Writing the Fantasy Film: Heroes and Journeys in Alternate Realities Paperback – 4 Dec 2004
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The recent success of classic fantasy films such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the "Harry Potter" series show there is a large popular audience for fantasy films. Through his exhaustive exploration of the rules and conventions of fantasy writing, Sable Jak enables budding screenwriters to avoid the cliches of the form and develop their own styles and ideas. "Writing the Fantasy Film" is a unique guide to this increasingly popular genre and an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to break into the fantasy world. It is a unique, fully comprehensive guide to fantasy films and how to write them. It includes detailed filmography and bibliography. It is written by a life long devotee of the fantasy genre and experienced screenwriter.
Top Customer Reviews
One of the first things that interested me was Jak's suggestion that fantasy was a bigger field then I'd first thought, and that it fed into other genres. I'd never thought of some films as fantasy films, such as "It's a Wonderful Life." Jak also suggests that fantasy can be a potent element in even quite realistic films. The book prompts me to see other possibilities in the use of fantasy motifs. The chapter on what fantasy is expanded on this; and stimulated thoughts on the idea and applications by myself and other writers to whom I showed the book. I also showed the book to an Italian film director I knew and he got quite excited and told me he wanted his own copy.
I'm interested in characterization and the chapter on that subject was quite thought provoking. Information was given without being too specific so it made those of us reading the book think a lot more about character types and their equivalents in film and literature. This, again, made us use our own imaginations. Many of us have found that when books give too much detail it tends to close down people's imagination. This book gives a good balance and because of this I've been doing more of my own research into how character types may be used or developed, even in non-fantasy films.
I liked the chapter on families and its reminder of the importance in families in drama - a lot of conflict, and therefore potential stories can come out of this area and even if a group of people are not related they can become a sort of family.
The exercises provided are quite stimulating as are the references that Jak gives.Read more ›
Example: Most of the 'exercises' that appear in many books are in this book pretty much 'go look at films in your local shop' and 'go check out films in your library' and not anything helpful.
The rest of the book is fairly flat and is written in a font that seems to suggest it was picked to make the book bigger, find a better book. It contains mostly common knowledge.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Then I read this book.
Coming at screenwriting from more of a "logical" point of view I kept reading this book in hopes of picking apart the whole grasp of fantasy films. This is the book, I thought, that was going to help me make my arguments against the whole genre. What it did was teach me that Fantasy Films (adventure, romantic, sci-fi, modern world based ("BIG," "It's A Wonderful Life"), middle world based, outer world based, etc.) have many of the same elements you find in your standard genres (romantic comedy, western, action film, buddy picture, etc.). In fact, the more I read the book, the more I realized that if some of the archetypes found in fantasy films were plopped into the middle of a standard drama film - it would add an whole element that would enhance the film, not take away from it.
As Ms. Jak broke down all the elements of the Fantasy Film, from Wizards to Buddies, from Spells to Witchcraft, from Outer-Space to Central Europe - I found myself either itching to write a Fantasy Film or, at the very least, incorporate some of those archetypes into my current screenplays: "Maybe the main character has a Wizard he talks to, but he's not really a wizard, but a teacher could be the wizard character."
Ms. Jak says, early on, this book is not for beginning screenwriters but there are MANY MANY things a beginning screenwriter can learn about in the book that they could incorporate into their current screenplay (even if the story is a "buddy picture set on the streets of Hong Kong").
The book is clearly written with chapters in regards to what "exactly" is a Fantasy Film, doing the research and breaking apart the characters and situations.
One of the risks of doing a Fantasy Film is that so many of the archetypes border on the cliché (hero, maiden, witch, warlock, wizard, etc.) but what I found fun was in my own mind putting a twist on those clichés to make them different. She is both encouraging in those terms and she gives plenty of examples. She ENCOURAGES breaking the mould (and I would encourage it, too). And that's really where the fun comes in. Taking the normal and making it abnormal, twisting the clichés until they scream, finding the tent poles upon which the genre rests and then kicking them out from underneath. THIS is what makes writing Fantasy Films so much fun. You can't break the rules in a romantic comedy (trust me, I've tried). But with Fantasy you CAN break the rules, you're ENCOURAGED to break the rules - and Ms. Jak shows you how to do so.
If I have any complaints about the book, it is these:
1. After every chapter there is an "exercise" to do in regards to what you have just read. I don't know anyone who would actually stop reading this book to do the exercise. Though helpful, I'm sure, and a great learning tool - I just didn't see any reader not moving on to the next chapter so they could "write their script's story in epic poem form." These may have been better served in a separate chapter later in the book, once someone has read the book through.
2. I have found that the more I read books on screenwriting and film the more they mention certain films and/or certain websites. I hereby declare that books should now not only contain a bibliography (like this book does) but also a "cinemaography" and an "internetography" to list out both films and websites that are mentioned in the book.
