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Lost and gone for ever? The search for early British screenplays

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The systematic collection and preservation of film and TV scripts at a national level has never been implemented in the United Kingdom. While the British Film Institute National Library (BFI) has a respectable collection of around 25,000 scripts, this has been built up from donations over the 75 years of the BFI’s existence. The silent film period, to 1930, is particularly affected by this lack of national care; the BFI has less than 100 British scripts from this period. Researchers from the University of Leeds spent several months in 2007 and 2008 seeking and collating information from around the world, with grant-aid support from the British Academy. The intention was to find out if any British silent film scripts had found a home in both British and foreign institutional collections, or elsewhere. The results were in general as expected – no major new collections were unearthed – but in part surprising. As a result of this a database has been compiled. Why should we search for scripts? It is now being realized that screenplay and other documentation hold information about the provenance and development of the screen idea that a film cannot provide. For some, the script may be a useful substitute for a lost film, but more importantly understanding how the film was envisaged before principal photography can reveal much about the industrial assumptions associated with film production in general, and about that screen idea in particular.

Keywords: British; archive; film; photoplay; scenario; screenplay; script; silent films

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Leeds

Publication date: 2011-03-15

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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