Tales from the Script
First Run Features // Unrated // $24.95 // April 20, 2010
Review by Casey Burchby | posted April 8, 2010
Highly Recommended
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Tales from the Script is documentary that consists solely of interviews with prominent (and a couple of not-so-prominent) screenwriters exploring the triumphs and tragedies of being a writer in Hollywood. The interviewees' comments are cut together in thematic groups that cover everything from making a pitch to working with superstars to the role of the writer on a film set. This compendium of anecdotes and insight is an excellent record of the writer's perspective on the film production process, and will be an invaluable document for those considering any kind of career in the movies.

Participants include Oscar-winners William Goldman, David S. Ward, and Bruce Joel Rubin; writers who have experienced huge commercial success such as Shane Black and John August; independent writers of more personal material like Ron Shelton and Paul Schrader; as well as writer-directors like John Carpenter and Frank Darabont.

Almost each and every interviewee in this documentary talks about the positive and the negative - the dark and the light in screenwriting. Their experiences have almost all been roller-coaster rides - and we're talking about some of the most successful writers in the business. This was the most surprising thing I learned from the documentary: that all of these writers have had markedly similar experiences - although well-paid and having a relatively good time, they all must confront the insurmountable frustrations of studio executives, their "ideas," and the vast unpredictability of the studios' decision-making process.

William Goldman expounds upon his theory that, in the film business, no one really knows anything. Paul Schrader explains why his Dutch Calvinism has gelled so well with Martin Scorsese's Italian Catholicism. Ron Shelton claims that all of his screenplays derive from his own personal background and interests. Shane Black talks about early successes (Lethal Weapon, etc.) that left him blocked for several years thereafter. David Hayter explains how he essentially fell into screenwriting while working on X-Men. Guinevere Turner pulls no punches discussing Uwe Boll's hijacking of her screenplay for Bloodrayne; on that project, Turner wrote only a single draft before it was accepted, heavily modified, and shot by Boll.

Although there is much to glean from the documentary, especially for those interested in pursuing a writing career, several of the interviewees (particularly Carpenter and Goldman) are adamant about the unpredictability of it all - that there are no hard and fast rules and that the ground is constantly shifting beneath a writer's feet. A need to stay agile, motivated, and informed seems to be one of the few substantial "rules" for Hollywood writers - and a key to maintaining one's creativity and sanity.

Tales from the Script was a parallel film and book project (see the above image), and First Run Features generously sent a copy of the book along with the DVD screener. The book is more thorough than the film, running about 350 pages. But the whole is a straightforward, well-organized set of material. The film alone is alternately inspiring and discouraging, although the discouraging parts grow out of a sense of realism rather than being merely depressing.


The Video
Sadly, the image of this brand-new documentary is presented in a non-enhanced, letterboxed transfer - a baffling choice given where we are now in terms of audio-visual technology, and the preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film was shot in that shape, but is presented here full-screen and letterboxed. As you might expect, the transfer is far from perfect. Although bright and generally sharp, there's a fair amount of noise and some pixilation here and there.

The Audio
The stereo soundtrack gets the job done. We don't look to interview-based documentaries for dynamic audio mixes, and this one is no exception. However, I don't have any complaints about what is present here. Dialogue is always clear.

The Extras
There are a few decent bonus features on the disc. More Tales from the Script is 47 minutes of deleted scenes, most of which are just as interesting as the footage that made the final cut. The Gospel According to Bill is a 12-minute profile of William Goldman, the hilarious Oscar the Grouch of filmdom. (If you like this documentary, you will adore Goldman's two indispensible books on screenwriting: Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?) Finally, Advice for New Screenwriters is a 9-minute compilation of comments directed at beginning writers.

Final Thoughts

Of great interest to writers and film buffs, Tales from the Script is an excellent documentary highlighting some of the most important and unsung participants in the filmmaking process. Jam-packed with fantastic stories and perspectives, it's an important addition to any cineaste's film library. Highly recommended.

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