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

Big Films

by Tom Stempel Volume 22, Issue 10 / October 2018 23 minutes (5615 words)

(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. The first one was about what I call “Little” films: low to medium budget independent films. This second part will deal with “Big” films: big budget films. The third part is about the return of the studio system. You will find more than a little overlap between them.)

They Started Small

In the third edition of FrameWork (Stempel, 2000, pp. 247) we left Quentin Tarantino at Jackie Brown (1997). Then it looked as though his scripts were going beyond the lightweight but violent imitations of earlier B movies he had seen while working as a clerk in the Video Archives store in Manhattan Beach. However, then he reverted to his former approach with Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004): colorful, violent, and shallow. The budgets were larger than his first films, but the material was the same. In 2007, he stayed in that style with the “Death Proof” episode of Grindhouse, a “double feature” of two imitation seventies B movies.

In 2009 he appeared to working again in the same style, since he returned to a World War II story he had been developing since 1998 (Goldsmith, 2009, pp. 22-29). As a video clerk he had seen an Italian war film Inglorious Bastards (1978), and began to develop his own version, later re-titled Inglorious Basterds. The original was about a group of military convicts who escape from prison and evade both the Americans and Nazis as they race to the Swiss border. Very little of that survives after eleven years of rewrites. It became a film with five episodes as a group of American soldiers in the “Nazi-killin’ bidness,” as their leader Aldo puts it, track down Nazi leaders and end up involved in a spectacular rewriting of history.

The difference between this and the earlier Tarantino films is that he no longer treats the violence lightly. When people are shot or burned up, they hurt. They do not just stand up and go on about their business. The characterizations are deeper than in previous Tarantino films. According to the IMDb, the film had a budget of $75 million and a world-wide gross of $313 million. This was not the small-scale filmmaking of Reservoir Dogs (1992).

Having done a revisionist history of World War II, Tarantino turned to slightly less revisionist versions of the western in his next two films. Django Unchained (2012) follows the adventures of a slave set free in the pre-Civil War South by a bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. Django helps Schultz track down his prey, and Schultz returns the favor by helping Django find the plantation where his wife is a slave. This leads to a bloody showdown with the plantation owner Calvin Candie. Like many of Tarantino’s scripts, it is episodic, and one flaw in it is that it goes on to an anti-climatic new episode after Candie’s death. As usual Tarantino has written a wonderful gallery of characters for his actors to play, although Django is the least interesting one of the lot. The film has the kind of violence Tarantino showed before, but in this film the violence is there to show the brutality of slavery and not just for its own sake.

Tarantino followed Django Unchained with The Hateful Eight (2015), a longer but less interesting film. He insisted on shooting the film in 70mm, which makes sense for the first half where we want an epic look at a stagecoach traveling along a snowy trail. The second half is nearly all indoors, and the 70mm photography is unneeded and occasionally distracting. In the first half Tarantino introduces us to a wonderful gallery of characters of the Old West and then in the second half relentlessly kills off nearly all of them, while bringing in yet another gallery of potentially interesting characters, some of whom get killed off as well. It is a reversion to Tarantino’s old style, only on a bigger screen.

Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) was a little film (small cast, few locations) inventively written as a puzzle. His first draft, however, told the story in a standard chronological way: Leonard’s wife is murdered and he tracks down the murderer and kills him. But Nolan was interested in getting the audience more involved in trying to figure what was going on, so he then reordered the script into the way it is seen in the film: starting at the end of the story and working its way backward. Leonard has a condition known as anterior grade memory loss, which means he cannot remember what has just happened to him (Neff, pp. 48-49). He takes pictures, writes notes, and gets tattoos to help him remember. Nolan was very involved in the puzzle aspects, but he discovered that Guy Pearce, who plays Leonard, was bringing a lot more emotion and character to the film than Nolan had imagined. It helped make the picture work.


Nolan shortly moved into doing the Batman trilogy: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). All three had stories by David S. Goyer, who also collaborated on the screenplay for the first one, and Nolan’s brother Jonathan collaborated on the screenplays on the second and third ones. The plotting was more conventional than in Memento, and the comic books gave Nolan more characterization than his own scripts do. But he was still dependent on the actors, as in The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger takes the Joker beyond anything that appears in the script. His performance is fascinating, but it makes the rest of the cast seem bland.

