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The first screenplays? American Mutoscope and Biograph scenarios revisited

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This article builds on the earlier work of Patrick Loughney in discussing a series of texts written by Frank J. Marion and Wallace McCutcheon, and registered by American Mutoscope & Biograph (AM&B) at the Library of Congress in 1904–05. It assesses the arguments for regarding these as the earliest surviving texts that were written specifically in order to be filmed. Significant historical contexts include copyright disputes between the studios, developments in narrative film since 1902, and the problematic classification system at the Library of Congress that prompted AM&B to register a sequence of films as both ‘photographs’ and ‘dramatic compositions’. A comparison of the scenarios to the films provides evidence that they were written prior to filming. The formal arrangement of the scenarios is almost indistinguishable from that for contemporary playscripts, which may have been due to a deliberate attempt to facilitate their registration as ‘dramatic compositions’.

Keywords: Biograph; Library of Congress; copyright; dramatic composition; scenario; screenplay

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/josc.2.2.195_1

Affiliations: Bangor University

Publication date: March 15, 2011

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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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