Screenwriters are the unsung heroes of Hollywood who can make or break a film before shooting commences. They’re the originators, the creatives who come up with the stories, the characters and the dialogue to make movies memorable. The writer’s journey can be strewn with roses and thorns… a trail of blood, sweat and tears… but what is it really like to be a screenwriter? What are some of the challenges and obstacles they face? And how do they find success in an industry known to test mettle and feast on the naïve?
The world of screenwriting is a fascinating place of lived and imagined dreams and nightmares. It’s in this peculiar and self-referential light that we uncover five great films that capture a slice of the Hollywood screenwriter experience.
The Player (1992)
Based on Michael Tolkin’s 1988 novel of the same name, this dark comedy follows a Hollywood studio executive who’s haunted by a mysterious stalker who he believes is sending him death threats. A satirical black comedy of the film industry, The Player offers a cynical look at the life of a screenwriter.
A critical and commercial success, The Player is an American classic… a dark satire about the Hollywood film industry with 65 celebrity cameo appearances. The Oscar-winning film is full of sharp observations about the industry’s obsession with money and power and its willingness to exploit people and ideas. Tim Robbins gives a towering performance as Griffin Mill, a complex and morally ambiguous character. He’s supported by a stellar ensemble with standout performances from Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg and Peter Gallagher.
This meta-fictional comedy drama tells the story of a screenwriter who’s struggling to adapt ‘The Orchid Thief’ by Susan Orlean. The Spike Jonze film is written by Charlie Kaufman, who injects much of his own struggles with screenplay adaptation to explores the creative process. Adaptation is a funny and tragic delight, a must-see for any screenwriter.
Welcomed by audiences and critics alike, the Oscar-nominated film blurs the line between fiction and reality, full of self-referential humor. Nicolas Cage delivers brilliant “co-lead” performances as Charlie and Donald Kaufman, wonderfully supported by Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton and Brian Cox.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
This classic film noir from Billy Wilder tells the story of a screenwriter who falls in love with a faded silent film star. A cautionary tale about the dark side of Hollywood, it’s highly regarded… one of the most iconic films about screenwriters ever made.
Sunset Boulevard is a surreal gem, which probably inspired David Lynch’s equally iconic film career, or at the very least… his appreciation for duality. A dark, haunting and suspenseful tale of obsession and madness, it offers a scathing critique of the Hollywood film industry at a time when Old Hollywood was exiting stage left. Shot in black and white, the performances by William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim are all top-notch. Swanson is particularly memorable as Norma Desmond, the aging film star who’s determined to relive her former glory.
In a Lonely Place (1950)
This film noir stars Humphrey Bogart as an ill-tempered screenwriter who’s accused of murder. In a Lonely Place is a suspenseful mystery that offers a glimpse into the paranoia and isolation that can sometimes plague screenwriters. A scathing commentary on Hollywood norms, the film noir masterpiece captures the pitfalls of celebrity.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, In a Lonely Place is an atmospheric, stylish and suspenseful mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end. Bogart gives a standout performance as complex and troubled character, Dixon Steele. The supporting cast is also excellent, featuring strong performances from Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy and Carl Benton Reid.
State and Main (2000)
This comedy follows a group of Hollywood filmmakers who travel to a small town to make a movie. Written and directed by David Mamet, this satire of the film industry offers a humorous and realistic look at the challenges that screenwriters face.
Sharp and witty, the film is full of Mamet’s trademark dialogue and features excellent performances from its stellar ensemble, including: Sarah Jessica Parker, Alec Baldwin, Julia Stiles and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. William H. Macy is particularly good in the lead role as Walt Price, a director who’s placed his confidence in a first-time screenwriter, whilst trying to keep the production on track.