Book Review – The Starter Screenplay

Earlier this year, I had the immense pleasure of sitting down for a cup of coffee with Adam Levenberg, author of The Starter Screenplay.

Levenberg is one of Hollywood’s top script consultants. He brings his years of experience in the industry to the table, having climbed the ladder from reader to creative executive to development executive for companies including USA Films, Intuition and One Race Films, and spins out a breezy, fast-paced and whip smart read – not on how to write a screenplay, but what to write if you are chasing that elusive six plus figure spec sale.

“Choose your battles!” is one of my favorite anthems for aspiring screenwriters; too often, the wrong battle is chosen. Writers are a funny breed: obstinate and opinionated, many of us buy into the belief that we are going to “change” the industry with our “ground-breaking,” “innovative” and “revolutionary” tales.

Hello, Sleeping Beauties. You have forgotten something. You, my darlings, are in Hollywood – a town, and an industry, in which nothing ever changes. Don’t take my word for it – learn your Tinseltown history, and you’ll see how, from the moment that Edison took credit for the Kinetoscope, little has changed, save the faces. The game has always been the same, and that game is the game of commerce.

The Starter Screenplay is chock full of smarts, moving from concept to character to crafting the script with ease. Levenberg is wry and candid. He tells you the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. His mission is not to hold your hand and coddle you; instead, he delivers a powerful one-two punch, telling you the truth about your script, and why it won’t sell in Hollywood.

And yet, the book is not a downer – not at all. It’s fun.

From The Starter Screenplay:

“I heard about TOTAL RECALL’S three-breasted prostitute from kids on the playground. You can’t buy the word of mouth that comes from supplying your audience with Ideas of Value.”

“Professionals don’t start out writing expert level screenplays.  PULP FICTION was not Quentin Tarantino’s third script – just his third produced writing credit.  Professionals develop their skills over many years, starting on easy genre pieces, and moving on to prestige material.”

“NO CHARITY CAUSES… It’s sweet that you care so much about a specific cause. Instead of a screenplay, write a check instead. Or spend that thousand hours volunteering, making a real difference. And pat yourself on the back. You’re a good apple.”

“Screenplays are not literature, they are blueprints.”

“Put “Screenplay Contest” into any search engine and you’ll find there are over 100 that operate around the country. Proceed cautiously!…. The biggest contest in screenwriting is the Nichols Fellowship…. As for every other contest, ask yourself – would I feel comfortable flushing this money down the toilet? If so, flush away.”

His chapter “The Ten Commandments of Your Starter Screenplay” is solid gold – as are many others.

Do you hear that sound? The elusive kõan of one hand clapping? You’ll find it in this book.

A side note – Levenberg’s knowledge of film, from silent to classic to foreign to Hollywood epic is *this* (spreads hands wide) big. Massive. He can discuss Von Stroheim, Val Lewton, Hitchcock, Tarantino and the Farrelly brothers in a single breath. I’m a film geek myself, and even in this town, I find such diverse knowledge to be strangely absent…. and it is this rare combination of knowledge + experience that makes The Starter Screenplay a winner. Along with the Save the Cat! collection of books on the principles of storytelling structure, The Starter Screenplay is an essential tool for every screenwriter out there, struggling for that golden sale. Heed its advice, and you might just find your script in the midst of a bidding war.

And oh, look. It’s one week until Christmas, kids. Santa still has time to put a few copies of The Starter Screenplay in his sleigh….

I’m pretty sure that Blake would have loved this book. He’d pour over it, rub his hands together, cackle and say, “It’s GREAT!”

And so it is.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

What I’m reading: Impatiently awaiting my copy of Cleopatra: A Life from Amazon.

What I’m watching: My favorite nephew, Sam, reminded me of a classic creep tale the other day – Don’t Look Now. It’s magically delicious.

A Royal Shout-Out: To the fine folks at ScriptChat. Highly touted by Script magazine, they had a tremendous turnout for their New York meetup, and one in L.A. is forthcoming. You guys and gals rock it out! Thanks be to Zac for the intro!

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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3 Responses to Book Review – The Starter Screenplay

  1. Unfortunately, again I have to mention that my first screenplay won a few awards…. And is not set in the present day. To every rule, there is an exception 🙂


    • Yes, but did it sell? This book is not about competitions. It’s about what the writer needs to do to actively and successfully pursue a spec sale to an A list team. 🙂 Competitions are dandy, if you, as Woody Allen says, need the eggs, but it is the sale that launches the career, the write for hires – and pays the bills.


  2. Brendan says:

    Yeah, I thought this book was great. I don’t need to bug him with e-mails anymore because usually when I have a question about something I can find it in the book, then proceed to slap my forehead.


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