Riding The Alligator

By Pen Densham

Riding The Alligator by Pen Densham
Pen Densham's track record in the film industry is as good as anyones having written, produced or directed numerous films and TV shows including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Moll Flanders, Poltergeist: The Legacy, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone and Tank Girl among many others and, as you'd expect from a man with that kind of pedigree, 'Riding The Alligator' is a top quality book on working in Hollywood that reflects a lifetime of experience at showbusiness top table.

He begins with something very few books cover, passion. It's an overused word when talking about complex projects like filmmaking but Densham can relate many instances where his passion for a project, and the drive and determination that brings, was the difference between quitting and carrying-on and ultimately, success and failure. He notes that you also need a bit of luck and a plan and my guess is that a modicum of talent helps, but overall it's your passion for a story that must be told that will carry you through.

He then goes on to discuss what it means to be working writer in Hollywood taking the reader through the process from idea to final draft and taking in how to pitch, how to deal with rejection, tactics for surving as a struggling writer, dealing with stress, conquering writers block and much more. It's an easy-breezy read written in a very familiar, friendly style and the pages are choc-full of anecdotes from his career and liberally laced with his own home-spun philosophy on the art and craft of screenwriting. One thing it's not is a technical manual, sure there are some techniques he shares on idea generation and building a story but, while useful, there's little depth, though that's not the point of the book, in Desham's own words "The right way to create is the way that works best for you" and he doesn't try to impose arbitrary rules for creativity. No, what this is, is a from-the-trenches look at surviving as a working screenwriter and, in that capacity, it's a very interesting and useful read.

If I've got any niggles it'd be the chapter of screenwriting philosophies from a host of other big-name screenwriters, interesting but out of place, and the list of good screenwriting books that will be utterly redundant in 12 months, both smacked of filler and I'd rather have heard a few more of Desham's anecdotes as they are way more entertaining.

All-in-all though 'Riding The Alligator' is an engaging and useful book for filmmakers that covers a bunch of topics not usually given space in similar books so if you're struggling to keep writing - or wondering what happens next - pick up a copy and give it a try.

Riding The Alligator is published by Michael Wiese Books and is available from The Book Depository, Blackwell and all good book stores.

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