Screen Plays:
How 25 Scripts Made It To a Theater Near You — For Better or Worse
Hardcover Feb. 2008; Trade Paperback Feb. 2009
352 pages

New! Order a personalized, inscribed copy through or eBay. For bulk orders, email me.

In this fascinating survey of contemporary screen craft, David Cohen of Script and Variety magazines leads readers down the long and harrowing road every screenplay takes from idea to script to screen. In interviews with Hollywood screenwriters from across the board—Oscar winners and novices alike—Cohen explores what sets apart the blockbuster successes from the downright disasters.

Tracing the fortunes of twenty-five films, including Troy, Erin Brockovich, Lost in Translation, and The Aviator, Cohen offers insider access to back lots and boardrooms, to studio heads, directors, and to the over-caffeinated screenwriters themselves. As the story of each film evolves from the drawing board to the big screen, Cohen proves that how a script is written, sold, developed, and filmed can be just as dramatic and intriguing as the movie itself—especially when the resulting movie is a fiasco.

Covering films of all kinds—from tongue-in-cheek romps like John Waters's A Dirty Shame to Oscar winners like Monster's Ball and The HoursScreen Plays is an anecdote-filled, often inspiring, always revealing look at the alchemy of the movie business. With Cohen as your expert guide, Screen Plays exposes how and why certain films (such as Gladiator) become "tentpoles," those runaway successes every studio needs to survive, and others become train wrecks. Full of critical clues on how to sell a script—and avoid seeing it destroyed before the director calls Action!—it's the one book every aspiring screenwriter will find irresistible.

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Click here to read the spec Deep Space Nine script Martin and I wrote.


"What are the best books you’ve read about Hollywood?
"I recommend Screen Plays by David S. Cohen. It gives an overview of 25 films from their creative genesis through development, production and release, including the aftermath. You get a sense of the slow struggle and attrition of this business, not the 'legend' that is usually passed along."

Bob Odenkirk, "By the Book," New York Times Sunday Book Review, Nov. 9, 2014

“I am not usually one given to writing fan letters but I am making an exception in your case - I just finished your book Screen Plays and wanted to extend my highest praises - what a terrific book! ....Your book was inspiring and at the same time highly familiar to me - I could not put it down. Please write a sequel!”

Christopher Heard, author and screenwriter.
Click to hear Christopher Heard discuss “Screen Plays” on AM 640 Toronto Radio

"A great read for screenwriters, for anyone with screenwriting ambitions, or for anyone who has sat in a theater wondering, 'How did this piece of crap get made?'"

Jim Windolf, Contributing Editor,

"Nowhere is Cohen’s understanding of the tempestuous film industry more apparent than in the compelling account of Black Hawk Down screenwriter Ken Nolan, who was terminated from that project only to get himself re-hired and, ultimately, sole writing credit. Cohen’s is a surefire crowd-pleaser for casual movie fans and true cineastes."

Publishers Weekly

Perhaps you can't even count the number of times you've been sitting in a movie theater, thinking of all the other things you'll never buy with your misspent money, and you turn and say to your equally dismayed companion, 'How did this piece of crap ever get made?'

A fascinating, detailed dissection of the screenwriting process, David S. Cohen's Screen Plays explores exactly that question .... There are roughly eight million "how to write a hit screenplay" books littering bookstore shelves. Avoid them all. Get your expertise from the mouths of those who have been through the process; learn from their mistakes and take their successes to heart. Screen Plays
is a fascinating book that will inspire any screenwriter, professional or otherwise, and help guide him/her through the tangled morass of the modern film industry."

Chris Bolton, Powell's Books

"Most books on screenwriting focus on the craft of writing, but Cohen shows us what happens to the script after it’s written. For people who want to get into the screenwriting trade, it is a valuable look at what can and will happen to them and their scripts as the scripts turn into films."

Tom Stempel, screenwriting teacher and author

"I just finished reading your Screen Plays book and I have to say it was
the most enjoyable and informative book I have read about the art of screenwriting in years. It is so refreshing to get into the back story of how movies were put together, how the writers tick, that I am already wanting "How 25 More Scripts Made It To A Theatre Near You" and after that, "Yet Even More Scripts"

"Basically I am begging you to keep this going, make it into a regular series."

Todd Gordon, Moviequill blog

"A must-read for any movie lover."

Little Apple Bookworm blog

Screen Plays
is a great look into the life and work of a working screenwriter. The scribes interviewed are exceedingly honest about what the process of adapting a book, working with a partner, losing a project, or seeing a movie flop or suffer the fate of bad reviews was like. It would behoove any aspiring writer to read this. Learn how to protect your work, or if you’ll be able to. Read about what faith in a project can do and how to get (most) of what you like about a script onto the screen. Experience vicariously what it’s like to be told your picture won’t get a release because of content, or how your masterpiece is way too long and pricey. Find out which battles you’ll have to fight, and which you probably shouldn’t. Screen Plays deserves a spot on any screenwriter’s bookshelf.

Zach Hollwedel, The Screenwriters League blog

”Covering a very wide range of writers and film genres, and written in a consistently entertaining style, Screen Plays is highly recommended reading. I have but one suggestion for Mr. Cohen: bring on the sequel, already!”

Wout Thielemans, Scriptwriting Secrets from... Belgium?!? blog

Great read. ... If you want to be in the business then you need to read this book.

Bill Cunningham, Pulp 2.0 blog


"David Cohen's interviews have long been Script Magazine's most read and most popular articles. Readers consistently name 'From Script to Screen' as the first article they turn to in each issue"

Shelly Mellott, Editor in Chief, Script Magazine

"When the movie I wrote, A Simple Plan, came out, I was astonished by the tedium of the publicity process -- the same half dozen superficial questions repeated over and over again. I began to sound stupid and boring even to myself. One of the few exceptions to this was David Cohen's interview for Script Magazine. David knows the film industry and understands how it works. He grasped the complicated steps and missteps of how a script becomes a film and presented them clearly and compellingly. Perhaps even more exceptional, though, I actually recognized myself in his interview, the cadence of my own particular voice translated onto the page. That's a rare gift, and one which David seems to possess instinctively."

Scott Smith, Academy Award nominated screenwriter, A Simple Plan