Ms. Jak, especially in the section on research, mentions a number of websites she encourages the reader to visit. Then, in later chapters, she mentions more. It would be great to have a compendium of websites near the end of the book so someone doesn't have to hunt and peck later on.
Same with films. She mentions dozens of films as examples. Some contain many of the "standard" elements of a fantasy film while others are a great example of one type of conflict or one type of love story. This book would have been made better if there was a thorough listing in the back stating which films are mentioned in the book and why and listing other films to check out in the same genre. (Recently a Producer I know ripped me a new one for not seeing films in the genre I was writing.)
If you want to write a Fantasy Film, this book is an excellent resource. If you are a new screenwriter just starting out - I would give this a look, too. This book is both fascinating AND fun.
Though there is no substitute for shear creative genuis, Writing The Fantasy Film, brings novice fantasy writers more than just one step closer to creating thier own 'Lord of the Rings'.
Whereas other 'how to' books talk about structure, formatting and gramatical pitfalls, this book does not. Instead, it chooses to focus on the elements that make a fantasy story a fantasy story. Though it does touch on the tranditional thoughts and theories of characters such as the anti-hero, reluctant hero, the evil friend, and comic relief, the book expands on them adding genre specific archetypes like 'the captive magic maker', and 'the witch'.
In simple detail, the book guides a new fantasy writer through all the rigors of harnessing the truly epic scope that a fantasy script can often encompasses, refining those concepts and finally weaving a tale so grand and imaginative in scale that it leaves the reader, and ultimately the audience, in absolute awe.
With chapters devoted to the purposes and proprietors of magic, possible religions, political structures, geography, creature construction (which the author refers to as 'beasties') and at least a dozen more fantasy specific segments, this is the book beat about writing in in the genre.
Being a fantasy screenwriter myself and a fan of the genre in general, one would think that I would be biased towards such a book. However, it is the opposite that is true. Knowing as much as I do about the genre and having read popular books such as the 'Dragonlance' and 'Stones of Shannara' series of books when they first came out, instantly makes me skeptical of any writer who claims to have knowledge of, let alone understand the meaning behind, fantasy writing.
Happliy, I admit that I'm no longer skeptical about 'Writing the Fantasy Film.' It has easily encompassed, and embraced, the mythical lore that is the astoundingly magical world of fantasy.
I would recommend this book to any fantasy writer regardless of thier experience level with the genre as the author as obviously shown her love and understanding of what it takes to write the fantasy film.
The author breaks down what makes a story or screenplay part of the genre. She provides you with the conventions of fantasy so that, knowing them, you can break them in interesting ways.
To me, though, the exercises were alone worth the price of this book. Using one of these I broke down the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and discovered dozens of "fantasy" elements in the script. Also, in going over the first "Lord of the Rings" film I looked over and listed the "grounding elements" -- those that make the story believable by placing things and events found within our own world. I also found the character arc (though not explicitly stated as that) idea within it fascinating: "_______ (character) desperately tries to achieve _______ (their desire) or prevent _______ (someone else's desire), even as _______ (their Nemesis) and _______ (other forces) try to prevent him from acheiving that. In the end, he goes from being a _______ (who he was at the story's start) to _______ (something different)."
As a fantasy author, I especially enjoyed the chapter on Character Creation. Her ideas of the Archetypes found in the genre have been added to my creative toolbox -- I have used a couple as starting points for several characters. Add one of her Archetypes to a standard fantasy Archetype, such as mixing a Demon with a Temptation Prone Friend, and something interesting just may happen.
Overall, I found this to be a strong entry into the field of creative writing for fantasy and sci-fi. A field where most of the books are minefields, roadmaps to oblivion, mind stultifiers, or very limited in their scope. This book is none of those. It has currently joined my small list of works I regularly turn to in my writing carreer. These include "The Writer's Journey" by Chris Vogler, "Creating Unforgetable Characters" by Linda Seger, and "The Character Naming Sourcebook."
In addition to the overall high quality of the book, it genuinely shines in the particular information and techniques. The end-of-chapter exercises can truly enhance the abilities of a writer and therefore, the perfection of any fantasy script. The chapter on scripting battle scenes is worth the price of book alone. If you're working on a fantasy script, make sure you pick this book up.
Author: "Nuts and Bolts Filmmaking"
What Sable Jak does exceptionally well is help the writer relax and connect with his or her fantasy world. Through the entire book, Jak's voice is reassuring and positive, urging you to let go of limitations and just do it.
Another major benefit of this book is the way that Jak guides us step by step into the process of turning out a saleable fantasy script. She supplies dozens of viable plot and story lines, character archetypes, and valuable exercises so that even if this book is your only screenwriting tool, you have all the ingredients you need to make magic.
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