Francis Coppola's Letter to the Reader
Reprinted from the Premiere Issue, February, 1997.
In the past there was a great tradition of short-story writing. Most colleges had literary magazines, and many periodicals included short fiction. The heroes of young people with literary aspirations were the writers who appeared in them: John O'Hara, Dorothy Parker, Ring Lardner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. So there was a storytelling tradition in force in the twenties and thirties that, among other things, inspired and taught the screenwriters who became responsible for the fine movie writing of the forties and fifties. Today, the heroes are the film directors, and many aspiring writers think that they must write a screenplay or movie treatment rather than focus on the story itself.
I have never met a person in the film business who enjoys reading a screenplay. It is usually a dreaded obligation that one does in sections of twenty or thirty pages, ending up with a skim-through of the last thirty pages. Many big movie executives, they say, never read the screenplays themselves, but torture middle management with this job and have them write it up in the form of a synopsis and opinion. Yet, on the other hand, reading a short story is usually a very enjoyable experience. (And when it's not, at least it's short.) It works at you from inside the brain, filling in images, characters, ideas, and plot without having to describe them step-by-step. After finishing the story, you close your eyes and think about it, and realize you have seen it because you have experienced it. You get more with less. This is a good habit for the storyteller to get into.
Zoetrope is a magazine concentrating on short fiction. We will neither accept nor publish screenplays and treatments, only stories or one-act plays. Since in the past it was common for a short story to be adapted into a successful film (Psycho, Rear Window, High Noon), it is natural that our motives in this project be questioned. I do hope that this publication will form a bridge to storytellers at large, encouraging them to work in the natural format of a short story. If Zoetrope publishes a single short story that evolves into a memorable film then, in my mind, it would more than justify our efforts to produce this magazine. However, we haven't chosen stories on the basis of whether or not they could be made into a film, but rather on the voice of the writer, the quality of the writing, the luster of character, and depth of plot, in the hope of illuminating contemporary life.