In between the second and third Batman movie, Nolan returned to his puzzling ways with Inception (2010). Nolan had the original inspiration for the film when he was 16 (Goldsmith, 2010, pg. 19). If there is any general rule the Matrix films (1999-2003) and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997) should have taught studios, it is never EVER let directors make films they first thought up when they were in their teens. Inception is not as stupid as those movies because Nolan at least tried to develop the characters, but he was unable to balance the concept of the film and the characters. Cobb and his crew are trying to pull off a reverse heist, going into the dreams of their marks and planting ideas in them. The plotting is ingenious but it overshadows the characters. At the end of the film when Cobb goes into the deepest level to find his ex-wife Mal, we get a world he and Mal constructed. It is visually imaginative, but emotionally rather generic. The places they lived in obviously have meaning for him and for her, but not so much for us, since we don’t know what specifically they mean to Cobb and Mal.

There was a rumor floating around the Internet in 2017 that Nolan had considered making Dunkirk without a script. You can see why people might believe that, even if it was on the Internet. What he wanted to do was put the audience into the experiences of the characters, letting us only know what the characters know at the time (Whipp, 2018, pp. S19-S20). Hence, there is very little dialogue, not even of the kind that would be natural in those situations. There is also very little characterization, and it is very hard to tell the characters apart, particularly the young soldiers who all tend to look alike. It becomes frustrating to watch especially when Nolan cuts between different time periods as he had in Memento and Inception. Later in the year when Darkest Hour came out and showed Winston Churchill dealing with the strategy and tactics of Dunkirk, more than a few people suggested it should have been run as a prologue to Dunkirk. Sometimes audiences just want to know what’s going on.

Star Directors and Their Writers

As we turned into the 2000s, Clint Eastwood turned into his seventies and began to cut back on his acting. The best script he acted in in the early part of the decade was Million Dollar Baby (2004) which Paul Haggis had adapted from stories by F. X. O’Toole. The script had been floating around Hollywood for some time, having been constantly turned down by other studios (Goldman, pg. 77). Eastwood’s home studio, Warner Brothers, turned it down and Eastwood took it to other studios. They turned it down and he eventually got Warners to do it. It made a pile of money and led Eastwood to develop some less obvious projects.

In Baby he plays Frankie, an aging boxing trainer who takes on a young woman boxer, Maggie. Haggis beautifully developed the relationship between Frankie and Maggie, and Eastwood as a director was smart enough to let the camera just sit back and watch him and Hillary Swank (Maggie) live out their story. Both Eastwood and Swank were nominated for Academy Awards for acting. It was Eastwood’s only acting nomination; he lost and Swank won.

Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood

Eastwood had another great part in Gran Torino (2008): a grumpy, racist ex-factory worker who learns how to deal with his neighbors, members of the Hmong tribe of Viet Nam. Nick Schenk’s perceptive and often very funny script accurately captures American blue collar life. Eastwood’s role as an older baseball scout in Randy Brown’s screenplay for Trouble with the Curve (2012) was not as good as his roles in the two other films.

Eastwood works with the same crew for years, but he generally does not work more than once with writers. The one exception was Paul Haggis. After Haggis did Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood got him to work on Flags of our Fathers (2006) about the soldiers during the battle of Iwo Jima who participated in the famous photograph of the raising of the American flag. It was a project that Steven Spielberg had been considering but he turned over to Eastwood. Haggis struggled with the script, but completed it to Eastwood’s satisfaction. As mentioned before (Stempel, 3rd edition, pg. 252) Eastwood’s tendency is to shoot the first draft of the screenplay, which he had done on Baby and did again on Fathers (Goldman, pg. 70). Fathers should have had another draft, since it was unfocused. Sometimes Eastwood’s working methods do not deliver the goods.

Eastwood read a book of letters from the Japanese general on Iwo Jima and asked Haggis to do a script from that. Haggis said it really needed a Japanese writer, but he found a Japanese-American woman Iris Yamashita who had won a screenwriting contest. She and Haggis worked out the story and she wrote the screenplay in Japanese. Eastwood directed that first draft as well, and the results were much better than for Fathers.

Kathleen Kennedy, a producer who has worked with Spielberg and Lucas as well as Eastwood, says that Eastwood’s search for stories is “almost singularly focused on the characters—-what makes them interesting, and what makes them evolve. He carries this through his entire process of deciding what to direct. He is always thinking about [what kind of] performance he can get, based on the characters” (Goldman, pg.74).

