Understanding Screenwriting

screenwriting analyst Tom Stempel brings his customary wit and wisdom to bear on movies, television and books

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #158

Understanding Screenwriting #158

Tom Stempel on The Fate of the Furious, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Free State of Jones, and Tales of Wells Fargo.

Tom Stempel on The Fate of the Furious, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Free State of Jones, and Tales of Wells Fargo.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #157

Understanding Screenwriting #157

Tom Stempel on Personal Shopper, Colossal, Five Came Back, Their Finest, The Intervention, The Son, and the season finale of Big Little Lies.

Tom Stempel on Personal Shopper, Colossal, Five Came Back, Their Finest, The Intervention, The Son, and the season finale of Big Little Lies.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #156

Understanding Screenwriting #156

Tom Stempel on Hidden Figures, Fences, Get Out, Eye in the Sky, Deadpool, and Mid-season Television 2016-2017

Tom Stempel on Hidden Figures, Fences, Get Out, Eye in the Sky, Deadpool, and Mid-season Television 2016-2017

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #155

Understanding Screenwriting #155

Tom Stempel on Manchester by the Sea, Things to Come, 20th Century Women, La La Land, Sophie and the Rising Sun, Julieta, and Railroad Tigers.

Tom Stempel on Manchester by the Sea, Things to Come, 20th Century Women, La La Land, Sophie and the Rising Sun, Julieta, and Railroad Tigers.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #154

Understanding Screenwriting #154

Tom Stempel on The Edge of Seventeen, Moonlight, Elle, Loving, Allied, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Tom Stempel on The Edge of Seventeen, Moonlight, Elle, Loving, Allied, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #153

Understanding Screenwriting #153

Tom Stempel on The Birth of a Nation, The Accountant, Inferno, Denial, Arrival, Beauty Shop, and All the President’s Men.

Tom Stempel on The Birth of a Nation, The Accountant, Inferno, Denial, Arrival, Beauty Shop, and All the President’s Men.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #152

Understanding Screenwriting #152

Tom Stempel on Hell or High Water, Sully, Bridget Jones’ Baby, The Magnificent Seven, The Dressmaker, and Shadow of a Doubt.

Tom Stempel on Hell or High Water, Sully, Bridget Jones’ Baby, The Magnificent Seven, The Dressmaker, and Shadow of a Doubt.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #151

Understanding Screenwriting #151

Westworld, Lethal Weapon and more! Tom Stempel takes a look at the 2016 Fall Television Season.

Westworld, Lethal Weapon and more! Tom Stempel takes a look at the 2016 Fall Television Season.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #150, Part II

Understanding Screenwriting #150, Part II

Tom Stempel celebrates his 150th issue of Understanding Screenwriting with a compilation of some of his favorite reviews.

Tom Stempel celebrates his 150th issue of Understanding Screenwriting with a compilation of some of his favorite reviews.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #150, Part I

Understanding Screenwriting #150, Part I

Tom Stempel celebrates his 150th issue of Understanding Screenwriting with a compilation of some of his favorite reviews.

Tom Stempel celebrates his 150th issue of Understanding Screenwriting with a compilation of some of his favorite reviews.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #149

Understanding Screenwriting #149

Tom Stempel on Indignation, Café Society, Florence Foster Jenkins, Complete Unknown, Morgan, Rizzoli & Isles, and BrainDead.

Tom Stempel on Indignation, Café Society, Florence Foster Jenkins, Complete Unknown, Morgan, Rizzoli & Isles, and BrainDead.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #148

Understanding Screenwriting #148

Tom Stempel takes a look at Ghostbusters, Bad Moms, Jason Bourne, and Hell or High Water.

Tom Stempel takes a look at Ghostbusters, Bad Moms, Jason Bourne, and Hell or High Water.

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #147

Understanding Screenwriting #147

Tom Stempel casts his eye over Genius, Finding Dory, Central Intelligence, The Shallows, and Our Kind of Traitor.

  So Why Are We Watching This? Genius (2016. Screenplay by John Logan, based on the book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. 104 minutes.) Within the first week of its American release, this film only had a 45% favorable rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes (the audiences liked it a little better, with a 58% […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #146

Understanding Screenwriting #146

Tom Stempel takes a look at Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Nice Guys, Obvious Child, A Bridge Too Far, The Night Manager, and Roots.

