Learn some screenwriting tips from American writer and screenwriting guru Syd Field. He’s best known for his lectures on three-act-structure and has written many books on screenwriting, such as Screenplay (1979) and Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay (1994).

Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 1
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 2
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 3

Watch more video clips below:

Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 4
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 5
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 6
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 7
Syd Field Screenwriting Workshop Part 8

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49 COMMENTS

  1. Herman Best, IV – Ahhh… The guru. Was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago, Pilar Alessandra’s, where he was a guest. Evidently, Syd is shopping a sci-fi spec around Hollywood. Couldn’t believe it (To Steven Spielberg nonetheless who he said passed on it after a favorable read and some debate)… How do you politely decline Field…? It’s like telling your 90 year old grandfather you don’t give a shit about his war stories.

    (*Disclaimer*: Grandpa Hodge, if you’re, uh, on here, I deeply cherish your war stories, and would never think such. I especially love that one about the cockney chef that used to piss you off on that Sub… A real tear jerker, that one.)

  2. I have a neighbor who runs a company called The Screenwriter’s Bootcamp. Beautiful house, hosts great parties, obviously making money. I asked the head of operations for his school how many produced screenplays their alumni have, and the answer was a change of subject.

  3. Which brings me back to my point about Syd Field, and the fact that he has never seemed to have sold a script. I realize that doesn’t mean that he can’t write. I have a friend who is one of the best script writer I have read, and he is has never sold a script or been produced, and he teaches. I can admit that you don’t have to be a great storyteller to understand structure and have a great critical eye.

  4. Right. But I don’t criticize a film critic. I don’t think you can judge screenwriting instructors on this. If that were the case, USC could only get the Terry Rossio’s of the world to teach… And what the hell would they want to do that for when they’re banging out Pirates of the Carribbean 25 in 3-D.

    • Like the saying goes “Those who can’t do, teach.” — And that’s not to say these folks can’t. Regardless of his credits, he’s still up there with Segar and McKee, world famous and rolling in screenwriting seminar/consultation dough. Just funny to hear that he just had a script hit agents… Check out Alessandra’s podcast where Field discusses it (201: Syd Field): http://bit.ly/ahhAk1

      …It’s sooo embarrassing to hear him describe it. I felt like covering my eyes… Yes, on a podcast.

  5. One of the benefits of USC and AFI is those that teach, also do. I think the problem for my friend who teaches and writes is that his interests are not in keeping with the current comercial requirements.

  6. I think some people enjoy the teaching more than the writing… can you really compare teachers to those who write for the screen? Both can be really talented in the art, no?
    Syd seems like he really is talented and maybe, just maybe, he prefers teaching it to people and collaborating rather than sitting in his corner penning it all by himself for the screen.

  7. We don’t know how much writing he has actually done. ghost writing, script consulting, script doctoring, he might be busy and doing fine. or maybe he is frustrated beyond belief. my personal experience says it could be either.

  8. I had a dream about this thread. I know that’s crazy, but in the dream Syd commented. He said he didn’t want to sell out, but he’d be more than happy to help you to. I have no idea who this guy is and I had no idea why I had a dream about this thread.

  9. That is the difference between your dream Syd Field and me. I used to be an artist, and I could not make a living. Now I just want to sell out, and no one is buying. And I have to live with my compendium of regrets: The Time I said no thank you to a job at Amblin because I was busy doing my work, the time I refused to even talk to Brett Ratner when he asked me if I needed anything, and so on for 20 years of thinking that my art and smart would get me somewhere. No MFA means I can’t even teach, so I am making industrials and training videos for clients who have no idea what things actually cost. I get patronage gigs on big commercials from people I have helped though the years, and technical and story consulting gigs from people doing left-wing documentaries and PSAs… All that is nice, but I really wish I had compromised my principles and just made a damn living.

    The guy I admire most, and who just happened to wind up being my sister’s mentor for a bit, is Tony Kaye. He makes commercials, which make him enough money to also make documentaries and films that he wants to make. He figured out how to sell out just enough.

  10. This is like Fight Club: “I am Syd’s harrowing comeback…”

    Yes, Simeon! Exactly especially, screenwriting. It’s a profession like you said. So glad you’ve said this.

    And like hell Syd wouldn’t “sell out”… As if screenwiting was like directing or musicianship — he tried to pitch a sci-fi spec to Spielberg for Pete’s sake. And since it’s a genre picture being pitched in 2011, I’m sure it wasn’t Godard meets Star Wars. Even in Four Screenplays, Field revels in commercial films and deconstructs them rather well… Terminator 2, Thelma & Louise…. (of course those are highly celebrated but he is not at all shy of the “sell out” film).