Steven Spielberg, unlike Eastwood, does not generally shoot first drafts. There is a lot of time in development with scripts for him, and he is usually doing it with writers that he often works with.

David Koep worked with Spielberg in the nineties on the first two Jurassic Park movies (1993, 1997), then on the 2005 War of the Worlds. So it is not surprising that after fifteen years of development by five other writers Spielberg asked Koepp to work on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) (Chumo, 2008, pp.20-23). Koepp read all the material written before him to see what had worked and what had not worked. It was important to find out what had been tried before. He worked mostly with Spielberg, and Spielberg had the discussions with producer George Lucas, who had created Indiana Jones. Spielberg would not tell Koepp specifically what he wanted in the action scenes until after Koepp had had his input in the draft of the script. Koepp thought he did more drafts on this script than he had on any others he had written, but he, Spielberg, and Lucas were always trying to avoid make it worse in the revisions, a common problem in development. Koepp discussed the script with Harrison Ford, who insisted on getting rid of anything that suggested Ford was not playing his age. Koepp described Ford as “his character’s lawyer and would say, ‘My client wouldn’t do that.’”

Spielberg is not noted as a director of comedies. His big, bombastic comedy 1941 (1970) is not considered one of his best films. Catch Me if You Can (2002) is easily his best comedy. Producer Dev Hankin sent screenwriter Jeff Nathanson an audio tape of con man Frank Abignale talking about his cons to a group of bankers. Nathanson had loved movies about con men and he saw this as a fresh version of that (Nathanson, 2003, pp.42-43). He eventually pitched the idea to Spielberg’s company DreamWorks, where it went through several drafts and other directors (Gore Virbinksi, Lasse Halström). Finally Spielberg decided to direct it himself. Leonardo DiCaprio had already signed on, and as Nathanson developed the script, the composite character of Hanratty (Ryfle, 2002, pp.12-13), the FBI agent, became larger and eventually attracted Tom Hanks. Nathanson and Spielberg tried again with the script for The Terminal (2004), but it did not work as well, since it did not have the light touch of Catch Me If You Can.

Producer Kathleen Kennedy acquired the rights to George Jonas’s book Vengeance, which was about one of the units Golda Meir set up to assassinate the Palestinian terrorists who killed the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Spielberg passed on the project several times, then got involved in the development process. Several screenwriters were involved, but when Spielberg and Kennedy saw the television adaptation Tony Kushner did of his own stage play Angels in America, they brought Kushner onto the project. Kushner did the final drafts (Schickel, 2012, pg. 236).


Spielberg thought of the movie as a political thriller, in the vein of Battle of Algiers (1965) and The Day of the Jackal (1973), which would let him show off his action filmmaking skills. But in hiring Kushner he knew he would get a writer who could provide a subtle, nuanced look at the story. There are many scenes of the Israeli team in various rooms talking not only about the mechanics of their work, but how they feel about it. Spielberg said at the time, “In a way this is as close as I have ever come to directing a play, and I was well aware of that” (Schickel, pg. 237).

Spielberg bought the film rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals even before she had written it. Spielberg had been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln ever since he was a child (Schickel, p. 265). The project went through many writers before Spielberg turned the job over to Kushner. Kushner, who has a tendency in both his plays and screenplays to overwrite, turned in a 550 page screenplay. The one part of it that appealed to Spielberg was the fight to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery. Kushner’s final draft of Lincoln (2012) ran 150 pages, with a running time of two and a half hours, and was as much a play as some of the scenes in Munich (Schickel, pg. 266).

Kushner’s script is, not surprisingly, full of rich dialogue. In this case the dialogue is of three kinds. The first shows the high-toned influence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. There is also the political invective of the time, much more vivid than even today’s political excesses. There is also Lincoln’s folksy storytelling. At one point he starts another tale, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton says in irritation, “Not another story.” The dialogue helps Kushner provide a wonderful gallery of characters for the film’s brilliant cast to play.


When the movies came into being in the first part of the twentieth century, the attitude in the theatre world was that the legitimate theatre was both artistically and morally superior to the newer art. (Part of this was the New York attitude toward screenwriting that I wrote about in the first edition of FrameWork [pp. 63-69].) In practice, however, writers like Ben Hecht, Nunnally Johnson, and Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett 1 bounced back and forth between writing for films and writing for Broadway.

