Book Review: Sympathy for the Blockbuster in WRITING MOVIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT

Screenwriters and co-authors of Writing Movies For Fun and Profit Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon caution you right off the bat to put their book down if you're looking to this as some kind of resource into either screenwriting or art. They're here simply to tell you how they sold their tentpole movies and are offering you the opportunity to make them slightly wealthier by picking up this book and learning how you can too.

If the book sounds like it trades in the most cynical and money grubbing aspects of Hollywood filmmaking, well duh, but it's also very funny and provides a sympathetic portrait of the two writers' approximately 20 year career writing inside of a system that's at times labyrinthine, vicious, capricious, and often as not, ridiculous.

In their slim volume (which runs 210 pages along with two sample outlines as well as a complete glossary of film production terms), Garant and Lennon reaffirm every assumption that we have about the production process, from the cowardly executives afraid to greenlight anything outside of the "loud and obvious" box, to emotionally stunted celebrities who'd rather hear reaffirmation than "no." At the same time, the Night at the Museum writers (which they'll tell you took in some serious bank worldwide) present another side to these figures: the executive knows that his or her job is only as secure as their current blockbuster and make every decision along a flowchart of "will this get me fired" questions. The director, who gets all the credit when the movie turns out right and who can occasionally shift the blame over to the writers when things turn out poorly is shown here as a person who has to keep an entire production in their head as well as the fits of pique among actors and actresses.

As for actors, well, Garant and Lennon have a charming story about meeting Jackie Chan once, but the average big blockbuster star seems like an emotional wreck.

You can look at Writing Movies For Fun and Profit as a road map for Hollywood instead of a schematic. That's to say, the authors have provided helpful signposts to navigate the often treacherous territory of big studio screenwriting with a series of simple pointers (dress nicely to a meeting with executives, find a way to make their notes work) along with bracing you for disappointment (as a writer for a studio film, you be fired, replaced, and maybe rehired).

The book is funny, funnier than most of the big budget productions the duo have had their names attached to over the last decade. This is the Garant and Lennon of Reno 911!, trenchant, dark, and a little absurd instead of the Lennon and Garant of The Pacifier. It's as worth reading for their insightful look at tentpole filmmaking as it is just to see them return to their sharper writing.

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit is available now in paperback as well as digitally from Simon and Schuster.

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