Why Shane Black Was Once Hollywood’s Hottest Screenwriter

Shane Black Iron Man 3 Screenwriter Director

I’ve always enjoyed Shane Black’s writing: economical, witty, and down-right, laugh-out-loud hilarious at times. Here’s Kyle Buchanan’s two cents on why Black’s scripts were so fun to read:

It’s an open secret in Hollywood that studio executives do very little reading themselves, instead employing script readers to do the dirty work of slogging through multiple scripts a day. Black wrote screenplays that were practically engineered to perk up a weary script reader, packing his scene descriptions with clever in-jokes, meta flourishes, and — when all else failed — flattering entreaties to the readers themselves. The most famous thing Black ever wrote isn’t even a piece of dialogue … instead, it’s this description of a setting from Lethal Weapon, structured as a muscular meta boast that practically defined the swinging-dick attitude of mid-eighties action movies:

EXT. POSH BEVERLY HILLS HOME – TWILIGHT

The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge hit. Chrome. Glass. Carved wood. Plus an outdoor solarium: A glass structure, like a greenhouse only there’s a big swimming pool inside. This is a great place to have sex.

Of course, many writers can entertain you on the page. It’s kind of our job. What separates Black from his peers, besides having the good fortune to cross paths with Joel Silver in the 80’s, is all about the stories he tells and the characters he uses to tell them. Lethal Weapon was a dynamic popcorn flick about a suicidal detective partnered up with an over-the-hill (+10) veteran that knocked the buddy cop genre on a different trajectory. Monster Squad was a monster high concept, blending the iconic Universal Monsters with campy, rock ‘n’ roll horror for teens. And have you seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Well, if you haven’t, you should just for the scene where Robert Downey, Jr. loses his finger. In the end, sure, Black’s scripts are fun to read, but that “fun”component was a lot more than witty action descriptions.

William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

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