Review of Judd Apatow's Book "Sick in the Head"

When was the last time you read a book clocking in at 512 pages? Isn't that a bit much to ask of us, Judd?

Maybe not! On the shelf, the book, is, yes, a monster. But once you get your eyes into the pages, you'll quickly find the monster is surprisingly reader-friendly, skimmer-friendly, and even casual-browser-friendly.

So, what is this thing? It's a collection of hilarious conversations with comedians. Maybe you'll recognize a few names: Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Lena Dunham, Louis C.K, Mel Brooks...

And of course, there's the bonus of Judd Apatow himself, who offers an intimate glimpse into his life from page one. The much-loved comedy screenwriter (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) is not only funny, but also not a little sick in the head. This fact, he explains, is one trait that all comedians seem to have in common.

Despite the seemingly ordered collection of interviews, Judd encourages readers to begin wherever, or to simply open the book at random and start there: the order doesn't really matter. This isn't exactly high art, he's the first to admit. In a recent NRP interview, he explained that it's more like something you may enjoy having by your side in the bathroom.

Official book review from Will Ferrell: “Anyone even remotely interested in comedy or humanity should own this book. It is hilarious and informative and it contains insightful interviews with the greatest comics, comedians, and comediennes of our time. My representatives assure me I will appear in a future edition.”

Judd Apatow is also the editor of the humor collection "I Found This Funny: My Favorite Pieces of Humor and Some That May Not Be Funny At All" (McSweeney's, 2010).

Finding Screenplays Online

how to find screenplay online

How do you find screenplays online? A quick Google search will usually pull up almost anything you’re looking for. You may have a hard time finding scripts for new movies or lesser-known movie scripts, but otherwise there's a good chance you'll find some version of the screenplay you're after.

Keep in mind that you won't always find the final shooting scripts. Usually it'll be pretty obvious what version you're looking at, since the first page will say "first draft," etc. If there are numbers along the side, then that's probably the shooting script.

Online Databases

There are quite a few online screenplay databases, although some aren't updated very often. Screenplaylists.com is unique in that it organizes scripts by specific categories, rather than simply by alphabetical order. Here are three quality databases that are easy to browse:

Finding Unproduced Gems Online

If you have a favorite screenwriter, you can sometimes get lucky and find one of their unproduced screenplays online. These can be entertaining and also educational.

Even the best screenwriters sometimes write total flops, but if the script ended up on the Internet, there’s a good chance it probably has at least some merit.

For example, David Lynch's website has these two unproductive screenplays online: One Saliva Bubble and Ronnie Rocket. If you're a David Lynch fan, these are definitely worth checking out!

Essential Books on Screenwriting

If you're serious about writing screenplays, the best book for you is the one that gives you inspiration rather than fear or some other negative reaction. It’s possible you’ll pick up Story and think, “So much for screenwriting! I’m going back to writing free form poetry!”

It's good to find your own favorite screenwriting book, but it's probably a good idea to read or at least skim through them all. There are nuggets of wisdom each of these:

1. SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. This book isn't exactly cutting edge, but it's solid. You may not be enlightened by Syd Field's classic, but you won't be disappointed, either. If you've written screenplays for a while, you probably already own this.

 

2. STORY by Robert McKee. If you don't want to spend thousands of dollars attending the famous McKee conference, pick up his book. Although a little dry and perhaps unnecessarily detailed, it offers such a wealth of info that it's easily worth the price.

 

3. CREATING BLOCKBUSTERS! by Gene Del Vecchio. Although this isn't a standard classic for screenwriters, it offers a perspective that is rarely addressed. Namely: it helps you develop story ideas that are genuinely marketable -- and it does this without completely devaluing the fact that stories are important cultural artifacts (works of art).

 

4. THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING by Lajos Egri. While focusing on the construction of plays, this highly regarded book is valuable to all types of storytellers, including screenwriters. If you've ever taken any screenwriting classes workshops, you'll know that this is a favorite among teachers.

 

5. THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell. Want something a little more academic? This is it. This book has probably had more cultural impact than all the other screenwriting books put together. In fact, it's the basis for many of the others. It's a bit dense but highly recommended.

 

6. SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. If you've heard of only one screenwriting book, this is probably it. Some people swear by it; others hate it. I'd say it's a little overrated and the thrust of the book has been so widely disseminated that's it's almost unnecessary to read. Then again, there are those who swear by it...