Just as theatre looked down on films, the movies looked down on television in the early days. But many of the writers of the early filmed series of the fifties had not only written for B pictures, but A pictures as well. Wells Root, who had written the adaptation of the novel for the 1937 film of The Prisoner of Zenda, was in the fifties writing for such filmed shows as Four Star Playhouse and The Lone Ranger (Stempel, 1992, pg.23).

As television began to do live drama in which some writers thought was the Golden Age of live television, the movies began to get those writers to do film adaptations of their teleplays for film: Paddy Chayefsky with Marty (1955), Reginald Rose with Twelve Angry Men (1957), and JP Miller with Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Many of them continued writing in film.

By 2000, the crossover of writers between theatre, film, and television had become constant. Aaron Sorkin made his first impact with his 1989 Broadway play A Few Good Men. In 1992 he wrote the screenplay for the film, which was even a bigger hit, and three years later he wrote the original screenplay for the romantic comedy The American President. The liberal president falls in love with a liberal lobbyist. Liberal Hollywood loved the film.

Then Sorkin turned to television with Sports Night (1998-2000), which he followed up with his best known work, the television series The West Wing (1999-2006). Then it was back to theatrical films with the 2010 The Social Network. The hallmark of Sorkin’s work, especially in The West Wing, was that his characters walk and talk a lot. He is the grandchild of the dialogue-filled newspaper comedies like His Girl Friday (1940). The Social Network begins with a long dialogue scene (sitting down, not walking), in which Mark, who is going to found Facebook in the course of the movie, is giving Erika a lecture on how horrible Harvard is. The speech brings up nearly everything we will come to deal with in the film. At the end of Mark’s rant, Erica says, in one of Sorkin’s best lines, “You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you are an asshole.” And a variation of that line comes up in the final scene with Mark and another woman.

Judd Apatow started out as a comic and moved into writing for television shows in the nineties, including The Ben Stiller Show (1992-1993) and The Larry Sanders Show (1994-1998), the first a sketch comedy show, the second a parody talk show. His best known early writing is the 1999-2000 sitcom Freaks and Geeks, one of the most realistic sitcoms about high school students, but one that did not get traction with large audiences, yet remains a cult hit. He wrote two movies for television, then had a huge feature film hit with The Forty-Year-Old Virgin (2005).

The film began with a character who actor and co-writer Steve Carell had created in improve at the Second City troop. The character never made it into one of the stage shows, but Carell mentioned him to Apatow while they were working on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004). Andy was a forty-year old guy who talks like he has had a lot of sex but the way he talks about it tells us he has not. Carell had written sketches for The Dana Carvey Show (1996; like Freaks and Geeks it was not a commercial hit, but attained cult status), but never a full-length screenplay. Apatow had taken a screenwriting course at USC and worked out the structure of his films. He and Carell worked out an outline, then alternated writing scenes, allowing for actors as they were cast to develop their characters.

One of the concerns of Mary Parent, the executive at Universal who bought the script, was whether Andy would seem too “weird.” Carell said, “We didn’t want him to be weird, we just wanted him to have missed the boat. We’re hoping that it’s grounded enough and real enough that you can identify with Andy and have your heart go out to him. If you care about the character, then the rest of the story is going to fall into place” (Goldsmith, 2005, pg. 57). The other element that made the script work was that the woman he falls in love with, Trish, is a grown-up woman in her forties, whom we eventually learn is a…grandmother, although the film does not go so far as to show us her grandchildren. She encourages him to sell his collection of unwrapped toys, saying she is trying to help him grow up. That scene is the most dramatic scene in the picture, and in the commentary track on the film’s DVD, which is mostly talk about sex and jokes, there is virtually no discussion of this scene.

Knocked Up, Apatow’s 2007 follow up to Virgin did not find the same balance, and some of his later films, such as Funny People (2009) and This is 40 (2012), were more like later Woody Allen’s more personal, less funny films. But Apatow also continued finding and supporting talent. Amy Schumer, a standup comedian, got into television writing her own show Inside Amy Schumer (2013-2016). The sketches were unfocused and undeveloped. Apatow worked with her on the script for the feature Trainwreck (2015) which he produced and directed but did not write. The writing is much sharper and more character-driven than on her television show.

J. J. Abrams started in feature films, writing screenplays in the nineties for such films as Taking Care of Business (1990), a comedy, Regarding Henry (1991) and Forever Young (1992), both dramas, and Armageddon (1998), a sci-fi adventure. He told Creative Screenwriting in a 2011interview, “I think part of it is that I have always been interested in so many kinds of stories. It wasn’t that I wanted to be any one kind of filmmaker. I just wanted to entertain people. I’ve always loved all different kinds of things” (Stovall, 2011, pg. 16).

In 1998 he co-created and wrote for the series Felicity (1998-2002) about a young woman going to college. It ran for four years. One day in a story meeting, he jokingly suggested they make Felicity a secret agent. The show that came out of the idea was Alias (2001-2006). In 2006 he co-wrote with his friends Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and directed Mission Impossible III, the best of the films inspired by the television series. Abrams’s Super 8 (2011), which he both wrote and directed, shows off his skill at characterization and big action very well, as you can read in my review.

In 2009 Abrams teamed with Kurtzman and Orci on the film reboot of the Star Trek empire with Star Trek. They wrote and he directed. They dealt with the next generation of the characters in the original television series. In 2013 the writers, along with co-writer Damon Lindelof, wrote Star Trek: Into Darkness, which Abrams also directed.

Abrams had not been much into Star Trek when he was a kid, more of a Star Wars (1977 ff.) fan. That led him to revitalizing the Star Wars franchise as both writer and director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), which we learn more about later.

Different Sensibilities

When last we left Emma Thompson (Stempel, 2000, pp. 248-249) she had written a brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995). Since then she has spent much more time in her day job of acting than writing, and her screenwriting has not been up to the level of Sense and Sensibility. She has adapted Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda books in to Nanny McPhee (2005) and wrote a sequel Nanny McPhee Returns based on the characters in the books. She appears to have done it to give herself the role of Nanny McPhee. In 2014 she wrote the biographical drama Effie Gray. You can read what went wrong in my review. In 2016 she was brought on to Bridget Jones’s Baby both as an actress (she plays the obstetrician) and as a writer. I do not know what the script was like before she got ahold of it, but while some of her scenes are funny, the film generally is disappointing.

Most of Nora Ephron’s best known scripts are pre-2000: Silkwood (1983), Heartburn (1986), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You’ve Got Mail (1998). There are two of note from later. Hanging Up (2000) is based on a book by Delia Ephron, Nora’s sister, and the two collaborated on the screenplay. It is based on the experiences of the Ephron sisters (four in real life, three in the film) dealing with their aging father, the screenwriter Henry Ephron. The film is one of Nora’s more serious films, a moving look at family relationships, although with several elements of her humor.

The second is her last film, Julie & Julia (2009). Ephron’s screenplay is based on two books, Julie’s Powell’s account of her trying to cook one of Julia Child’s recipes every day, and Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme’s My Life in France about Child’s life in post-World War II in France. The film intercuts between Child and Powell’s lives. Child’s is by far the most interesting life of the two, and Ephron rises to the occasion, writing the most interesting female character in her films. Powell is too much a conventional Ephron neurotic heroine like those in her earlier scripts, where Ephron assumes we are going to like her because she is neurotic rather than in spite of it. The story also allows Ephron to indulge in her love of food and cooking, which everybody in the movie seems to love as well. She seems impossible of conceiving of a character who wants a burger once in a while.

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia

If Nora Ephron is into food porn, Nancy Meyers is into kitchen porn. The kitchens in her films, especially the ones she directs as well as writes, are lavish. The irony in It’s Complicated (2009) is that Jane, the heroine, already has a grand kitchen but is having it enlarged.

Meyers started writing screenplays in collaboration with her husband, Charles Shyer, with Private Benjamin in 1980. The pictures she wrote with him tended to be domestic comedies about family life. Irreconcilable Differences (1984) is about a child who sues her parents for divorce. Baby Boom (1987) deals with a businesswoman who inherits a relative’s child. Father of the Bride (1991) and The Parent Trap (1998) are remakes of earlier domestic comedies.

In 2003 Meyers turned to directing scripts that she wrote alone with Something’s Got to Give, an adult romance between two middle aged people, a rarity in mainstream Hollywood films. It was a hit. In It’s Complicated Jane is having her kitchen redone and having sort of (one of the flaws in the script) a relationship with the contractor, Adam. Meanwhile she has fallen into a fling with her ex, Jack. They have been divorced for ten years and he is remarried. Since the script is by and for middle-aged women, Jack’s much younger second wife is a bitch from the word go. Adam is also more of a one-note character and less interesting than he should be. In The Intern (2015) the romance between the seventy-year-old Ben and the somewhat younger Fiona is not the heart of the story. Ben is a widower who wants to do some kind of work. He gets a job as an intern to Jules, the young woman who runs the company. If a man were writing this, they would become lovers, but here they are just colleagues. One scene, of the two of them on a bed in a hotel room is reminiscent of the similar scene in Lost in Translation, but without the romantic overtones. Neat trick by Meyers.

