Beating Hollywood: Crafting The Perfect Screenplay

Feb 26, 2016

Thousands of screenplays make the rounds in Hollywood, in the hopes of being made into a film or TV episode. Many are rejected. However, Steve Cuden, author of Beating Hollywood: Tips for Creating Unforgettable Screenplays,  has created a “how to” book on screenplays. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Cuden about screenwriting.

Beating Hollywood is broken into two parts. The first part gives 150 tips for writing a screenplay, ranging from story structure, characters, dialogue, and even career tips. The second half analyzes 40 films using the measures and conventions of the first half. These 40 films include The Shawshank Redemption, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, and more.

While his book cannot replace natural talent, Cuden hopes his book will help develop writers in another way.

“Talent is not something that can be taught; you either have talent or you don’t,” he said. “What can be taught is craft.”

Cuden defines craft as the more mechanical aspects of screenplay writing; how stories work, how dialogue is supposed to sound, etc. Through the development of the craft, even the tiniest amount of talent can be cultivated and grown.

The author previously wrote Beating Broadway, a similar work focusing on writing musicals. Writing the two has made Cuden realize that musicals and movies have more in common than he previously thought.

“Movies must move forward like a shark,” he said. “Musicals, curiously enough, are exactly like movies, they must move forward.”

By moving forward, Cuden means that a movie or musical must move its plot along. This similarity between the two art forms made it possible to transfer many of the story tips of Beating Broadway to Beating Hollywood.

Cuden cited The French Connection as being his personal favorite movie, despite telling its story a little slower than modern audiences may be used to.

“The French Connection unfolds in a very, I wouldn’t call it a laconic way, but let’s say it takes a little while to get going,” he said.

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