 

7. WRITING MOVIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Thomas Lennon & Robert Garrant. The title and cover image say a lot about this book: it's a bit over the top. It's also surprisingly well written and includes a bunch of common sense hints and tips that I haven't seen anywhere else. If you just slogged through Joseph Campbell's writing, this light-reading masterpiece may be just want you need to read next to cure your aching and overloaded head.

Best Screenwriting Podcasts

Listen to the best podcasts on screenwriting

Books on screenwriting can be amazingly useful, but they have an obvious disadvantage: you have to read them. Although reading is great, you can’t do it all the time. As it turns out, the worst times for reading are often the best times for listening to podcasts. For example: while driving! Or while watching the clock at your mind-numbing day job!

Listed in no particular order, here are some of the best podcasts for screenwriters, filmmakers, and storytellers:

On the Page Podcast with Pilar Alessandra: A seasoned script consultant and educator, Pilar Alessandra holds a wealth of knowledge about the craft of screenwriting. On her podcast, she interviews screenwriters, executives, and producers. Free on iTunes. Highly recommended!

 

Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin: One of the best-known podcasts on screenwriting, Scriptnotes features lively interviews that don’t shy away from telling “hard truths” that all up-and-coming screenwriters must face.

 

Selling Your Screenplay Podcast: Hosted by screenwriter and blogger Ashley Scott Meyers, this podcast focuses on providing insights on marketing scripts to producers. One of the most personable podcast hosts on the Internet, Ashley leads informative interviews of both established and steadily-climbing filmmakers and screenwriters.

 

Writers' Bloc with J.R. Havlan: An entertaining and smart podcast, Writers' Bloc features some of the most amusing side-banter while offering highly informative content. The focus is generally on comedy writing.

 

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Charismatic journalist and cinephile Jeff Goldsmith hosts interviews with a wide range of professionals in the film industry.

 

 

Indie Film Academy Podcast: Just so you don’t forget that writing screenplays is really about making movies, check out the Indie Film Academy Podcast, which features content that covers all aspects of the filmmaking process.

 

The Only Award Show That Matters

Apacolypse Now Film

If you happened to be at the Academy Awards and didn’t just win an Oscar for best screenplay, just remember: neither did John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now. They lost it to Kramer vs. Kramer, which seems a little strange in hindsight.

My guess is that any artist would give up all awards and honors in exchange for making a cultural impact. This is probably especially true for writers. If you're a writer, by definition you have something to say. If you have something to say that's actually meaningful or relevant, then people will listen and will respond. That's how you make a cultural impact.

Screenwriters typically begin new projects by struggling to develop a "high concept." High concepts are the money-makers. If you have the right sort of high concept, you can even pick up awards along with your round box office figures. But how does the pursuit for the high concept square with the artist's goal of making a cultural impact?

Sometimes the best high concepts are completely void of meaning or relevance. If the writer isn't coming from a place of meaning or relevance, then he ultimately doesn't have anything to say, even if he has a high concept.

If you look back through all the past Oscar winners for best screenplay, some of the films have stood the test of time but most haven't. Ultimately, the only award show that matters is the future.

If you haven't already, watch MILIUS, the documentary about the life and films of John Milius. His credits include writing or contributing to Apocalypse Now, Dilinger, Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, Big Wednesday, and Jaws. MILIUS if filled with lots of great quotes and reasons to be inspired as a writer or filmmaker. And then watch Kramer vs. Kramer while you're at it. Why not...?

Why BIRDMAN Won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay

Everyone loves superheros. That's why a superhero movie will never win an Oscar--it's too obvious. The genius of Birdman is that it incorporates a superhero theme into a complex world rich with intellectual pretension.

Anyone who takes art seriously adores intellectual pretension. This is the stuff that wins Oscars. The problem with it, however, is that it can fail as entertainment. So: add superheros.

Did Birdman win just because of the subject matter? This sounds ridiculous, but it might be a fair observation. Obviously it won the Oscar in part because it was well executed. But let's be honest: it's a given that the script was well executed. Look who wrote it: very highly skilled experts in the craft: Alejandro G. Iñárritu and company. But these people aren't any better, necessarily than, say, Wes Anderson...

If you are among the elite in terms of screenwriting skills, this should be your primary goal: to combine the pop with the intellectually satisfying. It creates something huge. In music, it's called an anthem, and it's what Bob Dylan created again and again with his hyper-poetic yet amazingly relatable songs: Like a Rolling Stone, All Along the Watchtower, Blowing in the Wind, Mr. Tambourine Man, etc., etc. If you can do this--if you can create anthem after anthem--then you become Bob Dylan...or Francis Ford Coppola...or Birdman: a living legend.