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R.I.P. Syd Field, "guru of all screenwriters"

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Syd Field, "guru of all screenwriters"

Syd Field, the author of the influential 1979 manual Screenplay, died yesterday at his Beverly Hill home. He was 77. Field was credited with identifying the “three act structure”—the hero’s goal, the introduction of conflict (or “confrontation”), and resolution—that he believed to be the basic format of a successful screenplay. Through his books, as well as his workshops, seminars, and the classes he taught at the University of Southern California (where his students included John Singleton, Judd Apatow, and David S. Goyer), Field became the first, and perhaps still best-known “guru of all screenwriters,” establishing a model followed by other screenwriting wise men such as Robert McKee.


Field started out in the shipping department at Wolper Productions, working his way up to become a writer-researcher for Wolper’s early-’60s Biography series with Mike Wallace. He wrote and produced the documentary series Men In Crisis and wrote and narrated the 1967 Vegas nightlife documentary Spree. After Screenplay, which went on to be published in 23 languages, Field completed another seven books of screenwriting advice, including The Screenwriter’s Workbook (1984), Selling A Screenplay (1989), and this year’s The Definitive Guide To Screenwriting. He also designed a phone app, the Syd Field Script Launcher, intended to guide writers through the process of becoming a professional screenwriter.

Field worked as a script consultant for a number of studios, including Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Universal, and was inducted into the American Screenwriting Association’s Screenwriting Hall Of Fame. In a recent interview, invited to name some of his favorite produced screenplays of the last decade, he singled out Scott Frank’s The Lookout, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s (500) Days Of Summer, and David Seidler’s The King’s Speech, which he called “just a masterpiece of great storytelling.”