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.

“[Paul Wells’s] Basic Animation: Scriptwriting was designed to assist writers to initiate, develop and refine screen animation ideas. It does that admirably. More than that, though, together with J.J. Murphy’s insightful look at American independent screenwriting Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work (Murphy 2007), this is one of the best books about screenwriting to have been published in recent years. Yet the two books could not be more different in style and approach. 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. Wells focuses on animation and a wide range of scripts and films. What the two books share is a depth of research and scholarship, an attention to the creative process of screenwriters and film-makers that goes far beyond the tired old clichés about beginnings, middles and ends and ‘Story’ being hardwired into humans trotted out in manual after manual, and at self-help and infotainment seminars around the globe. Both Murphy’s and Wells’s books suggest a rich vein of work on the art of writing for the screen that has barely begun to be mined.”

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

Screenwriters/Directors Discussed:

  • Jim Jarmusch
  • Ethan and Joel Coen
  • Todd Haynes
  • Hal Hartley
  • Allison Anders
  • Miranda July
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Gus Van Sant
  • Christopher Nolan
  • David Lynch
  • Harmony Korine
  • Richard Linklater