    END THIS THREAD BEFORE SYD GIVES US A PIECE OF HIS MIND… Or I have a dream about him (Syd Field as Freddy Kruger)

  11. I totally get what you’re saying +Simeon Weinraub I’ve been there. I love my life now, but I wish I had sold out. I wish I had taken the low road.

    Teaching kids is good work. The kids like me, but now you know the public hates teachers, we’re like a step above LAPD. People think I’m trying to hurt kids I have to defend taking the high road and they are trying to fire all of us…

    I could have been a writer, but I wanted to be artful. I didn’t want to play the game. I wanted to stay pure. I thought a MFA was just some racket…yeah it is a racket, but it’s a better racket than option b. I thought I would be more authentic and have a better voice if I had a real job.

    In LA writing is a real job.

    Anyways, we just need to make plans for our second act. There are lot of second acts in LA and at least we’re not actors, but I always think about Annette Benning, she didn’t make it until after she was 30 and she is in front of the camera.

    • there is no answer to that question. There is no exact answer to that question in any art field. The only person who knows if you sold out is you, just because your project is commercial or popular, doesn’t necessarily mean you sold out. And just because you are esoteric and eccentric doesn’t mean you’re not selling out. I almost think it’s a mental mind game…maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s some kind self sabotaging thing I don’t know what it is, but there are a lot of real people in SROs that’s all I know.

  12. I hope your reading this +Ben Dàité Lawer take me and Simeon’s tales seriously. Sell out early, because you’re going to have to sell out at some point anyways… I know you won’t listen. Kids never listen. I didn’t listen. People told me exactly what was up and I truly thought it was all about the work…I laugh about that now.

  13. There is actually a great story behind the screenplay for the film that became Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights that I will try to find for you. But, think about taking a year or three to tell and hone a story a great and deep personal significance, then sell it to a development company that attach a director who makes crap, and a couple of name actors whose work you don’t like. But, cool, they are still going to make your movie! Maybe they are all trying to elevate themselves, and change their careers for the better, using your story as the vehicle. Then, actors start wanting changes to their characters, and the director needs revisions because he likes to use more special effects … Six writers later, and major revision by the director, and your story, that you can never sell again become the Smurfs Take Manhattan 6: The Son of Azrael: This Time It’s Personal (in 3D).

  14. Yeah, it isn’t until they need someone to write Smurfs Take Manhattan 7, and they contact you because you wrote the original draft for 6 and have the story by credit, and you take that job, and you forget about your personal mission to make films that mean something to you, more than a check.

    Conversely, I have a friend who wrote Batteries Not Included, Short Circuit, Short Circuit 2, and the entire Tremors franchise, and he is not a sell out, because those stories are exactly who he is and what he loves.

  15. And when I say sell out, I don’t mean make crap (you make what you need to make, crap and art are very subjective and you can only define that for yourself) I mean take all the help you can get.

    Go to the school with the best connections. If a person who is financially successful in what you do and has friends in what you do, be friends with that person don’t think, “Oh I don’t like his work, so I don’t want his help.” That’s stupid. I’ve done that. I’ve not taken help from people, because I viewed them as artless.

    “You’ve won a Pulitzer, well I thought that book was crap, so get away from me,” Lark, at 21 (drunk of course.) <<<—-Don't do that

  16. Btw… Tremors is classic (the first). Hats off to your friend! And Batteries was a childhood fav.

    And that’s exactly what I feel about screenwriting which makes it different from any other craft: I think the Pirates movies are ridiculous (but I think Rossio’s writing is great) — that’s to say, a screenplay alone can be an enjoyable read. But we are not writing screenplays for mass consumption… We are writing screenplays, for films that are for mass consumption.

    No one is going to sit down, read your novel and get a line producer to break down the cost of the set pieces before it hits Barnes & Noble… My beautiful portrait of the Mona Lisa is not going to be altered for lighting, and Mona placed in front o green screen. No one is going to ask me to nix one or two locales I’ve alluded to in my poem…

    But with film, with screenwriting… Everything costs so much money. We write wonderfully constructed (or not) blueprints for a finished product… only to have it soullessly broken down into numbers and then changed.

    I’ve never seen it as a problem.Try publishing your screenplay before selling it. Hmmm… what was the last unproduced screenplay you saw flying off Barnes & Noble bookshelves. That’s just why I feel screenwriting is a separate “artform”.

  17. … and the really good writing is in TV now, anyway.

    If you write a novel first, or make it look like you did, then that changes the license for buying film rights. you actually retain control over the story and the characters, unlike when you sell a screenplay.

    Yes, Steve Wilson, the Tremors dude, is a good man, who does good work. Right now he is struggling, trying to get his novel published.

