WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, A History of American Screenwriting by Marc (Shakespeare in Love) Norman. Perhaps one of the most important books on screenwriting written recently. It traces how writers worked, created screenplays, how they were treated, etc. from the beginning to the present. One of the most important ideas here is that the traditional structure for screenplays (three acts with a central character undergoing a character arc journey) is not the most popular because it’s inherently the best. In the beginning the studios needed product and needed an assembly line in the same way that Ford produced cars. The structure most often used now came about because it was the easiest for the studio to use; it was the easiest to teach; it was the easiest to fix; and it was the easiest for multiple writers to come in and work on a script piecemeal.
LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, all about the making of that seminal movie. For screenwriters, it is very detailed about how the script developed (mainly by Stewart Stern) and how at one time Nicholas Ray, the director, tried to get credit for co-writing the screenplay (unwarranted) and how he claimed to come up with ideas that he didn’t. So often directors think they are the real writers of a screenplay.
THE RED AND THE BLACK LIST, The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, an autobiography of Norma Barzman, wife of writer Ben (Back to Bataan, El Cid) Barzman and a writer in her own right (The Locket). It’s a fascinating look at how writers survived the blacklist (for Ben, very well) and how wives were often treated by studios and their husbands when they tried to be creative (not so very well).