Normatizing the silent drama: Photoplay manuals of the 1910s and early 1920s | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1759-7137
  • E-ISSN: 1759-7145



The first instructional manuals to cover the writing of photoplays for silent drama emerged in 1911. In the wake of ‘Scenario Fever’, their style was often hyperbolic, and they claimed a great need in the film industry for new dramatic scenarists. In truth, few readers of manuals, or clients of the ‘schools’ that often distributed them, attained professional status. This article uses primary and secondary sources to examine the origins and content of the silent screenwriting manuals, and determines that, despite their poor record in fulfilling their ostensible purpose, they served valuable social functions. By overlooking screen drama’s debt to Victorian theatre and vaudeville, they served to normatize screenwriting practice in its own right, and thus helped to legitimize film’s sense of itself as a new medium. The uniform nature of their content, shaped by manual writers who were often working scenarists, suggests their reliability in clarifying aspects of screenwriting practice that lay behind the creation of silent films, and justifies their use as resources in film studies.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): manuals; photoplay; screenwriting; silent drama
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