TEXT review

Illuminating the screenplay

review by Felicity Packard


Screenwriters and Screenwriting: putting practice into context
Craig Batty (ed)
Palgrave Macmillan, Houndsmill Basingstoke 2014
ISBN 9781137338921
Hb 320pp GBP60.00, AUD207.75


In his introduction to Screenwriters and Screenwriting: putting practice into context, editor Craig Batty expresses his frustration at the snobbery with which academia has tended view the many ‘how to’ guides to screenwriting:

…for a field whose central concern is practice – the screenwriter writes and the screenplay is written for production – I find it somewhat disappointing that many academics quickly write off anything intended to aid writing practice. It seems that anything aimed at helping screenwriters with their screenplays is beneath academic value. (2; original italics)

As Batty is both an academic and a screenwriter, his frustration led to his editing of Screenwriters and Screenwriting: putting practice into context, a collection of 16 chapters, authored by a range of academics, many of whom have production and/or screenwriting experience. Divided into three sections on, respectively, as Batty puts it, screenplays’ ‘writing, development and reception’ (4) Screenwriters and Screenwriting seeks to move screenwriting discourse beyond those intensely pragmatic and industry focused how-to guides towards a more academic context without losing sight of the actual concerns of screenwriting practice. This has led to a work rich in much higher order critical thinking than the average screenwriting manual, while successfully remaining grounded in applied practice.

The aim is […] not to theorise practice per se, but to interrogate and intellectualise practice in order to generate new knowledge and new ways to practice. (2)

Screenwriters and Screenwriting does not seem to be a book designed to be read cover to cover, the various chapters located within the three discrete sections being only loosely related to each other.This allows the text as a whole to be an enquiry into a wide range of both creative and industrial concerns, with the chapters speaking to each other in sometimes unexpected ways. The various chapters explicate elements of the screenwriter’s creative process; acknowledge some of the realities of the professional screenwriter’s world; and identify and articulate elements of how a screenplay can operate as both a genuine articulation of a screenwriter’s complex and layered creative vision and voice, while also operating as a highly industrially entrenched document. Screenwriters and Screenwriting contains chapters as diverse as Elisabeth Lewis Corley and Joseph Megel’s discussion of the uses of screenplay format, Paul Wells’ analysis of the role of the script editor in animation, and Kate Iles’ examination of British TV writer Sarah Phelps’ work practices, all of which rise to and meet Batty’s challenge to better intellectualise screenwriting practice. Ann Ingelstrom’s chapter, ‘Narrating Voice in the Screenplay Text: How the Writer Can Direct the Reader’s Visualisations of the Potential Film’, is both wonderfully concrete and illuminatingly analytical. Working from close textual analysis of several well-known feature film screenplays, Ingelstrom carefully explicates the layers of narrating voices a screenwriter may use within his/her screenplay. Taking a much more personal and practice-led approach is Alec McAulay’s chapter, ‘Based on a True Story: Negotiating Collaboration, Compromise and Authorship in the Script Development Process’. McAulay discusses the creative and logistical demands he faced as a screenwriter while working with a director to develop his screenplay. The resulting essay is both anecdotal and intellectualised; both a story about the making of a story, and a reflective and reflexive examination of the script development process.

As both a teacher of screenwriting and practicing screenwriting myself, I wonder for whom Screenwriters and Screenwriting will be of most use. Batty says that the text is intended to be not just ‘about practice but […] for practice’ (4), thus implying that part of the book’s intended audience is practicing screenwriters themselves. The chapters certainly contain much of interest to the working screenwriter; however, it was to my teacher of screenwriting self that their content seemed most useful. It struck me that many of the text’s applied ideas and insights, though expressed in a fresh and welcome academic register, discussed practices likely to be already used by experienced screenwriters. To those newer to the form, however, the work practices discussed offer much of value and use. Furthermore, as a collection of essays that gives practicing screenwriters, students of screenwriting, teachers of screenwriting and other screen studies academics a much needed critical and reflective language with which discuss the practice of screenwriting, Screenwriters and Screenwriting speaks to a wide readership.

Screenwriters and Screenwriting: putting practice into context is part of a growing body of literature that regards the screenplay as a valid site for academic discourse. It opens the field by focusing on the hitherto under-theorised region of screenwriting practice, discussing the words on the page, the challenges of working within the industrial demands of film and television production, and ideas of how authorship operates within a cultural product (a film, a television drama) in which the screenwriter is only one among several possible ‘authors’. It highlights the concerns, methods and practices of multiple people working within and theorising screenwriting practice, and is a positive and welcome addition to screenwriting discourse.




Felicity Packard is a lecturer in Creative Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. She is also a screenwriter and producer, most recently on the ABC miniseries ANZAC Girls and is one of the creators and writers of the Underbelly television franchise. She is currently undertaking a practice-led PhD on television true crime, genre and the production process.


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Vol 19 No 1 April 2015
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Enza Gandolfo & Linda Weste
Reviews Editor: Ross Watkins