A Book On Screenwriting from 1920

by Emon Hassan on January 24, 2008

Back when it wasn’t called Screenwriting but Photoplay writing (1920), Eric Howard wrote a mini-book based on a series of lectures for students of The Palmer Plan – not sure what the plan is but I’m pretty sure he has something to do with it) and mainly discussing sources of modern fiction plots. Almost a century later, I noticed, the examination of plot is basically unchanged. Using Shakespeare’s works as examples were of the norm as well, perhaps not surprisingly.

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The book basically covers the sources of modern fiction plots and according to Howard, modern fiction and photoplay has simply reused the themes covered in the fairy tales, classics, and The Bible.

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The book is only 19 pages, perfect for a quick read. Funny that he’d listed several productions based on the Cinderella story as if the studios were milking it to death. 87 years later, no end in sight.

It was a wonderful personal discovery because we tend to give credit to a handful of filmmakers who’ve shaped how stories ought to unfold on screen (Griffith, close-ups, Kuleshov etc.). But it never occurs to us that many more have been fascinated by the new medium of visual storytelling and have published their take on it. This book came out before sound on film and way before some of the greatest films were born. Screenwriting or Photoplay writing authors didn’t know then one could tell stories with sounds and dialogue. Yet they didn’t find that limiting at all.

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