worse. (2008) New York, N.Y: Harper Entertainment.

Greens, R. “Character over concept: Writing dialogue in search of story,” Journal of Screenwriting (Vol 8 Number 1, 2017).

Nocenti, Annie. “Writing Being John Malkovich: A Talk with Charlie Kaufman,” Scenario: The Magazine of Screenwriting Art. Vol 5. No. 3. (1999-2000).

Norman, Marc. What Happens Next? A History of American Screenwriting. (2007) New York, N.Y., Harmony Books. Norman likes to pretend that I do not exist, since there is no reference to FrameWork or anything else I have written in his book. He does borrow a lot from Ian Hamilton’s Writers in Hollywood 1915-1951 (New York, N.Y.), which in turn is stuff Hamilton borrowed from FrameWork. Hamilton acknowledges it, Norman does not.

Stempel, Tom. FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film (1988) New York, N.Y. Continuum; Second edition (1991), Continuum; Third Edition (2000), Syracuse, N.Y. Syracuse University Press).

Featured Image from Frances Ha

Other Sources

Creative Screenwriting (1999-2011) [www.creativescreenwriting.com (2013-2018)]

Entertainment Weekly (1999-2018)

Journal of Screenwriting (2010-2017)

The Los Angeles Times (1999-2018)

The L. A. Weekly (1999-2018)

Script Magazine (2005-2011) [www.scriptmagazine.com (2011-2018)]

Sight & Sound (1999-2017)

Written by (1999-2017)

Variety (W)


  1. John Sloss in the 2016 documentary on Linklater, Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny.

A Continuation of the History of American Screenwriting 2000-2018, Part I

Tom Stempel is a Professor Emeritus in Film at Los Angeles City College, where he taught film history and screenwriting from 1971 to 2011. He is the author of six books on film, including Screenwriter: the Life and Times of Nunnally Johnson, FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film, Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing, and most recently Understanding Screenwriting: Learning from Good, Not-Quirte-So-Good, and Bad Screenplays. His shorter writings have appear in Film Quarterly, Los Angeles Times, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Creative Screenwriting, Film & History, Senses of Cinema, and Journal of Screenwriting. Since 2008 he has written the online column “Script Magazine” (see link below).

Stempel photograph ©Alix Parson

Volume 22, Issue 10 / October 2018 Essays   american independent film   screenwriting