From the Hollywood Paradigm to the Proppian Plot Genotype

  • Terence Patrick Murphy


Long dominated by the Hollywood memoir and the “how-to” manual, the art of the Anglo-American film screenplay has a relatively brief academic history.1 In Script Culture and the American Screenplay (2008), Kevin Alexander Boon argues: “Literary scholarship, while fully absorbed with drama, ignored the screenplay, and film studies, though aware of the screenplay as an interstitial cog in the filmmaking process, only occasionally cast a critical eye toward the written text, which had been the controlling narrative voice in most contemporary American film production for nearly a century.”2 The reasons for this neglect are not hard to discover. Unlike film, the drama of the theatre has strong historical ties to the university, with an academic pedigree defined by Aristotle’s Poetics and the art of William Shakespeare. In contrast, the beginnings of cinematic art and the film screenplay are somewhat shabby. Originating in the peep shows and nickelodeons at the turn of the twentieth century, the cinema, despite its rapid rise to financial importance, was long kept at arm’s length by the academy.3


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Examples of the “how-to” manual are legion. Representative titles would include Linda J. Cowgill, Secrets of Screenplay Structure (1999);Google Scholar
  2. Tudor Gates, Scenario: The Craft of Screenwriting (2002);Google Scholar
  3. Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (1997).Google Scholar
  4. Reflections on screenwriting include William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting (1989)Google Scholar
  5. Peter Hanson, Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories (2010).Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    Kevin Alexander Boon, Script Culture and the American Screenplay (2008), p. vii.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    For Tennessee Williams, see R. Barton Palmer and William Robert Bray, Hollywood’s Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America (2009).Google Scholar
  8. For Trevor Griffiths, see Suzann Finstad, Warren Beatty: A Private Man (2005) Web.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Relevant titles include Ian W. Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea (2013);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Steven Price, A History of the Screenplay (2013);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Craig Batty’s edited collection, Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into Context (2014).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 9.
    See William Archer, Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship (1912);Google Scholar
  13. Lajos Egri, The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives (2004).Google Scholar
  14. Woody Allen testifies to the impact of Egri’s book in Eric Lax’s, Woody Allen: A Biography (2000), p. 74.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Field Syd, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to Finished Script, 3rd edn (2003).Google Scholar
  16. Field’s later work includes Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay (1994) and The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting, a revised British edition of his original Screenplay book.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Laurence Scott, 2nd edn (1968), p. 21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Terence Murphy 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terence Patrick Murphy
    • 1
  1. 1.Yonsei UniversityKorea

Personalised recommendations