The Celluloid Paper Trail:
Identification and Critical Interpretation of the Film Script

Course Information

Instructor: Kevin Royal Johnson and Erin McGuirl
Location: Los Angeles
Mode: In-person
Dates: August 5–9, 2024
Tuition: $1200.00


What kind of text is a screenplay? How were they made, and by whom? How did their form and function change over time? In hands-on exercises with archival film scripts and through course lectures, students will explore these questions by learning about the history, development, and bibliographical identification of the American film script, from the silent era to the end of the twentieth century.  

Screenplays are guides to the creation of another work of art: a motion picture. Students enrolled in The Celluloid Paper Trail will learn to see scripts as “blueprints” for films and to identify the material cues that tell how they fit into the larger filmmaking process, revealing the contributions of both credited and silent participants in their creation. The course will teach students to complete a full bibliographical analysis of the film script and identify common office duplication methods. On the final day of the course, students will work from their analyses of the scripts themselves, students will finally to experiment with incorporating material evidence into critical arguments about the history of film and production studies, with a focus on queer and feminist bibliography and the history of women in film. 

Librarians, archivists, graduate students, faculty, and rare book dealers are encouraged to take the course. This course is intended for anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of screenplays as material artifacts of film production: if you work with screenplays and/or cinematic archives, this course is for you. It will also be of interest to individuals who study or work with non-letterpress material texts and twentieth century archival collections, and to booksellers, curators, and librarians whose institutions sell or acquire (or may in the future) cinematic archives and screenplays. 

Participants are asked to bring a laptop for daily use in course exercises.


Required Reading

Johnson, Kevin R. The Celluloid Paper Trail: Identification and Description of Twentieth Century Film Scripts. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2019. 

Price, Steven. A History of the Screenplay. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 

McGuirl [née Schreiner], Erin. “Printing the Screenplay in Hollywood and Beyond” in Printing History (2018:Summer) pp. 28-40. Available for download via Humanities Commons at

McGuirl, Erin. “Women’s Work in Film Production and the Documents of Film History” forthcoming in Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. Enrolled students will be provided with a PDF in advance of the course. 

Recommended Reading

The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz. University of Minnesota Press 2010. Available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle format, and also on

Monster: Living Off the Big Screen by John Gregory Dunne. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. Available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle format.  

Dane, Rich. Cheap Copies! The OBSOLETE! Press Guide to DIY Hectography, Mimeography & Spirit Duplication. Coralville, IA: OBSOLETE! Press, 2022. Available online at 

Hill, Erin. Never Done: A History of Women’s Work in Media Production. Jersey City, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016.




Completion of this course helps to meet requirements for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice