Remembering Syd Field, the First Voice on Screenwriting Most of Us Ever Heard
Chances are, if you've ever tried your hand at screenwriting, the first book you picked up to learn how to do it was one written by "guru of screenwriting" Syd Field, who sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 77. His contribution to the cinematic world is without question massive and far-reaching -- inspiring the writing of Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Frank Darabont, and countless others. However, his greatest achievement wasn't necessarily in writing the perfect paradigm or formula -- there isn't one -- it was in his incredible ability to introduce so many people to the art of screenwriting.
Mentored by famed filmmaker Jean Renoir, Syd Field had quite the illustrious career. He has taught in Europe, Asia, South America and Canada and his books have been translated into many languages. Over the years, he has assumed many important roles, such as a script consultant to Fox, the Disney Studios, Universal, Tri-Star Pictures. According to Field's obituary, which was published by Raindance, he was also inducted into the Final Draft Hall of Fame in 2006 and was the first inductee into the American Screenwriting Association's Screenwriting Hall of Fame.
One of Field's biggest contributions to screenwriting in his 50-year career, and that for which he's most celebrated for, is being the first writer to outline the three-act structure -- a classic paradigm that most screenplays follow. He has penned 8 best-selling books, but his first, Screenplay, which was published in 1979, is regarded as the screenwriting bible in most circles.
Now, among screenwriters there is always a little squabbling over which guru breaks down the giant monster that is screenwriting best -- who teaches the better technique, formula, etc. To be honest, I don't think any one screenwriting teacher or expert will ever have all of the answers. The beautiful thing about what Syd Field gave the filmmaking and screenwriting community was, as screenwriter John August put it this morning on Twitter, "an inciting incident."
RIP Syd Field. We can argue about formula and dogma, but Field introduced countless screenwriters to the craft. He was an inciting incident.— John August (@johnaugust) November 18, 2013
Syd Field was the first name I heard when it came to learning how to write screenplays, and for several years, his were the only books from which I gleaned information about the subject. (Not to sound like a total nerd, but I absolutely have Field's Scriptor app on my phone.) His name is attached in some strange way to my experience of falling in love with screenwriting -- as most teachers often are.
Even though I, as well as most of you, I'm sure, have branched out and stretched the bindings of other screenwriting teachers' books (as we certainly should), Syd Field will always be remembered by the community as being the guru, the teacher, the most sought-after mind in the screenwriting world. However, to individual screenwriters he's the first.
You always remember the one who raised the curtain on the things for which you have a lifelong passion for. It's feels as though they mentor you through the entire stretch of your long journey, of both your craft and your life. For screenwriters, our craft mirrors life, after all, and you know who taught me about that connection? Syd Field.
I look back over the footprints of my journey. I see where I began my trek, gaze over the ground I've covered, the trails I've traversed, and understand that it's not the destination but the journey itself that is both the goal and the purpose. It's just like writing a screenplay. [Screenplay, 306]
How has Syd Field influenced your journey as a screenwriter? Let us know in the comments. And for those of you who'd like your first introduction to screenwriting, I suggest checking out Syd Field's books and his website.