Does the world really need another screenwriting textbook? Normally, I'd be skeptical about a new release like this, but this time, it's personal: I'm in it.
I've been teaching in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program for 17 years, and over that time have come to know a number of remarkable instructors there. One thing that's always impressed me about the program is that its teachers are working professionals: credited screenwriters, producers, directors, and industry executives. These are people who teach from experience, not theory.
The Program's director Linda Venis gathered a group of us instructors together to create this book. Cut to the Chase, which guides screenwriters through the process of writing a feature, from inception to completion and to approaching the market with it, is a distillation of the Programs' classes in textbook form, and represents a kind of contemporary screenwriting brain trust. Its grasp of craft goes wide and deep; its references are up to date and its sensibility is no-nonsense and pragmatic.
I was on the editorial board for the project and a "core author," so I had some say in both how the book was organized and how individual chapters were executed. I wrote the opening chapter ("Hollywood Storytelling: Its Enduring Appeal and Universal Principles") and a chapter called "Deepening Characters and Defining Their Arcs." Other chapters, written by 13 other instructors, cover topics ranging from how to structure a script to how to sustain a feature film writing career.
Instructors can be competitive. I know I often approach such textbooks with a "what does this guy think he knows that I don't know?" attitude. So I'm not blowing smoke when I offer this one honest testimonial: I'm reading the book now, dog-earring pages and underlining passages. Apparently, my fellow instructors do know something... and I'm finding their expertise genuinely helpful as I work on a new project of my own.
A companion volume, Inside the Room: Writing Television with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers' Program has just been published as well. Both are available now, wherever quality books are sold.