  Well, It’s Not as Badly Directed as Linda Woolverton’s Last Screenplay… Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016. Screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on books by Lewis Carroll. 113 minutes.) Linda Woolverton wrote the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, which as you can read here, I liked in spite of Tim Burton’s direction. Her […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #145

Understanding Screenwriting #145

Love & Friendship, The Meddler, Suffragette, Man Up, Francofonia, Tale of Tales, Confirmation, Bidding Goodbye to Characters on Television

A Marriage Almost Made in Heaven. Love & Friendship (2016. Screenplay by Whit Stillman, based on the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen. 92 minutes.)   As I wrote in the third edition in 2001 of FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film, Austen was one of the hot screenwriters of the nineties. […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #144

Understanding Screenwriting #144

Barbershop: The Next Cut; The Jungle Book; Hello, My Name is Doris; From Here to Eternity (book); A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (stage musical); Mrs. Sundance; and Wanted: The Sundance Woman.

By Tom Stempel. Fan Mail. Back when I was writing this column for the House Next Door, one of my joys was reading the comments section. The readers of House were very smart, very opinionated, and avoided the usual depressing Internet “You suck,” “No, you suck,” “No, YOU suck.” I very much miss the comments. […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #143

Understanding Screenwriting #143

Zootopia, Knight of Cups, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Everybody Wants Some!!, Q Planes, The Lion Has Wings.

By Tom Stempel.   Astonishingly Uninventive Zootopia (2016. Screenplay by Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, story by Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston, and Jennifer Lee. 108 minutes.) While Pixar has had a great run of wonderfully inventive animated features, the output of its sister organization the Walt Disney Animation […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #142

Understanding Screenwriting #142

Mustang, Hail, Caesar!, San Andreas, A Most Violent Year.

By Tom Stempel.     No, Not a Remake of The Misfits. Mustang (2015. Screenplay by Deniz Gamse Urgüven and Alice Minocour. 97 minutes.) The Misfits (1961) was Arthur Miller’s script about a woman, played by his wife, who gets involved with modern day cowboys who capture mustangs (wild horses) and sell them for pet […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #141

Understanding Screenwriting #141

The Big Short, 45 Years, and Midseason Television 2015-2016.

By Tom Stempel. The Financial Maguffin. The Big Short (2015. Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis. 130 minutes.) Boy, talk about your degree of difficulty. Lewis’s book is a detailed non-fiction look into one of the elements that led to the Great Recession. It’s about sub-prime mortgages…zzz, […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #140

Understanding Screenwriting #140

Carol, Sisters, Youth, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Joy.

By Tom Stempel. No Nuances Allowed Here. Carol (2015. Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. 118 minutes.) Back in US #137, I told you that Brooklyn was wonderfully filled with nuances about character and themes. That, alas, is simply not true about Carol. It should be […]

 Tom Stempel

Keys to the Kingdom: Understanding Star Wars

Keys to the Kingdom: Understanding Star Wars

In this special edition of Understanding Screenwriting #139, Tom Stempel takes an in-depth look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

By Tom Stempel. I liked this movie a lot. I liked it almost as much as I admired it. I went to see the first Star Wars film on opening day, May 25,1977, since it was the first film I knew of that had a former student of mine in the credits. She was Mary […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #138

Understanding Screenwriting #138

Spectre, Trumbo, Secret in Their Eyes, Chi-Raq, Wild Tales.

By Tom Stempel. Going Through the Motions. Spectre (2015. Screenplay by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, story by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, based on characters created by Ian Fleming. 148 minutes.) This being a James Bond film, there are a lot of motions it goes […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #137

Understanding Screenwriting #137

Brooklyn, Spotlight, Our Brand is Crisis, Colin Welland and Melissa Mathison: Appreciations, Amarcord, Supergirl and The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?

Nuances Are Us. Brooklyn (2015. Screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. 111 minutes.) Virtually every review of this movie I have read uses the word “nuance” in one form or another, and rightly so. This is maybe the most nuanced movie I have ever seen, and coming in the middle […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #136

Understanding Screenwriting #136

The Martian, Bridge of Spies, Crimson Peak, Sicario, Aloha, For Your Further Reading.

By Tom Stempel. Not Marvin. The Martian   (2015.  Screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir. 144 minutes.) You should know up front that my wife did not elbow me in the ribs once during this film.  My wife is a scientist (molecular biology) and hates it when movies get the […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #135

Understanding Screenwriting #135

The Intern, James Dean’s Live Television Work, and the beginning of the Fall 2015 Television Season.

By Tom Stempel. Office Porn, Not Kitchen Porn The Intern (2015. Written by Nancy Meyers. 121 minutes.) You generally do not want to start a script with a pile of exposition delivered in voiceover. It shows that the writer does not know how to subtly show and tell exposition. When writers try it, readers tend […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #134

Understanding Screenwriting #134

Coming Home, The Keeping Room, A Walk in the Woods, Reap the Wild Wind, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, Masters of Sex.

