A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : THE INDUSTRY : We Thought They Were Written by a Computer

John Truby, a well-known Los Angeles screenwriting teacher, has just released StoryLine, a $345 software program for screenwriters he's been developing for the last two years. According to Truby, the program will revolutionize the art form--"This will democratize good writing," he says.

Truby, along with fellow screenwriting gurus Robert McKee and Richard Walter, has turned the teaching of screenplay writing into something of a cottage industry for hopefuls around the country.

Much of what's contained in StoryLine is based on Truby's screenplay structure class, which he's been teaching since 1985. According to Truby, the program will help writers find the perfect screenplay structure in less time than it usually takes by helping them chart the action sequences and explore deeper layers of a story. "This doesn't promise you a perfect script," he says. "What this does is take the creative process and lets a computer help the writer."

And even if you do come up against a case of writer's block, the program is loaded with structure examples from such films as "The Godfather," "Star Wars," "The Verdict" and "Vertigo." Truby says it won't be long before a writer can hook a laser-disc player up to the computer and watch scenes from the movies while the movie's screenplay structure is being explained. Another 150 models of well-known films covering most genres are currently being developed for use with the program.

Still, there are the skeptics who don't think writers should resort to computers for inspiration. "I hope they don't work," says acclaimed writer Larry Gelbart ("Tootsie"). "I don't wish them terribly well. We don't need any more hacks. I think they are a mistake because how can anybody be genuinely creative if they're going to follow a recipe? I think it's another way not to get down to work. On the other hand, I'll work with any machine that's Jewish."

And Julius J. Epstein, who co-wrote "Casablanca," agrees: "Overall, I'm a little dubious. If you are a storyteller, then you don't need any of that stuff. If the story is right, the structure follows. I never worried about structure."

But Truby says he expects to be criticized, especially by established writers. "Among certain writers, this kind of computer program will not be popular," says Truby. "Writing for Hollywood is a priesthood. Within that priesthood, they all communicate and they help each other. Outside, you don't get that kind of information because the people in the club don't want anybody to get in. They don't want anybody to know this information."

And what about those who say the program reduces screenwriting to nothing more than mechanics? 'The funny thing is that most great writers have a method of working," says Truby. "Preston Sturges would break a script into eight sections. Is that mechanical? On one level it is, but that was his method of getting some organization. What this program does is allow each person to be as creative as they can be."

Now all we need is a program that can write good dialogue.

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