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Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work [Paperback]

J.J. Murphy

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Book Description

March 15 2007 0826428053 978-0826428059 1
Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers.  From Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture.  But what makes these films independent?  Is it simply a matter of budget and production values?  Or are there aesthetic qualities that set them off from ordinary Hollywood entertainment?

In this groundbreaking new study, J.J. Murphy argues that the independent feature film from the 1980s to the present has developed a distinct approach of its own, centering on new and different conceptions of cinematic storytelling.  The film script is the heart of the creative originality to be found in the independent movement.  Even directors noted for their idiosyncratic visual style or the handling of performers typically originate their material and write their own scripts.  By studying the principles underlying the independent screenplay, we gain a direct sense of the originality of this new trend in American cinema.

Me and You and Memento and Fargo also presents a unique vision for the aspiring screenwriter.  Most screenwriting manuals and guidebooks on the market rely on formulas believed to generate saleable Hollywood films.  Many writers present a "three-act paradigm" as gospel and proceed to lay down very stringent rules for characterization, plotting, timing of climaxes, and so on, while others who appear to be more open about such rules turn out to be just as inflexible in their advice.  Through in-depth critical analyses of some of the most significant independent films of recent years, J.J. Murphy emphasizes the crucial role that novelty can play in the screenwriting process.

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Review

"US academic J.J. Murphy argues that the meteoric rise of indie filmmaking in the last 25 years has necessitated a different style of storytelling. His analysis of a variety of indie scripts will chiefly be of interest to aspiring screenwriters."
—Empire


"Lately, we've all been pondering the same question: Are independent films really independent anymore? Author Murphy asserts that independent films are determined more by their missions than their budgets."
—Script Magazine


"Me and You and Memento and Fargo is absolutely appealing far beyond just being a typical screenwriting "manual" such those written by Syd Field and his ilk. Murphy is clearly zeroing in on the way these films are written, but even those not interested in writing their own screenplays should find this book totally engrossing.
...Hopefully it'll give food for thought to a new generation of screenwriters who truly want to push the storytelling envelope again." -Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film

"With J.J. Murphy's insightful look at American independent screenwriting [in] Me and You and 'Memento' and 'Fargo': How Independent Screenplays Work...Murphy focuses on independent cinema in clear, engaging prose, tracking how a series of seminal independent features were developed and written and his case studies include scripts and films by Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Allison Anders, Miranda July, David Lynch and Gus Van Sant.

— Kathryn Millard, Journal of Screenwriting 1, 2 (May 2010)



"Lately, we've all been pondering the same question:  Are independent films really independent anymore?  Author Murphy asserts that independent films are determined more by their missions than their budgets."
—Script Magazine


"Me and You and Memento and Fargo is absolutely appealing far beyond just being a typical screenwriting “manual” such those written by Syd Field and his ilk. Murphy is clearly zeroing in on the way these films are written, but even those not interested in writing their own screenplays should find this book totally engrossing.
...Hopefully it’ll give food for thought to a new generation of screenwriters who truly want to push the storytelling envelope again." -Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film

"With J.J. Murphy’s insightful look at American independent screenwriting [in] Me and You and 'Memento’ and 'Fargo’: How Independent Screenplays Work...Murphy focuses on independent cinema in clear, engaging prose, tracking how a series of seminal independent features were developed and written and his case studies include scripts and films by Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Allison Anders, Miranda July, David Lynch and Gus Van Sant.

— Kathryn Millard, Journal of Screenwriting 1, 2 (May 2010)

About the Author

J. J. Murphy is Professor of Film Production and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His films have played at major international film festivals and have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Austrian Film Museum (Vienna), the Barbican Film Centre (London), and the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The screenwriting book for the rest of us July 13 2007
By Richard Gess - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Me and You and Memento and Fargo does more to aid and abet the art of screenwriting than almost the entire output of the writing gurus from Syd Field (orig. pub. 1979) to date. On the way, it also provides a film-fest full of insights into 12 important independent movies (Stranger Than Paradise, Safe, Fargo, Trust, Gas Food Lodging, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Reservoir Dogs, Elephant, Memento, Mulholland Dr., Gummo, and Slacker) that anyone serious about screenwriting or just moviegoing should know. Unlike most of the writers recycling Aristotle's Poetics into lottery tickets for the movie-biz sweepstakes, J.J. Murphy has a long track record as both a filmmaker and a film scholar. His understanding of cinema as art allows him to see screenwriting not as a rigidly fixed path to the least scriptreader/suit resistance, but as a wonderfully flexible and variable calling with as many different possibilities as there are individual filmmakers.

