David Mamet’s description of Hollywood as a sinkhole of depraved veniality remains at odds with our hopeless hope that it can become ‘a protective monastery of aesthetic Truth’. Annually, droves of writers, actors, directors and producers go there to create, and if the place is decadent, it is because they are forbidden to do so by a monstrous economic machine which hijacked the system a long time ago. Screenwriting was the early victim of this system, partly because as an activity it is hard to define. Pages that entice the performer and investor through the letter box are rarely the ‘sides’ that are utilised on the shooting day. (Sides are the multicoloured sheets which have been processed the night before.) They are the result of renegotiation and simplification. Screenwriting, unlike theatre writing, is not the expression of the unconscious self but the compromised conclusion of an original idea.
The evolution of the art for women in the profession is beautifully described in Lizzie Francke’s Script Girls. The book begins with the early part of this century, when the sins of naïvety resulted in Gene Gauntier being taken to court for adapting Ben Hur without permission, through the heady