Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North

| April 30, 2012

Reading Guy Gallo’s guide to screenplays, Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North, I felt I needed a map around the literary fat.

Gallo goes on overlong tangents where he tries to debunk the theories of Aristotle, dramaturgy teachers, and books before him. A lot of what he says in these passages—although sound and somewhat tied into the book’s central theme that a screenplay’s characters are its soul—is too exhausting; it’s all a constant bombardment of quotes, counterarguments, and repeated points. This might be interesting to a scholar; to others these passages sound like a superfluous attempt to pitch his work. But, in his defense, Guy does recommend you skip the aforementioned if you’re not into the deeper arguments.

What remains is a sometimes funny and sorta-kinda poignant look into an often brutal industry. Within the first couple pages (much before my grips set in), the author quips, “Nobody wants to like your screenplay. Expect your mother or your best friend or your lover. Everyone else will be looking for reasons not to like your screenplay.” Sounds disheartening but in the next paragraph he explains why certain studio readers aren’t interested—they’re overworked and underpaid—and focuses on how to make them, without a doubt, want to take a peek at the work you’ve worked so hard on. When Gallo balances brutal honesty with reassurance and advice, the book shines.

Throughout the meat of the text, Screenwriter’s Compass makes up for lost ground with an eloquently detailed guide to character construction and the ever daunting first draft. Once more, he harmonizes feedback with motivation. Personally, as an aspiring screenwriter, Gallo’s explanation of the revision process (usually the hardest part of doing a script) was the most telling. And, by the end, it’s his appreciation for all cinema and obvious experience—not verbose examinations into Greek philosophers—that separates his work from other how-to books.

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