In his introduction, Murphy does a long-overdue temple-sweeping on Field, McKee, and Co., exposing their myopic tendency to set the rules by the rules of the marketplace (which is actually clueless, as per William Goldman's summation, "Nobody knows anything"). The chapters devoted to Murphy's film selections provide a catalog of alternative strategies for writers whose voices can't or won't harmonize with traditional American film structure. Mainstream writing coaches would interject here that Murphy's movies are the work of writer/directors, who have the freedom (bought at the risk of personal loss and/or losses to producers without the cash cushions of major studios) to film whatever they write. But in a spec script market drowning in thousands of formula-baked, uninspired scripts, writers in search of others to direct their work should find the study of independent screenplays to be a competitive advantage, supporting the development of their individual voices, which are any artist's prime asset.

If your goal as a screenwriter is to cash in with a mainstream blockbuster, this book is not for you. It valorizes things that the gurus hold in (blinkered) contempt, and it's resolute in its resistance to any writing paradigms driven by greed and/or the fear of rejection. If you want to write movies because you love that work too much to care about the obstacles, then Me and You and Memento and Fargo will connect you with a set of artists with the same glorious problem. (Murphy mixes generous amount of commentary from directors and other first-hand participants into his own explications.) It will encourage you to make your work like they do: by any means necessary. The energy you'll derive from that is the energy that fuels the movies Murphy champions, and that energy can't be derived from mere recipe books.

This book is written as a college-level text, with the appropriate high standards and scholarly apparatus, but page by page it's also highly entertaining. Get it if you're taking a screenwriting course. Assign it if you're teaching one. Drink it in, for courage and companionship, if you're trying to write movies on your own.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flydocfly July 15 2007
By J. T. ONeal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I love this book. It gave me a totally new and fresh approach to writing independent films. After years of studying the "classic" three act structure (I have an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, and learned all the classic Hollywood tricks and structure there), it was great to read a critical analysis of contemporary successful indie movies and have someone explain why they work so well (even if they don't make total sense or work logically, i.e., Memento.)

Who says you have to follow the "formula?". Certainly not JJ Murphy. But I'd highly advise an aspiring screenwriter to first learn the "formula" then read this book and learn how to break it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good concept, lacking in execution July 22 2010
By R. Augustine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Perhaps it's because I was expecting this book to be more of an alternative screenwriting 'manual' that would be more scholarly in approach and avoid the simplistic cliches that plague nearly all of the other 'manuals' out there, but I was somewhat disappointed in this book. While engagingly written, it mostly consists of plot summaries of the films it covers, with some commentary on how they differ from the 'classical' approach to storytelling, but little serious analysis beyond what a perceptive viewer would have already noted with a viewing or two of these films, and some experience with Field et al's "paradigm". Above all, I was hoping this would finally be the book to go into depth about the true underlying principles behind the medium of cinema, as not just a means for telling a story, but as a temporal, audio-visual art form, but Murphy didn't use the opportunity he had with this book to do this.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Counter-argument Nov. 20 2008
By J. Mather - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had just finished reading "Save the Cat!", which is an entertaining how-to book aimed squarely at those looking to make money writing movies. It's not at all a bad book, but is so rigid and one-sided that it was frustrating to read some passages. While I think it is still worth a look, it was THIS book (Me and You and Memento and Fargo) that really set me straight. I think the two books make nice companions because they present two ends of the spectrum.

MAYAMAF dives into not just how independent screenplays work, but presents another argument for how the rigid rules of traditional screenwriting has actually evolved in creative ways, and shows specific cases where writers have created successful scripts without following the rules. These aren't exceptions, JJ Murphy argues, but a different and equally valid way to tell a story.

Highly recommended...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read Jan. 17 2009
By Hung Tran - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A good book on some main stream and not so main stream Independent films, kind of Sundance favor films, mainly white films about white people by white directors, hardly American Independent films in my opinion. Besides that, I enjoy reading about the films break down and the ideas behind them. I think there might be some interviews too, can't remember, it's been so long. I recommend this book, just ignore the title!

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