Joan Didion - a Literary Celebrity as Screenwriter


Shout out to New Republic for their recent article, How Joan Didion Became the Ultimate Literary Celebrity. There was only one problem with the article: the word "screenwriting" only appeared once in passing. No overview of Didion's career as a writer is complete without paying proper respects to the five screenplays she co-wrote.

Joan Didion started writing screenplays relatively early in her career as a novelist. In 1971, she was 37 when her screenplay The Panic in Needle Park came out as an award-winning film starring young Al Pacino.

As with her other scripts, Needle Park was co-written by her husband, John Gregory Dunne. Together, Didion and Dunne fit within a rather high-brow class of screenwriters. While many of the screenwriter ilk came from a world of standup comedy or low-budget film production, Didion and Dunne come from a the world of academia and top-tier literature.

Acknowledging Didion's literary background isn't necessarily a complement--not in terms of screenwriting cred. Usually when a prestigious author delves into writing scripts, the outcome is less than amazing (sorry, Steinbeck; sorry Dave Eggers!).

Joan Didion hasn't exactly had the greatest success with her scripts, either. Her success as a screenwriter obviously hasn't compared to her accomplishments as a novelist and essayist. But Didion's scripts have contributed to some quality films. As with her novels, the films she's contributed to are richly human, culturally relevant, and "literary" in nature.

...If only we could read her actual scripts! We seem to have failed to find any of her scripts online. There are a few clues suggesting that some of her scripts have appeared in print at some time or another. But we haven't been able to locate print copies, either. If anyone out there knows where we can find a copy of a Joan Didion screenplay, let us know! Until then, we can still watch the films:


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.