Tuesday, December 17, 2013


A leading light in the film world, someone who's work has impacted many filmmakers around the world, has shuffled loose his mortal coil.

No, not Paul Walker.

Apologies if you enjoyed his movies, but I couldn't honestly describe Mr Walker as a film industry guru.

I am referring to Mr Syd Field.

Who, you ask?

I suppose that's the point.

I don't know if it's the speed with which time seems to be passing, or the couple of important people I lost this year, but I have been really mulling over legacy quite a bit.

It's a part of life that things get taken away, eventually. When you are younger, they come in abundance (if you are from a 1st world country). You are like a suckling pig, engorged with love, education and opportunity. Or perhaps a combination of these.

Then you get older.

Yes, new doors open. But others close.

And the hardest part, the one that can't be repositioned as a 'growing experience', is when people get taken away. Important people. Ones who made you who you are.

You feel their absence when you achieve a success that they played some small part in. That moment of distracted amnesia passes, and you remember they are not here anymore. And they never will be again.

If you let it, this moment can take you down a rabbit hole.

'Will they be remembered?' 'Will I?' 'Does it even matter if anyone remembers us when we're gone?' 'If it doesn't matter, what's the point of it all?'

I wish I could tell you that pondering these thoughts for long enough gives you answers, but it doesn't. You end up with more questions.

And then, in the midst of the emotional descent, an email arrived.

It was a newsletter from Michael Hauge, a Hollywood script pitching guru, who was a personal friend to Syd Field. Amongst a long and beautiful message, he wrote about Syd's book 'Screenplay':

'And, as it was for almost everyone in Hollywood, it was the first screenwriting book I ever owned.'

This struck a chord with me. 'Screenplay' was the first book I ever owned on screenwriting as well. I remembered, when I first read it, that I was so moved I wrote to Syd Field:

From: Peter Ireland
Subject: A personal thank you (from Australia)
To: sydfield@sydfield.com
Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 6:16 PM

Dear Syd,

While I am almost certain you will not have time to read this, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your book. My name is Pete Ireland; I am from Australia; and I am just starting out in the film industry.

While a lot of focus is put on the practical skills your book teaches to developing screenwriters, I think the power of your work lies far more in the intangible.

To me, reading your thoughts and experiences filled me with hope about my ability to actually make my dream become reality. Too often in this industry (and this world) there are large numbers of people who say: "Don't bother, everyone is already doing it and there is no room for you". What your book has the courage to say is that it can be done - it is possible - and if you work hard and persevere (and get a little lucky), you can make it happen.

Personally, this message is far more powerful than any paradigm or inciting incident. It is a message that especially struck a chord with me, and it is the reason why I felt compelled to say thank you.

Because of you, I feel inspired.

Many thanks


While a gushing email would seem like a waste of time, it was a feeling I genuinely had to express. While I never expected a response, I was content just to put it into the universe. Gratitude like that shouldn't be bottled up.

But then, one morning, I opened my email, where I was stunned to find:

From: sydfield@sydfield.com
Subject: A personal thank you (from Australia)
To: Peter Ireland

Dear Pete,

I want to thank you for your email. I appreciate your thoughts and feelings about my books.

I want to wish you the very best in your career.

Good writing,


Now, to be honest, I have no idea if Syd himself wrote this. It could have just as easily been his intern.

But that's not the point.

Many of you may not have heard of him, but Syd Field's book, 'Screenplay' is one of the bibles of screenwriting. His writing and teaching has inspired a generation of screenwriters, including the likes of Alfonso CuarĂ³n (of the recent 'Gravity') and James L. Brooks (the name you always see in 'The Simpsons').

But that's his resume, and that's not the point either.

What matters most is that Syd made an impact on me that I carry to this day. His voice cut through the din and made me know it was possible to pursue this crazy idea of filmmaking as a lifetime passion. In a world of "no" Syd Field has united a worldwide disparate group of dreamers. He was the better angel of our nature.

How do I know that Syd impacted so many people? Because Michael Hague articulated it best:

'Syd passed away 10 days ago, just hours after the rest of us finished presenting the Summit in London. Linda opened the event with a message from Syd - as always he was the one who welcomed everyone - and then the four of us did what we could to make it a fulfilling and inspiring event. But for us it was very sad, and unreal. He was a part of us, and he was there, but he wasn't. To me it was like we were spokes on a wheel that had lost its hub.

And that's how it will be from now on, I guess. Syd will always be a part of all of us - the millions of writers and filmmakers and moviegoers who have been touched by his ideas, and his humanity, and his love of story, and all of us script consultants and authors and screenwriting teachers who follow the path that he created.

But he's here, and he's not here. And I miss my friend.'

And that's the point. That's Syd's legacy.

How we impact other people. How we improve each others' lives somehow, with a kind word, a profound thought, or a cup of tea.

Syd did that for me. So did the two people taken away from me this year.

It's the only legacy that really matters. Because in the fullness time, none of us are likely to be remembered.

Except by the people who's lives we affect for the better.

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