By Tom Stempel. Zhang Yimou and Gong Li Together Again! With a New Writer. Coming Home (2014. Screenplay by Jingzi Zou, based on the novel by Gellin Yan. 109 minutes) Zhang Yimou and Gong Li (yes, I know that in Chinese the last name should be first, but these are so well known internationally this […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #133

Understanding Screenwriting #133

Irrational Man, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Grandma, American Ultra, A Foreign Affair, Exodus: Gods and Kings, True Detective.

By Tom Stempel. Too Much Bait, Not Enough Switch Irrational Man (2015. Written by Woody Allen. 95 minutes.) When I saw the first trailers for this, I almost decided not to go. It looked like yet another Woody-Allen-Young-Woman-Enchanted-By-An-Older-Man flick. He’s been doing those for nearly forty years. Then the reviews began to come in and […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #132

Understanding Screenwriting #132

Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Ricki and the Flash, Phoenix, Making Patton (book).

By Tom Stempel. One of the Funny Marvel Movies Ant-Man (2015. Screenplay by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd, story by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, based on the comic book by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby. 117 minutes.) I am a little too old to have […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #131

Understanding Screenwriting #131

Dope, Tangerine, Inside Out, A Little Chaos, Mr. Holmes, Minions, Night Moves.

By Tom Stempel. A Good “Write About What You Know” Movie…As Opposed To… Dope (2015. Written by Rick Famuyiwa. 103 minutes.)  “Write about what you know” is advice given to beginning writers, and it has produced more bad movies (and novels) than good ones. A lot of the bad ones are in the category of […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #130

Understanding Screenwriting #130

Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Spy, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Gemma Bovery, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Bessie, Olive Kittridge.

By Tom Stempel. Has Nobody Here Ever Read the Book Understanding Screenwriting? Jurassic World (2015. Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Treverrow & Derek Connolly, story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Michael Crichton. 124 minutes.) In my 2008 book Understanding Screenwriting: Learning from Good, Not-Quite-so-Good and […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #129

Understanding Screenwriting #129

Clouds of Sils Maria, I’ll See You in My Dreams, Kings Row, Chariots of Fire, Mr. Arkadin, Mad Men.

By Tom Stempel. It Certainly Passes the Bechdel Test Clouds of Sils Maria (2014. Written by Olivier Assayas. 124 minutes.) As we were coming out of the theatre after seeing this movie, I said to my wife, “I can’t wait to go check out the reviews of this aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes and see if […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #128

Understanding Screenwriting #128

Effie Gray, The Rewrite, Pride, The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild (book), Richard Corliss: An Appreciation, Don M. Mankiewicz: An Appreciation, Justified.

By Tom Stempel. How The Hell Can We Figure Out What Went Wrong? Effie Gray (2014. Original screenplay by Emma Thompson. 108 minutes.) As you may have been able to tell from her picture appearing on the cover of the 2000 edition of my book FrameWork: A History of American Screenwriting, I am a big […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #127

Understanding Screenwriting #127

Furious 7, While We’re Young, Woman in Gold, Kingsman: The Secret Service, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Christiada, The Nun’s Story, American Crime.

By Tom Stempel. Letty’s Back. Well, Sort Of. Maybe… Furious 7 (2015. Written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson. 135 minutes.) You may or may not remember that in Fast & Furious 6, Chris Morgan, who had taken over the writing of the Fast and Furious series, managed to bring […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #126

Understanding Screenwriting #126

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Focus, McFarland USA, At Middleton, Network.

By Tom Stempel. Different Reasons The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015. Screenplay by Ol Parker, story by John Madden and Ol Parker, based on characters from the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. 122 minutes.) As you may remember from my item on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) in US #96, I […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #125

Understanding Screenwriting #125

Still Alice, Wild, Paddington, Downton Abbey, and Two and a Half Men.

By Tom Stempel. What Did They Forget? Still Alice (2014. Screenplay by Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, based on the novel by Lisa Genova. 101 minutes.) Alice Howland is a linguistics professor at Columbia University who is stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s (she’s only in her fifties). Her doctor and her family deal with her […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #124

Understanding Screenwriting #124

Selma, Unbroken, American Sniper, Big Eyes, Taken 3, “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age (book).

By Tom Stempel. Fan Mail Oh, goodie, oh, goodie. We are beginning to get a few reader comments.  On #122 we had three.  One was from Erik Bauer who thanked me for the review of The Guest, which he’d passed on before and now decided to take a look at.  That’s part of the function […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #123

Understanding Screenwriting #123

Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, Into the Woods, Top Five.

