Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing

(And Not Getting Eaten)

by Pen Densham, Foreword by Jay Roach

“One thing I know for sure; without writers, we in the entertainment business are aimless wanderers looking for a place to be. My thanks to Pen for this inspirational book.”

Morgan Freeman

Academy Award-winning Actor

“As a director, I cannot achieve my goals without the help of creative and courageous writers. Pen’s book is unique in that it addresses the entire landscape of movie writing as a career, and most especially encourages artists who write from the heart and strive for originality.”

Ron Howard

Director / Producer / Writer / Actor

“Pen’s advice is something I wish I’d had when starting out. His words on the creative process are inspiring and useful, and his insight into the business is essential.

Paul Haggis

Academy Award-Winning Writer / Producer / Director

“If you’re thinking about writing a screenplay, do yourself a favor and hop on Pen Densham’s Alligator. The ride’s enlightening.

Jeff Bridges

Academy Award-Winning Actor

“This is an insightful and thoughtful book on the art of filmmaking. Pen Densham is a triple threat talent; writer, director and producer… And brilliant at all three. Since I gave him his first big break – I’m proud he has written this terrific book.”

Norman Jewison

Director / Producer

“Anyone who wants to go on the journey of writing a screenplay could not have a better guide than Pen Densham.”

David Wirtschafter

Partner, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment

“Not since Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has a book come along that gives you all the basics you need to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. It’s “Cats vs. Alligators” where the winner is the reader. Simple and brilliant!”

Matthew Terry

Producer / Screenwriter / Teacher / Columnist

“Densham’s book is wise, encouraging, helpful and kind – everything the business of moviemaking is sometimes not. Young writers would do well to keep it close at hand.”

Tom Rothman

Co-Chairman, Fox Filmed Entertainment

“In Riding the Alligator, Pen has created a unique survival guide for screenwriters that marries his intense passion for story telling with his practical advice drawn from his own triumphs and struggles. The result is an insightful and inspiring roadmap for success as a story teller and a screenwriter.”

Danny Rosett

Former COO, Overture Films

Former President, United Artists

“Frankly, I’d like to give this book to my execs; it’s not only valuable for anyone looking to be a writer, but also those who are called upon to analyze and comment on writing.”

Mark Stern

Executive Vice President Syfy Channel

& Co-Head Universal Cable Productions

“It’s like getting a UC screenwriting course for under $30!!!! As illuminative and thorough Pen Densham is as a director, with Riding the Alligator, he equally arouses the writer within through inspirational and educational guidance.”

Robin Wright


“Pen Densham’s Riding the Alligator is thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring…and filled with a rare kind of wisdom I haven’t found in any other book about the screen trade. In his closing chapter, Densham writes ‘Be passionate – be daring – go forward.’ Read Riding the Alligator and you are well on your way!”

Richard Chizmar

Writer / Producer

Founder / Publisher / Editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine

“Pen Densham is the perfect kind of teacher. On top of his extensive knowledge on the craft of writing, he’s an almost existential inspiration to those who are looking to find their own inner substance.”

Emile Hirsch


“Final Draft’s slogan is ‘Just Add Words’. Pen Densham’s Riding the Alligator is an inspiration to finding those words.”

Marc Madnick

Co-founder and CEO of Final Draft, Inc.

“A great synthesis of practical information, philosophical underpinning and psychological counseling… as if Dennis Palumbo and Syd Field had produced a baby.”

Philip Taylor

Screenwriter / Assistant Professor of Screenwriting

Arizona State University, Herberger Institute Theatre and Film

“Any film or TV writer will benefit from Pen Densham’s gift of hope, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in SCREENPLAY Writing… and not getting eaten. Complete with a photo of young Densham riding an alligator, the book serves as teacher and cheerleader. Written with charm and style, writer-director-producer Densham may be the last gentleman standing.”

Mary Schirmer

Screenwriter / Instructor

“Pen Densham’s Riding The Alligator provides the essential tools of the trade and leaves more than sufficient room for individual creativity. His deep understanding of the screenwriting process is at once inspiring and empowering. An invaluable resource that is certain to become a must for all new screenwriters.”

Robert Mandel

Dean of AFI Conservatory

“If you’ve never sold a movie… if you’ve never written on staff… if you’re barely familiar with agents and managers and pitches and studios… BUT you have great voices and stories swimming through your head, Pen Densham does a great job of holding your hand as he guides you through the beginning stages of planning a career in Hollywood.”

Chad Gervich

Writer / Producer: Wipeout, Speeders, Foody Call

Author: Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business

“Amidst the tips, techniques and first-hand knowledge, Pen delivers a book that goes deeper… Much deeper, addressing the full creative writing process… life, passion, joy, celebration, a full kaleidoscope of human emotions. There is no wrong way, only discovery, a voyage into the unknown. Riding the Alligator will challenge your creativity, inspire your mind and touch your soul.”

Suzanne Lyons

Co-Founder Snowfall Films, Windchill Films and the Flash Forward Institute

“A great teacher gives us the courage to trust our own experience. Pen is that teacher. I’m looking forward to riding the alligator over and over again.”

Johnathon Schaech


“BRAVO!!! Pen Densham’s Riding the Alligator is a magnificent guide for all writers – an incisive, brilliant and loving leg up to help them crack open the door to their own creative and career goals!”

Paul Saltzman

Writer / Director / Producer: Prom Night in Mississippi

“I thought Chapter 11 was terrific. I thought Chapter 8 was terrific. Let’s face it: I thought the whole book was great and I want to use it in my classes as required reading.”

Barbara Boyle

Chair of the UCLA Department of Film and Television and Digital Media

“For many years, communicating by tele-conference from Hollywood, Pen Densham’s thoughtful and insightful advice on the art and craft of creating an original script has energized and inspired my screenwriting students. Pen’s warm and witty words eliminate the fear of the blank page, creating instead an eager leap into creative exploration. I see the enthusiasm – Pen’s approach is creative liberation. Now his book, Riding the Alligator bypasses turgid methodology to go right to the heart of the creative process, making that process instantly accessible to students of every level.”

Terry Gadsden

Professor: New Brunswick Community College, Miramichi, Canada

“An organic blend of the theoretical and the practical, Densham helps us drill down into the genetic code that draws us to storytelling in general and films in particular. A wonderful ride and a perfect companion to a screenwriter on her/his own, as well as a strong foundational text for any course on screenwriting.”

Frederick Strype

Professor / Program Head: Filmmaking, Screenwriting & Media Arts, Sarah Lawrence College