Inconceivable! Nobody Knows Anything.

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A few days ago, one of my favorite screenwriters, William Goldman, passed away. Here is the NYT article.

I have enjoyed reading screenplays (and about screenwriters) after I took classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and in CMU’s English Department (in 1996).

I had recently been tenured and thought how better to celebrate it than take classes in filmmaking and in writing scripts!

As part of of one of my assignments, I had to write a Treatment (of a prospective film) and screenplay for the first 10 minutes. 

Egon Balas, my colleague at CMU, had given me his pre-publication manuscript: Will to Freedom.

It is an amazing autobiography that spans both the Holocaust and the Communist Era in Romania, prior to him moving to the US in 1965. 

My screenplay opened with a teenage Egon playing competitive ping-pong, at the foothills of Carpathian Mountains in Cluj, Romania, as dark thundering clouds were approaching.

I remember reading William Goldman’s book Adventures in Screen Trade, sometime in 1996, and enjoying it very much for his honesty.

Writing about Studio Executives:

Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry:


If there is a Roman numeral I to this book, that’s it.

Again, for emphasis–


Later in the book, while discussing Subtext:

There are three kinds of movies–

(1) movies that aspire to quality and succeed

(2) movies that aspire to quality and don’t succeed

(3) movies that never meant to be any good at all.

The third group, alas, comprises the majority of commercial films.

He should know. He has been awarded the Oscar for Best Screenplay, twice, for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men.

To be clear: he was sympathetic to the fact that it is somewhat unknowable as to what will really succeed.

So a pragmatic approach is to simply attempt to replicate past successful formulas, which is what commercial ventures land up doing.

I wonder what he thought about using machine learning to predict success rates, like that being attempted by an Israeli startup (that I reviewed, but did not invest in): VaultML.

My favorite of his movies is the screenplay he wrote for his own novel, The Princess Bride.

Among my top ten dialogues from movies is this one:


He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!!

INIGO (whirling on Vizzini)

You keep using that word– I do not think it means what you think it means.

Of course, the movie has many more memorable lines.

It was only when I saw the movie again, recently, I realized that Inigo was played by Mandy Patinkin, who I absolutely enjoyed in the TV Show Homeland.

A few years ago, I saw a movie Omar, that is likely the best foreign movie I have seen that is set in the Middle-East.

Indeed, Mandy Patinkin has a nontrivial role in it.

In my view, Omar is better than the Iranian Oscar-winning film, A Separation, which was also very good.

Another Iranian movie made by the same Director, Asghar Farhadi,  that I liked is About Elly. He won his second Oscar for The Salesman.

Someday, after a few years of Quantum Computing I may try my hand at writing screenplays.






1 comment

  1. I too didn’t know Mandy played Inigo until I saw it again recently. I didn’t notice that William wrote all of those excellent screenplays.

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