By Tom Stempel. This is why I started watching Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Nightcrawler (2014. Written by Dan Gilroy. 117 minutes.) For decades my wife would watch the Channel 4 Evening News at 11 P.M. after a night’s run of shows finished. Channel 4 is the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, and their coverage […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #122

Understanding Screenwriting #122

Calvary, Guardians of the Galaxy, Love is Strange, The Skeleton Twins, This is When I Leave You, The Guest, The Two Faces of January, Gone Girl, Kill the Messenger, Dear White People, The Judge, Fury, St. Vincent, Birdman, The Homesman, Interstellar, The Bridge, Masters of Sex.

By Tom Stempel. Fan Mail I was delighted to see a user comment on US #120. When I did the column for “The House Next Door” a large part of the fun of was getting comments from readers agreeing and some vehemently disagreeing with what I wrote. I look forward to more comments here. It […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #121

Understanding Screenwriting #121

Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, Magic in the Moonlight, Hitchcock’s Partner in Suspense (book), Fargo.

By Tom Stempel.  Now That’s a Writing Challenge Boyhood (2014. Written by Richard Linklater. 166 minutes.) Writing most screenplays is relatively easy. (Writing them well is a whole ‘nother story, which is what this column is about.) If you are writing a script in a genre, you follow the rules of the genre. In a […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #120

Understanding Screenwriting #120

Non-Stop, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Two and a Half Men and Fading Gigolo, Chef, Maleficent, Belle.

By Tom Stempel.  Alfred Kinsey, Amber Waves, Lady Mary Crawley, and Patsey Kick Serious Butt Non-Stop (2014. Screenplay by John W. Richardson & Chris Roach and Ryan Engle, story by John W. Richardson & Chris Roach. 106 minutes.) Yes, this is another one of those Liam Neeson whoop-ass movies, in the vein of Taken (2008), […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #119

Understanding Screenwriting #119

Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, Lone Survivor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Monuments Men.

By Tom Stempel. A Gem, but Not Without a Flaw Nebraska (2013. Written by Bob Nelson. 115 minutes.) For all the beautifully filmed (in glorious black and white by Phedon Papamichael) shots of the wide open spaces of Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, this is a small-scale film.  Woody, a geezer well past the beginnings […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #118

Understanding Screenwriting #118

Blue is the Warmest Color, Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, Go For Sisters, About Time.

By Tom Stempel. Another One Where I Would Sell My Grandmother For a Long Shot Blue is the Warmest Colour  (2013. Scenario, adaptation, and dialogue by Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix, from the graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh.  179 minutes.) On the script level this is a nuanced, sensitive […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #117

Understanding Screenwriting #117

Captain Phillips, All is Lost, Gravity, Paradise, Enough Said, The Fifth Estate, Don Jon, Rush.

By Tom Stempel. Pirates Not of the Caribbean Captain Phillips (2013. Screenplay by Billy Ray, based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty. 134 minutes.) When Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were writing their script for the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, they came […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #116

Understanding Screenwriting #116

In a World…, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Planes, The Spectacular Now, William Froug: An Appreciation, Pitch Perfect, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, End of the Summer 2013 Cable Television Season

by Tom Stempel A CORRECTION: In #115 I wrote that in Blue Jasmine Woody Allen was shooting in ’scope (2.35:1) for the first time.  He had used ’scope in one other film, Manhattan (1979).  I suspect he used ‘scope and black-and-white for Manhattan to distract viewers from noticing its similarities to Annie Hall, which was […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #115

Understanding Screenwriting #115

Blue Jasmine; Elmore Leonard: An Appreciation, The Way, Way Back; The To Do List; Red 2; 2 Guns; Incendies

by Tom Stempel FAN MAIL: So far there have not been any comments on my first Understanding Screenwriting column for the new Creative Screenwriting Website. I don’t know if that’s because nobody is reading it, or reading it and agreeing so much with everything I said that they feel nothing more is to be added, […]

 Tom Stempel

Understanding Screenwriting #114

Understanding Screenwriting #114

The Lone Ranger, I’m So Excited, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Nightfall, The Burglar, The Burglars, Camp, The Bridge

by Tom Stempel Hi, I’m Tom Stempel, and I write about screenwriting. Well, if you have already been following this column at The House Next Door, you know that from the first 113 columns. If you are primarily Creative Screenwriting veterans, you may recognize me from my years on the Editorial Board there or from […]


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