Are you a writer? Do you have access to a time machine? If so, then boy oh boy have we got the resource for you.
Recently we received a truly great donation from retired DGA director Doug Cornish: A pamphlet (published in 1931 or thereabouts) titled HOW TO WRITE FOR THE TALKING PICTURES, written by Charles Klein (not the writer Charles Klein, who – as it turns out – died on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by Germans in World War I, but the director Charles Klein). Klein was a director for the Fox Film Corporation – what we know today as 20th Century Fox.
The pamphlet is a how-to for anyone who wanted to get into the the then-burgeoning art of screenwriting, and how the demands of the writer had changed with the advent of sound. Here’s the cover:
Klein talks about the industry in terms of the then-relatively-new technological advancement, and notes the struggle for producers to find good material. And some things never change! Writes Klein: “Naturally, a picture cannot be better than the story upon which it is based.”
Regarding suspense, Klein disparages visceral thrills in favor of emotional ones. He characterizes “old” suspense in terms of the hero rescuing “the girl from the hands of the villain bent on ravaging her.” Which was maybe a powerful blow against sexism? In 1931? Maybe? We’ll take what we can get.
How many of you have taken screenwriting classes where the teacher tells you to think of your characters in terms of the actors who might play them? Klein does the same thing. I don’t know what a “sex yarn” is, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to Google it here at the office.
Finally, he offers a piece of advice that’s still incredibly valuable today!
This pamphlet is available to view in our archive. Want to see it? Drop our archivist a line.
Bonus! Here’s a review from the Long Island Daily Press of one of Klein’s films, BLINDFOLD, which opened on January 21, 1939. The plot is a little… circuitous. Thanks to Fulton History for saving the image!