  18. My point exactly, the pure art of screenwriting is not given these rules. We are not even selling a product to a consumer like a novelist would. The screenwriter becomes the shadow. Even playwrights are given more respect…. I can’t change lines in the text. The visual yes, but the words must remain unaltered unless granted license by the writer. Spec writers are lucky if they’re involved after the first rewrite.

    But we know this and adhere because it is our art form, and we find the conventions that can expand the palate to make us happy, remain professionals who get work in the business and say we can do this, but it doesn’t have to be crap without artistic compromise… Even if it means backdooring a script as a comic book or novel first (so trendy right now, but that’s a business impact for most, not artistic).

    Even with TV, this new golden age has been made possible because of the dozens of hit reality shows that have given these heads of development the opportunity to take chances on alternative scripted material. Our art form is crippled by studio budget conscious bureaucrats who don’t want to lose their jobs and TV development heads who are concerned about the ratings for their advertisers. But that is the world of our art form. This business of art.

  19. What about internet? I’ve been watching The Booth at the End, I’m way too into that. Also the Guild, Awkward Black Girl…there’s a lot to be done online for people who have the right mix of technical skill and artful perspective.

  20. Found it owing to the power of Google. That show is hilarious, to think I didn’t know Vag Magazine existed until right now. The first five minutes of that show reminds me of my friends. I need new friends.

  21. + Simeon.
    So it’s just better, if you can find people, to just put your story on the straight-to-dvd bandwagon. True probably not a lot of people are gonna see it, nonetheless, it’s you telling your story. Yes?

      • LMAO… that’s the selling out part that’s just hard to comply with, you know. But seriously though you guys +Lark Fleming, +Simeon Weinraub are right though!

  22. Get money, build a body of work, get to where you can do what you wanna do … or get money, build a body of work, get stuck in that place, but donate money and do work for things you believe in. but, first, get money and do work.

  23. Remember your art is the most important things, so you can pretty much whore anything else out (technical ability, charming personality, your time…etc) as long as you keep your art pure you can go to bed with a clean conscious 🙂

    • True that… you say it well. But how do you keep your heart pure to do the art you really care about when you know you are a whore? I mean, can pure Art come from this sort of ‘Double Consciousness’?

  24. I think i found my calling, i am gonna see if i can make a living as the devil, a life coach for young creatives, a cautionary tale. my basic pitch, don’t be the smartest, most articulate, most creative, and brokest person in the room ever. potential is a great quality to have, but only if it is fulfilled. yes, america needs a porky’s reboot, yes, someone has to bring malt liquor back into hip hop videos! do it!!!!!!!

  25. Everyone is exploits themselves a little and a little a lot, what’s the difference…it’s about the art. If you want to do art, you can’t have these kinds of debates in your head, you’re just wasting time and getting older.

    You debate these questions when you’re 50 and have good enough health insurance to afford a psychiatrist, legal prescriptions, and top shelf alcohol.

  26. I promise you if you debate these questions and take the high road you’re still going to be in therapy, but you’ll be looking for discounted beer at 7-eleven and begging Kaiser to let you go beyond your 10 visits of group therapy a year in your “I found this behind the dumpster” furnished apartment when you’re 35.

    If you are an artist (writer, painter, musician, filmmaker) you’re going to be in pain, that is how you pay for your creativity. Now some of us are lucky because we’re masochist…people who are poets are usually masochist.

    • It beats me how the world really works… I mean, it beats me how it’s all really fucked up! But what beats me even more is, who really fucked it up, so, so, bad?

  27. We’re off track, we went up the wrong road, but the perfect road for each of us is here. The world isn’t f*** up, we are. The world is wonderful, people just sometime don’t get how big the world is and how many roads and destinations exist. The world is full of opportunities if you want them and have the energy to make it happen. There are no bad choices, there are just old choices, but there is always a new door waiting for you. You just have to open your eyes and feel around and find it.

    Yogini Fleming 🙂

  28. I totally, totally agree! David Seidler went from Quest For Camelot to The King’s Speech and he’s as old as the dinosaurs… He had that puppy sitting on his shelf since the 70s.

    It’s the ability to give yourself or to afford to give yourself options. Coppola hated the idea of doing The Godfather as we know, he called it pulpy garbage Puzo’s novel… He did it because he was near bankruptcy and lost the artistic haven American Zoetrope… And with his artistic flair on a studio project, The Godfather turned out to be one of the greatest films in history. He made it work for him, kicking and screaming, but he knew what he had to do.

    They all say take the “one for them, one for me” route… So, why not just take their word for it, these legends, and follow.

    I just think the biggest bit of caution is to work at this like a profession and not a hobby.

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