101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau with Matthew Frederick

101 THINGS I LEARNED IN FILM SCHOOL is an unusual little book. Each “chapter” is a single page, with just a few paragraphs or sometimes a single sentence. The facing page has a related line drawing, illustrating the point. At first glance it seems a very slight book, the kind you’d leaf through without much thought. But it didn’t take many pages for me to be thoroughly absorbed, and I found myself putting down the book to stare out the window, pondering what I’d just read and eager to apply it to my own work.

101 THINGS I LEARNED IN FILM SCHOOL is a book about filmmaking, but that’s not all it’s about. As I’ve said before, novelists can learn a lot from screenwriters, since movies are novel shorthand. Besides, only a few of the 101 things are about movies specifically. Most of them are about telling good stories, period.

Some of the things that Landau learned in film school are pretty basic, like the 69th thing: “Good writing is rewriting.” Most writers understand that from the outset. Or thing number 40: “Dialog is not real speech.” Even though he expounds on each of those for a few paragraphs, the point is pretty much a given.

However, not all things are so simple or straightforward. Consider the 80th thing: “Burn your character’s bridges.” If a character can smoothly return to the life he had before the story started, why continue? Why not just quit? The writer’s task is to force the hero to go forward by making it impossible for him to go back. (Easier said than done.)

Or point number 95: “Hang a lantern.” If you’re using a ridiculous plot contrivance, have one of the characters point out the illogic. Once the characters acknowledge the improbable, the audience will buy it too.

But my favorite is the 60th thing Landau learned. “Suspense doesn’t come from speeding things up. It comes from slowing things down.” Yes! But how many beginning writers know that?

Even though the chapters read quickly, this is not a book to skim or take lightly. Don’t let the lack of text and the presence of cartoons fool you. 101 THINGS I LEARNED IN FILM SCHOOL doesn’t say much, but what it says, it says very, very well.


rating: 4 stars


This book is best for beginning writers


I recommend this book.

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