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06/29/2005 - BOOK REVIEW: WRITING A GREAT MOVIE ? FOUR ADVANCED TOOLS FOR THE DRAMATIST ? BY JEFF KITCHEN
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WRITING A GREAT MOVIE - FOUR ADVANCED TOOLS FOR THE DRAMATIST - BY JEFF KITCHEN

Review by Matthew Terry

One of the things I tell my screen-writing students is that what I am about to teach them will actually change the way they look at film. It's not often I read a book that changes the way I look at screenwriting.

This book challenges the way you write a screenplay by avoiding the very things that most screenwriting books talk about. The Three Act Structure? Not mentioned until page 151. Character Arc is hardly mentioned. The Hook is not mentioned until page 234. Very few pages are devoted to proper screenplay format and the first time you actually see something in format: EXT. is page 275 out of 290 pages.

Is this a problem? No! In some ways it is very refreshing. But let me get to the "Four Advanced Tools."

These tools are:

1. Dilemma, Crisis, Decision and Action and Resolution
2. Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations
3. Central Proposition
4. Sequence, Proposition and Plot

I won't get into them here - there's more than can be explained in a few page review. But I will hit on those things I found most fascinating and helpful.

The "Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations" were something that I had always heard about but have not had explained to me in such detail. The breakdown of the situations was extremely helpful to me and something I will turn to again and again. They really do poke and prod the mind to think about things in a different way.

The other thing I found fascinating was the inclusion of a tool called the "Enneagram" - a tool that helps you with character development - it explains the 9 types of characters from the "Peace-maker" to the "Challenger" and every type in between. Mr. Kitchen does a great job of explaining each one and giving examples of who fits what. I see myself using this tool in writing my future screenplays.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the thought process that says: "Figure it out before you write it down." I'm from the old school of "All Writing is Re-Writing" and Mr. Kitchen's approach is to come up with each and every situation, character, plot, sequence, etc. and to think it all through before you put fingers to keyboard. I don't know if I necessarily agree with this as, again, I'm more "old school" but he explains the process in great detail (sometimes TOO MUCH detail) and the last third of the book is going over a script creation while we "watch."

Mr. Kitchen also approaches screenwriting from a play-writing perspective which is different than most books that I read. He quotes often from books on play-writing and I don't know if it translates as well as someone who has years of experience writing screenplays.

An example of where I feel that Mr. Kitchen is confusing is this sentence in regards to plot: "...then we use the specialized term, ?Plot,' signified in this book with a capital ?P.' The other distinction is that when I refer to ?Plot' it's just Plot; when I'm referring to plot it's the plot." Clear?

Again, this book has some tools and approaches I have never seen before. For a veteran screenwriter - this might be the thing you need to whack you out of complacency. At the very least, use the dramatic situations and the enneagram to get you thinking in different ways. In those ways - this book is invaluable.

For a first-time writer who wants to get words on paper - the approaches Mr. Kitchen takes I believe can possibly stifle creativity when he wants to enhance it. There are so many things he goes over in the book that it can be overwhelming. Certainly get the book and use those tools that can be new and helpful for ANY writer.


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