First Run Features // 2009 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 20th, 2010
Hollywood screenwriters finally get the last word.
There have been hundreds of books published on the art of screenwriting, from "how-to" books to memoirs to anecdotal collections. Despite this, there have been surprisingly few films about screenwriting. This has now been at least partially rectified with the release of Peter Hanson's documentary, Tales from the Script, newly released on DVD courtesy of First Run. Though its themes are pretty repetitive -- Hollywood is a tough place for screenwriters, and sometimes it's more about luck than talent -- the film is engaging enough and its interview subjects honest and articulate enough about their profession to warrant viewing. Any true fan of movies will find a lot to like in Tales from the Script.
Tales from the Script is a collection of interviews with over a dozen Hollywood screenwriters, from the critically lauded (William Goldman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery; Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption) to the commercially successful (Shane Black, who earned $4 million for the screenplay to The Long Kiss Goodnight) to the writers who work outside the system for better (Guinevere Turner, Go Fish) or worse (Michael January, writer of straight-to-video dreck like CIA II: Target Alexa and Neowolf). The interviews are divided up into sections based on topics, from selling scripts to being rewritten to working with producers, directors and actors, and all of the writers are never less than honest and forthcoming about their failures as well as their successes. Mark Rosenthal talks about the disappointment when his script for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was taken over by Cannon and had the special effects budget slashed. Guinevere Turner tells a really funny, candid story about turning in what she believed to be a first draft for Uwe Boll's horribly sucky Bloodrayne only to have it shot as-is -- or, at least, until the director and his actors changed most of the dialogue ("It blows," Turner flat-out states). Though never catty or dishy, no one really backs down from naming specific films and directors in their conversations, and the film is better for it. It's as honest as you would like it to be.
All of the stories and insights in Tales from the Script are terrific and worth hearing not just for would-be screenwriters, but for any fans of film who are interested in both the creative process of how scripts are written as well as the mechanics of getting a film made. There are horror stories about pitch meetings and encounters with less-than-creative executives in the movie that make you marvel at how any film actually turns out any good at all. Every interview subject to a person talks about just how difficult it is to break into the business as a writer as well as to sustain an actual career -- there are just too many writers and too few movies that actually get made. As an actual film, Tales from the Script isn't all that well made; it's basically just a series of talking heads edited together in some way to give the thing some shape. I'm not really complaining, as the movie seems to emphasize content over form, and the choices that are made really are the best way to service the content. When director Peter Hanson attempts to insert pieces of visual flair (mostly just cutaways to still photos or, at worst, visual "reenactments"), it actually becomes an unnecessary disruption. Thankfully, those instances are few. Each new "section" does begin with a clip of a film about filmmaking (including Get Shorty, The Last Shot and For Your Consideration, among others) that work nicely.
The DVD of Tales From the Script comes courtesy of First Run, and it's a good thing the content is so compelling because the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. The movie is presented in a non-anamorphic "letterbox" transfer of 1.85:1, meaning it's got black bars on both the top and bottom and both sides. For newly released titles on DVD, this is pretty unforgivable. The movie was shot on video and looks just like it; it's not terribly distracting, because there's rarely more to look at than talking heads, but the image quality is pretty mediocre. The 2.0 stereo sound track has its problems, too; it's a little on the muddy side, and I found myself having to boost my speakers way up just to make out what was being said. Since this is a movie entirely dependent on what's being said, it's unfortunate that it couldn't have been a little clearer. Nothing about the technical presentation is a deal breaker (except maybe the window-boxing on the transfer; seriously, how is this still going on?), and while it's nothing great the film itself is entertaining enough to overcome any of these distractions.
As far as bonus features go, you'll get over an hour of additional interviews broken up into three sections: "More Tales from the Script," which runs nearly 50 minutes and is basically just an extension of the movie; "The Gospel According to Bill," a short collection of interviews with screenwriter William Goldman, and "Advice for New Screenwriters," which runs just under 10 minutes and is exactly what it sounds like. Anyone who enjoyed Tales from the Script -- and I count myself among you -- ought to be happy with the additional interviews. It's just more of a good thing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Interviews
* Official Site