What does the name Dan O’Bannon mean to you? If you aren’t a movie geek or Hollywood insider it probably means nothing to you. Now my next question. Have you ever heard of any of these movies: Alien, Total Recall, or Return of the Living Dead? If you answered, ‘Yes,’ then you know Dan O’Bannon’s work. He wrote them all and many others too. O’Bannon scripted some of the greatest sci-fi films of all time by using a formula that veers from standard thought. Usually when writing a script we ask ourselves “What does the Protagonist or hero of the film want and need?” O’Bannon takes it one step further and answers “What does the Antogonist or bad guy want or need?” That is what sets his style apart from others.
The book Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure, written by Dan O’Bannon and Matt R. Lohr, is a textbook on outlining a screenplay. The first half or so of the book teaches you how to analyze and tear apart a script. He teaches you to search for how it is put together or its formula. There are several chapters that dissect a half dozen movies including the classic, Citizen Cane. Then it moves onto a section where you choose a script or several for that matter to dissect for yourself. You can choose any script including one that you have written. By doing the exercises and answering the questions included, you can figure out whether the script is outlined in a fashion that is interesting and if it is sellable. Even if it is a script that has sold, you’ll be able to find its flaws.
I use the term, ‘textbook’ because that’s what it feels like. It’s loaded with questions to force you to think. You don’t just sit back and read this book; you think about each script in great detail. You will definitely walk away a better writer after reading this publication. Dan O’Bannon knows what he’s talking about. He went from homeless to writing one of the greatest films in history – Alien. If that isn’t a story about coming from your lowest point and rising above it all, I don’t know what is.
The book is a result of Dan O’Bannon’s dream to teach people his version of script outlining called “dynamic structure.” O’Bannon passed away in December of 2009 from Crohn’s Disease before the book was completed, but co-writer Matt R. Lohr continued on and finished it. We can now all benefit from what O’Bannon knew. It is a heavy read at times, but it certainly contains a wealth of knowledge. I reiterate the fact that it makes you think, and that is how you learn.
Every now and then, there seems to be a gem and this book for example… That just should not exist. In my research about this book (yes I like to research, not just read them), there seems to have been so many things against this book ever becoming a reality. Thanks to the devotion of many people and maybe even the stars aligning just right, this book is real and available to us all.
Read it, enjoy it, and be thankful that O’Bannon’s knowledge did not die with him.
Don’t miss this great interview of Matt Lohr explaining the behind the scenes of writing the book.