After Linda Woolverton graduated from college in 1976, she formed a children’s theatre company and put on shows all over California. She was then a development executive at CBS and finally started writing in 1984. (You can read her IMDb biography here.) After writing for kids’ television, she moved into animation with the script for Beauty and the Beast (1991) and followed that with The Lion King (1994). She also wrote for videos, videos games, and the narration for documentaries. In other words, a company writer, in this case for Disney.

For years she had been thinking about a new version of Alice in Wonderland. She took the idea to producing sisters Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, who took it to Disney and they put Woolverton to work on the script. Her idea was simply, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she was older and went back?” (Clines, pg. 28) Woolverton’s Alice in the 2010 film is 19 and returns to the place she thought was dream. Even though Tim Burton overdirected the film, it still worked. Unfortunately Woolverton’s script for the sequel, the 2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass, did not give the same actors enough to do and did not have as strong a storyline as the first.


In between the two Alice movies Woolverton took an inventive approach to the Sleeping Beauty story with Maleficent (2014). The script was not as bad as the second Alice movie but not quite up to the first. We follow Maleficent, who rules over the land of the fairies, have a fling with Stefan, from the land of the humans. He’s not a nice guy and steals her wings to impress his father. Mal gets back by putting a curse on his daughter Aurora. Aurora goes to sleep and can only be awakened by a kiss by one who loves her. A guy kisses her…and she does not wake up. You may be able to see where that is going. (No, not there.) Unfortunately, Disney assigned Robert Stromberg to direct it. He had never directed a film before, but had won two Academy Awards for art direction. So the movie is art directed to within an inch of its life, and he has no idea how to director actors. That’s one of the problems of writing for a big studio: sometimes the decisions go against you. Although sometimes they don’t…

Part 3


Chumo, P. “Matinee Magic,” Creative Screenwriting (May/June 2008).

Clines, P. “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Creative Screenwriting (March/April 2010).

Goldman, M. Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work (2012) New York; Abrams.

Goldsmith, J. “Virgin Territory: Judd Apatow and Steve Carell Talk Funny,” Creative Screenwriting (July/August 2005).

__________“Glorious,” Creative Screenwriting (July/August 2009).

__________ “The Architect of Dreams,” Creative Screenwriting (July/August 2010).

Munso, D. “Sky High,” Creative Screenwriting (May/Jun 2009).

Nathanson, J. “Catching Up With Jeff Nathanson,” Script (January/February 2003).

Neff, R. “Memento_/ Renfreu Neff Speaks With Christopher Nolan,” _Creative Screenwriting (March/April 2001).

Ryfle, S. “Script Comments: Catch Me If You Can,” Creative Screenwriting (November/December 2002).

Schickel, R. Spielberg: A Retrospective (2012) London: Thames & Hudson.

Stempel, T. 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.

__________ Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing (1992) New York, N.Y. Continuum; Second edition (1996), Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.

__________ Understanding Screenwriting (2008) New York: Continuum.

Stovall, A. “A Special Sort of Cocktail,” Creative Screenwriting (May/June, 2011).

Whipp, G. “A Different Kind of Blockbuster,” Los Angeles Times (January 4, 2018).

General Sources

Creative Screenwriting (1999-2011) 2

Entertainment Weekly (1999-2018)

Internet Movie Database

Journal of Screenwriting (2010-2017)

Los Angeles Times (1999-2018)

L. A. Weekly (1999-2018)

Script Magazine (2005-2011) 3

Sight & Sound (1999-2017)


Written by (1999-2017)

Variety (W) (2000-2012)


  1. Look at any of the biographies of Hecht, Johnson, and Goodrich and Hackett for details. David L. Goodrich’s The Real Nick and Nora (2001. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press) is particularly good at showing how the Hacketts did it.
  2. www.creativescreenwriting.com (2013-2018)
  3. www.scriptmagazine.com (2011-2018)

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

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 screenwriting   screenwriting   script analysis