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Customer Review

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a book I've been able to read alone (in a good way), 1 July 2013
This review is from: Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them (Paperback)
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This book seems to practically incite conversation at lunchtime:

`What's that you're reading?'.

`Um... story structure'.

`Why would you want to know about that?'

(I have a video DSLR camera and I bought a motorized dolly track, a steadicam, and Adobe Production Premium Suite, and now want to see about writing and creating some video shorts for the internet... but I don't say that because it would take too long, and instead I say):

`... so you can watch a film or TV programme and understand its structure and intent'.

`Doesn't that kill the enjoyment?'

`Only if you like being a passive audience.

'I don't follow..?'

'Um, ok. So for example, in Eastenders, they're always talking about family. That's their motive for everything, and it's what drives the plot. You'd expect to get things like gangsters and bad weddings in Eastenders, because that's an extreme part of their arc (family and honour), and once you know that driving force, you'd be surprised if there wasn't a Dirty Den and the Mitchell brothers in it. For Corrie it's all about community, and Emmerdale is tradition, so you get different dynamics and story arcs in both. It's fun actively picking that deeper storyline out rather than just watching it'.

Then I talk about this deeper storyline being so important that if it doesn't exist then someone has to invent it, otherwise you have no plot nor interest. This explains why you get backstories in Big Brother that the contestants later swear were manufactured for the screen. Even in reality TV and documentary we expect each character to have a definite purpose and an antagonist otherwise we will lose interest.

They go a bit thoughtful, um-and-ah a bit and we get onto films, and I say something like:

`Well, this book talks about Hollywood movies as well as television, but most competing books are all about movies, because they tend to be American and more aspirational: everyone there wants to do a big film straightaway. That makes this book much better for me: realistically, everyone's going to start on TV or web video, and this book was written by someone who's been involved in serials and TV commissioning'.

So they go on about enjoying a film and I say:

`How can you truly enjoy a film if you don't know why Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films, and Star Wars isn't?'.

Usually we meet somewhere in the middle (at around The Matrix).

I've had this conversation three times so far. Every one of them has looked at the blurb afterwards, and at the end have said

`Well, that sounds actually interesting. Can I, um, borrow it when you're finished?'...

So to conclude, both myself and a few of my nosier friends recommend this book.
I'm just psyching myself up to having to buy another copy when this one goes walkabout!
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jul 2013 23:03:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jul 2013 23:22:28 BDT
M. Bhangal says:
Worth noting that this is a scriptwriting book, which is fine if you will just be writing a film/show.
If you want to get into production on your own (i.e. you will be going into full Indie production, doing it all yourself - quite common now as its becoming affordable), I would recommend two other books:

something to help you learn the 'language of film' Basics Film-Making 04: The Language of Film

something to help you learn more about your physical film equipment. IF, like me, you are using a DSLR, I recommend DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Large Sensor Video Cameras

Also worth noting that there is a 4 volume basics-film-making series (of which I recommend one above), all four our of which cover what you would have in an undergraduate media/film degree (they are actually used as UK undergraduate course books), so if you can't afford to step out for a degree, but want to do some fast track self tuition, those 4 books will come in very useful (and because they are student course books, there is a steady flow of cheap second hand editions on Amazon market).

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jul 2013 12:54:32 BDT
R. A. Caton says:
Star Wars isn't one of the greats? Please don't judge the original trilogy by the prequels *shudder*.....
Citizen Kane is a great film, but how many people put it on their top ten list because they've read that it is great despite not seeing it? Welles can be very indigestible - see The Magnificent Ambersons if you doubt me.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 22:07:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jul 2013 11:40:49 BDT
M. Bhangal says:
@R.A Caton

You make a fair point. Star wars is a very successful film and a good example of its genre, but if we are reading books like Into the Woods, we are no longer looking at films as a passive filmgoer who simply watches the film and judges the film on how much they enjoyed it. We are now looking at the film actively and critically in terms of production, script, and its effect on the industry. When looked at in that way, Star Wars has a special place in Hollywood, and it is perhaps a position that most fans don't (quite rightly) consider...

After the successful American Graffiti, George Lucas discovered the work of Joseph Campbell (The hero with a Thousand faces: Google is your friend, or even better, go to youtube and search on `the heros journey/monomyth'). Following this template exactly, Lucas created the original Star Wars.

Before Star Wars, the early 1970s were a very good time for Hollywood in terms of creative output (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10076153/Hollywood-has-never-matched-the-gritty-masterpieces-of-the-1970s.html), but at the same time, a lot of these movies were not making big money. The industry saw Star Wars become immensely successful and when they realised Star Wars was actually based on the Hero with a Thousand Faces, all subsequent big budget movies HAD to follow that script template (and generally still do): simple story structure, big visuals, and dont fret about much of anything else. That template is what we now call the `standard Hollywood blockbuster'.

So, all those films that follow the same (by now) tired Hollywood blockbuster script structure are based on (and derived from) the same basic story structure seen in Star Wars, and this is the problem I have with the relevance Star Wars has to script writing (and I emphasize, this is not a problem with the film itself to film goers and fans): it was the first 'story by numbers' Hollywood blockbuster that started the rot that led to the killing of a lot of creativity within Hollywood. Yes, there were other earlier films that appear to follow the heros journey (The Wizard of Oz being the most cited), but Star Wars is the one that set the modern Hollywood cookie-cutter style going.

Neither can we say that the Heros journey is always bad. It is a structure that works very well in certain films (the original Matrix being a very good example, and of course Star Wars pt 3). However, a lot of the time, the structure is used in a very lazy fashion: get a well known character (right now, that would typically be a comicbook superhero), take their existing literature and shoehorn it into a simplistic heros journey script template, then hide that very simplistic structure with big visuals and CGI. Then, if you make money, do a sequel with the same basic structure but with a new adversary and bigger, better visuals.

Yes, there are always exceptions (the recent Batman trilogy, where we see an Auteur director thowing in a lot of personal vision and pushing back against the norm), but unfortunately such productions are the exception to the rule.

The sort of creativity and cinematic effects (and of course auteur director's vision) we see in films like Citizen Kane are now replaced with a standard structure padded out by money thrown at CGI. As implied above, its now so bad that even when the industry is adapting well loved works of fiction for film, they tend to edit the screenplay to fit the 'heroes journey' structure rather than the more complex structure and shape the original book itself may have had!

So we're not talking about the films themselves, but their effects on what we are concerned with: script writing and general 'Language of Film' conventions and effects on subsequent film productions. The effect of Star wars has been very bad (even though - and probably because - it is a good, successful film) and the effect of Citizen Kane was very good, as it moved the subject forward immensly.

Finally, to cover your last point briefly: yes, you are right that individual directors have an uneven output, and there is a lot of variation. That happens a lot in the creative arts, but we generally base stature on the best work. As you say, I must not judge Star Wars Pt 3 against the prequels, but neither (as a late 1980s indie kid) must I judge the Smiths or Jesus and Mary Chain on a lot of the rubbish they put out... or Orson Welles for the bad films. Or put another way, you can't have your cake and eat it!

If you have an interest in this thread of thought, I would direct you to chapter 4 of Into the Woods.
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