A lively collection of war stories from a host of screenwriters with experience in the trenches, "Tales From the Script" ultimately feels like the cumulative lament of eunuchs disgruntled over not being kings.

A lively collection of war stories from a host of screenwriters with experience in the trenches, “Tales From the Script” ultimately feels like the cumulative lament of eunuchs disgruntled over not being kings. Latest docu to focus on a particular branch of filmmaking from the p.o.v. of its practitioners will serve its purpose for the intended audiences at fests and on DVD release come autumn, when HarperCollins will publish a companion book.

All scriptwriters with even modest tenures in Hollywood have hilarious/horrifying anecdotes about the crass, craven, insecure, insane, inept, insincere, two-faced and just plain idiotic people in the film business who, unfortunately for them, have more power than they do. If they’re good with words, which they are supposed to be, writers can go all night long one-upping each other with outrageous stories of artistry ignored and erudition undone by the vulgarity of agents, executives and the marketplace.

In assembling nearly 50 scenarists to comment on their experiences, director Peter Hanson and producer/co-writer Paul Robert Herman ensure they have plenty of material to fill out two hours, even if much of it merely provides evidence for Dennis Palumbo’s remembered quote, “Writers are egomaniacs with low self-esteem.”

Befitting textbook usage, the filmmakers divide the discussion into chapters that focus on such inevitable topics as breaking into the biz, the potentially paralyzing aspect of success, working with directors and stars, and the necessity of compromise. Sections that address the subjects at hand are introed by generally witty clips, although no excerpts from the participants’ work are offered.

While it’s good to be able to match faces with the many familiar names of the scribes, too much of their energetic gab is trained on industry matters and too little on the quality of the work itself; we hear all about how writers aren’t generally welcome on film sets, but not enough about positive examples of creativity that survive to see the light of day.

Pic is also weighted toward younger screenwriters, some of them with only a couple credits on not particularly distinguished films; these scribes may be smart and have good tales to tell, but they lack the wisdom and perspective of the rare veteran scenarists included here, notably William Goldman, Paul Schrader, Larry Cohen, Ron Shelton and the late Melville Shavelson. These guys really have something to say, and pic would have benefited from the inclusion of the likes of Robert Towne, Buck Henry, Robert Benton, Alvin Sargent, Paul Mazursky, Bo Goldman, Larry Gelbart, Arthur Laurents, Budd Schulberg and the recently deceased John Michael Hayes, among others.

Digital images looked OK projected on the bigscreen, clips less so. Tinny music is annoyingly played under the interview commentaries virtually throughout.

Tales From the Script

Production

A Grand River Films & Jade Tiger Films presentation. Produced by Paul Robert Herman. Directed by Peter Hanson. Written by Hanson, Paul Robert Herman.

Crew

(Color, DV); editor, J.D. Funari; music, T.J. Raider. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 10, 2009. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Allison Anders, Jane Anderson, Doug Atchison, John August, Shane Black, John D. Brancato, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Frank Darabont, Steve E. de Souza, Gerald DiPego, Mark Fergus, Antwone Fisher, Naomi Foner, Joe Forte, Josh Friedman, Mick Garris, William Goldman, David Hayter, Peter Hyams, Michael January, Steve Koren, Jonathan Lemkin, Andrew W. Marlowe, Mark O'Keefe, Dennis Palumbo, Zak Penn, Daniel Pyne, Billy Ray, Adam Rifkin, Jose Rivera, Mark D. Rosenthal, Ari B. Rubin, Bruce Joel Rubin, Richard Rush, Paul Schrader, Melville Shavelson, Ron Shelton, Ronald Shusett, Stephen Susco, Guinevere Turner, Kriss Turner, David S. Ward, James L. White, Michael Wolk, Kris Young, Justin Zackman.
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