Screenwriting Tips…You Hack (Book Review)

I know what you are already thinking.  Believe me.  You are probably thinking the same thing I thought when I received the press release for this book we are about to cover here.  Oh yes…I’m talking about your temper flaring and accusations accosting as you proclaim out loud how many damn, boring screenwriting books can you possibly read.  But what if I told you there was one out there that was a completely different take on the art that’s both bold and refreshing to read?  Would you believe me?  I wouldn’t.  But that’s where you and I would both be dead wrong.  Sure, there’s no replacing Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting or Blake Snyder’s heralded Save The Cat!, but perhaps there’s a companion book that would bode well sitting next to these two classics on your writing desk.  Would you write off such a possibility?  I sure hope not because that’s exactly why you are still reading this.  Isn’t it?  Like me…you want to know all you can about the art of screenwriting.  Well, that’s good!  Because that means you’re in the right place.  Read on!

Screenwriting Tips…You Hack, written by accomplished screenwriter and Hollywood script reader, Xander Bennett, is book that promises readers 150 practical pointers for becoming a better screenwriter, but what it offers is so much more.  Just like the Transformers…it’s truly more than meets the eye.  Xander pulls from his professional arsenal of experiences and effectively arms today’s amateur and aspiring screenwriters of all levels with writing tips ranging from first draft to final polish to make your script tighter, meaner and leaner.  In other words, listen up people!  This is a cookbook.  It’s a recipe for success.

Xander Bennett has written for television, videogames, role-playing games, comics and even a graphic novel.  Frustrated by the lack of quality of the screenplays he was reading as a script reader, in 2009 he started a blog called “Screenwriting Tips…You Hack.”  The blog became so popular and was so well received that it went on to deliver a tip per day and became the online home of the script reading service, Hack Notes.  The blog has since been integrated into “The Black List” site and Hack Notes can be found here.  So in essence, I guess you can say this book is cultivated from that very blog Bennett started in frustration back in 2009.

Now here’s the deal. Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting and Blake Snyder’s heralded Save The Cat!, both books I refer to as essential screenwriting bibles, will teach you the basics about structure.  And in my opinion, structure is what makes the world go around (thanks for those lyrics Paul Stanley).  Screenwriting Tips…You Hack WILL NOT teach you structure.  I repeat.  It will not teach you structure.  It automatically assumes that you know structure already.  Instead, think of it this way.  I recommend to anyone starting out in this business that the teachings of Syd Field and Blake Snyder are where you need to start.  You need to learn the craft and architecture of screenwriting before you begin.  I mean, you don’t become a surgeon without learning about anatomy, do you?  So why would it be any different with screenwriting?  In my opinion, it’s not.  Screenwriting Tips…You Hack will further your education in the world of screenwriting.  It’s like having a Bachelor’s degree and then getting a Master’s.  The book builds upon the fundamentals you have already learnt.  And in doing so, I could not think of a more powerful ally you can have sitting on your desktop for quick reference than Bennett’s work here.

I purposely delayed the writing of this review until I had two things in order.  Despite some serious personal issues going on in my current life, I had two achievements I wanted to get out of the way before tackling this critical essay.  First, I attended Barri Evan’s BIG IDEA to BEAT OUTLINE in A WEEKEND out here in Cleveland, OH.   Let me be the first to tell you.  If you are not serious about the craft of screenwriting or if you only treat it lonely ike a Sunday hobby, this is not the course for you.  Those were some of the most intense 14-hour days I ever had.  But they taught me one important lesson.  Barri showed me the world and how I relate to it and how it revolves around me.  In other words, she showed me who I am.  She showed me my harvester of sorrow (thanks for the lyrics Metallica) that lurks inside of me.  Through her relentless questioning and her allowance to let me express myself in my own words, I learned what kind of stories I was essentially put on this earth to write about.  I never felt so free, liberated or sure about anything than I did until after I attended that 3-day class.  And second, I had to finish the FINAL DRAFT of my feature film my production team and I will be shooting out in San Diego next June, TAKE IT TO THE GRAVE.

Now, with these two milestones behind me, I was finally free to focus and reflect about all 168 screenwriting tips (yes…I said 168) Bennett bestowed upon me. In this quick, but precise 200-page read.  And you know what?  I could not have been more appreciative of his tips.  It was almost like Moses came down from the mountains with a set of screenwriting commandments and laws and said incorporate these into your screenplay (again…assuming you already know basic structure) and thou can never go wrong.  It was like fate when the press release for this book first graced my 27” iMac screen.  Thank you Chrissy!

And perhaps even more special/important to me (because I’m very NEEDY) is the conversational style and current conventions Xander uses when he writes.  What do I mean by that?  I can’t tell you how many old fart screenwriting books I have read trying to learn all I can about the craft.  They all reference the same GD movie Chinatown usually.  I don’t know about you, but I’m 37.  What the heck do I want to know about a movie from 1974?  Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the classics, but those films are not crisp, recent and on the tip of my tongue like modern day thrillers like The Dark Knight and/or Se7en are.  And that’s the point I’m trying to hammer home here.  Xander Bennett writes for today’s generation of screenwriters.  He identifies with me (again…I’m NEEDY).  I know my tender age of 37 is not quite exactly considered young, but dammit…I’m young at heart and I whole-heartedly appreciate all the modern day examples Bennett culls from in his writings and teachings within this book.   They are a Godsend.

So why are you still sitting there?  Are you still serious about writing the next big screenplay?  Then what are you waiting for?  Xander Bennett’s Screenwriting Tips…You Hack is the book you NEED for not only practicality, but to push your screenwriting talents to the next level and beyond.  Challenge yourself!  Complacency is devastating.  Don’t you want to be ahead of the competition?  With Bennett on your side, I’m confident, you’ll always be.  Don’t let the number 168 fool you.  There’s so much knowledge and invaluable examples crammed into this book that you’ll feel like a fool after reading it.  And that’s a good thing!  That means despite thinking you knew everything there is to screenwriting, you DO NOT. Screenwriting Tips…You Hack will NOT teach you structure. It will NOT give you agent contacts.  And it will NOT give you ideas to write about.  But what it gives you is priceless.  It equips you with an arsenal of tools and weapons to go out into that big, ugly and mean world and give them hell as you forge, break down proverbial walls and create your own screenwriting destiny/legacy.  With Xander Bennett on my side, I can’t help but feel stronger, poised and more confident in my screenwriting.  And for me, that’s ALWAYS worth the price of admission.  I’m a reader of “The Black List” for life!







2 Responses to “Screenwriting Tips…You Hack (Book Review)”

  1. Matt Blu-Man

    I’d like to write a film… sometime after college. I actually may check out this book based off your recommendation.

    I’m probably going to write a mix between Tarantino / Kevin Smith / My Own Personal Experiences

  2. Edwin

    The best screenwriting book ever is Kal’s 2000+ stage hero’s journey at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html ; unfortunately, it’s expensive.