Book Review: Could It Be A Movie? by Christina Hamlett
by Jon Danziger
If you've got the glimmer of an idea for a major motion picture, Christina Hamlett wants to help you start writing that screenplay. Sort of. A review, and a coupon-free offer, from dOc's own king of coverage.
Could It Be a Movie?
by Christina Hamlett
Michael Wiese Productions, 269 pp.
I can vouch for the fact that everybody thinks that they can write a screenplay, but most people can't be bothered with the little things like, well, actually writing a screenplay. As a writer and sometime teacher of writing, I've found that there are two basic camps. In the first are those who think that anything and everything that happens to them would make a great movie, and that they should be played by George Clooney or Halle Berry or Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman or another Beautiful Person of choice. (In my family, these stories are usually about how Uncle Howard chipped in for birdie on the fourteenth. Truly, the stuff of gripping cinema.) The second camp are those who have a great story for a movie, they assure you; what they need is a writing "partner" to "help" them write it, and if you are foolhardy enough to take on such a task, you may be favored with as much as a quarter of the future, imaginary profits. Christina Hamlett, a script analyst and writer herself, counsels wisely on dealing with such people: run away as fast as you can. Don't be rude; you never know where someone may land in the business. But any good writing teacher or class or book will tell you the one hard truth: there are no short cuts. The key to writing is writing.
Hamlett has a chatty, friendly prose style, but in truth there's not a whole lot to this book. It doesn't really make good on the question posed in its title—whether or not your potential story idea is best off as a screenplay or a novel or a stage play (or a website or a poem or a game) remains up to you. If you've read any books on screenwriting before—and in truth, if you've read one, you've pretty much read them all—you'll be familiar with what's in here. There isn't bad or wrongheaded advice; what's wrong is the idea that what stands between you and thanking the members of the Academy is a paperback book, be it this one or any other.
Hamlett's book feels padded out, too—it includes interviews with and questionnaires completed by writers and others working in the entertainment business, and while these are modestly informative, it feels like she's trying to run up the page count to a respectable number.
Hamlett also really likes the one-sentence paragraph.
She likes it a lot.
Admittedly, sometimes this can be effective.
But, as with anything else, go to the well too often, and it becomes annoying, a mannerism.
Of course, your mileage may vary.
The book is also big on lists—she makes hers, and encourages you to make your own, and then think about them, and compare and contrast. More disturbing: the book could have used a good going-over by a copy editor and fact checker. It's not promising when the first page of the first chapter has a glaring factual error—it was Willie Sutton, and not John Dillinger, who famously was supposed to have said that he robbed banks because that's where the money is. And a trip to imdb.com could have saved a whole lot of trouble, too—for instance, Barry Levinson's 1988 movie with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise is definitely Rain Man, not Rainman. The book's filmography is especially egregious—its very inclusion seems unnecessary, but really, there's no excuse for misspelling things like the name of the lead actress in The Lion in Winter (it's Katharine Hepburn, not Katherine) or of the actor who played the Cowardly Lion (that would be Bert Lahr, not Lehr), or to list Reversal of Fortune as released in 2000 (it came out in 1990). Hamlett's sloppiness seems to be infectious, too; a brief foreword by John E. Johnson has more than its share of comma splices and grammatical errors in its seven brief paragraphs.
And since I'm piling on: there's some serious logrolling going on even before you get to Hamlett's text. There are thirteen blurbs on two pages, plus another from our friend John E. Johnson on the back cover, extolling this as (for instance) "indispensable" (David Grad); have these people read this book? What else, for instance, is on the reading list of Marie Jones, Book Reviewer, Bookideas.com, if she thinks that Hamlett's book is an "absolute must-read"? No doubt Hamlett and/or her publisher called in some favors to get these quotes, and Hamlett is doing a little rainmaking while she's at it: the book includes a coupon for 50% off her $450 fee to read and provide notes on your screenplay. (I will match her $225 fee for any and all dOc readers, by the way.)
I've got no reason to doubt the fact that Christina Hamlett is a very nice woman, nor to question whether or not she's good at her job as a script analyst. But if what you want to do is write a screenplay, you shouldn't read this book. You shouldn't even be reading this website. You should start writing.
And you probably don't need another one-sentence paragraph from me to tell you that.