Whose Movie Is It?
Here is a great article from the LA Times, spotted by Jim Nakahama. It presents an alternate “Auteur Theory” — that being one that says maybe it’s the screenwriter who should be given the credit as a film’s “creator.”
The pros and cons on this go back years. But I distinctly remember being an aspiring film buff in the ’70s and thinking The Age of the Screenwriter was coming. And should! After all, isn’t it the writer who first envisions what a movie is?
The spec sale craze of the late ’80s and early ’90s seem to bear that out. I remember distinctly the hot anticipation of the next script coming from Shane Black and Joe Esterhaus. And I had a few big spec sales myself. There was something really special then about the crisp, clean spec no one had yet read — and the cry of “Hold my calls!” that went out among executives when that virgin script finally arrived on their desks.
Perhaps with yet another summer of remakes and sequels lining up to either crash or save the current business model, we might start thinking about honoring the writer with original ideas?
Thanks, Jim! Here’s the link:
I’d also like to thank Gil Whiteley for a GREAT radio hour this past Saturday. Gil and I dissected The Godfather, complete with 17 audio clips that made for some surprisingly “visual” radio. We’re hoping to do a whole series of hours devoted to talking about favorite films. It was wonderful radio — and a terrific new way to “see” and discuss movies. Really looking forward to my seminar appearances in Denver at the end of March, too!
How wierd, I was just railing on my blog about how one movie website does not include the screenwriter in the main page of their “credits” listing for ANY movies. They list the director, and ALL of the producers, but not the screenwriter. I find it very maddening and also frightening. After all, without the person who writes the story, there’s nothing to film!
- Harold Garner
I believe the problem stems from the way the WGA assigns writing credit. They should credit the original writer of the screenplay and give any other contributors a line on the ending credits. This would highlight the author of the movie and in time a few will emerge as prominent as the directors.
- Sarah Beach
I am, of course, in favor of writers getting much more public credit.
Yet, I also can’t overlook the fact that sometimes directors come along and make much more out of a movie than the writer got down on the script. Or actors take performances that would have been very stereotypical and make something better of them. Val Kilmer in Top Gun for instance. That role certainly has the look of being written as a stereotypical Snobby Rival, unjustified in his antagonism. But Kilmer doesn’t play him that way.
Or even editors – much of the effectiveness of The Fugitive comes from how it was edited together. Fortunately starting from terrific performances, admittedly.
And then there are writers who have the fortune to start as someone’s pocket rewriter, who can handle adaptations really well, but who… don’t do as well with original material. (Yes, I’m thinking of a specific example, but I won’t mention it in public.)
Still… in spite of the highly co-operative nature of filmmaking, I do think that writers deserve a higher profile with the audiences.
- Bryn Dalton
I fear the great tragedy may not simply be that the age of the screen writer is gone, but that the remaining vacuum is the cause of the current trend in big HW these days.
I asked Blake why he thinks there are currently so many sequels and remakes and he told it like it is “It sells”. You know it right away and you know what to expect. So then why do you need a screenwriter?
Many of these prepackaged movies almost preclude the screenwriter by their very nature. Nicole Kidman wiggled her nose and a week later the script for Bewitched was on her desk. Not that someone had written a good script that just happened to be that movie, but rather because someone with a big name mentioned they were interested in doing it. Add in a good publicist and a movie is often coming out before the studios even know it.
I couldn’t imagine what it would take to break Hollywood from it’s current trend, but it would have to be some sort of renaissance not seen since the early 1960’s. Film is an extremely powerful media that can influence people now the way religion influences people (The Passion? Ok, weak example, but Ollie Stone has one coming out about 9/11 that will no doubt turn some heads) which means the people producing movies have a responsibility to make sure the right (or wrong) things are said.
Or perhaps Hollywood has no grasp whatsoever as to just how much they are really saying about American culture to the rest of the world beyond totalling their international box office sales.
Man, that’s a scary thought.
- Steve Lang
The solution as a spec screenwriter is to write something so good, studios will absolutely HAVE to make it. ;-)
Although all the sequels affect the number of new releases, that’s business. If your career and paycheck was riding on the ROI of your productions, of course you’re going to throw in some established franchises and sequels. It’s good, it’s bad, it is what it is…
Plus, someone still had to write BEWITCHED after all, even if it was done by a working pro. I have read that novel adaptations have good potential, even if you haven’t secured the rights yourself. Because that’s the sort of stuff that can be done after a great screenplay is written. Although I guess you should look into it, to make sure the rights are actually available.
Of course, you shouldn’t write a Stephen King adaptation and expect to get anywhere, but there are probably lots of little sleeper gems with great stories and characters that are itching to be converted into a movie. Maybe tweak the hook, but then you just have to build a good 2-hour movie story from that material.
I imagine that you could try the same with obscure TV series, although if the show is too obscure then there’s little point. Plus TV shows just aren’t going to be as rich in source material, and might be harder to get rights. I do imagine that someone could take something like DUKES OF HAZZARD or BEWITCHED though, and craft a pretty good screenplay out of it. Nothing stunning, but a good mainstream crowd-pleaser with some care put into it. (I didn’t see either movie, nor do I know anything about their screenplays.) The screenplays might have been very good for all I know, even though both movies were panned by reviewers.
- Steve Lang
Or Ben Stiller in ZOOLANDER. I mean you can’t write Stiller’s ‘Magnum’ look with 10,000 words, you just can’t!
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I remember reading an old Gore Vidal essay on â€œWho Makes the Movies?â€ Vidal wrote that during the Golden Age of Movies (1930s-1950s), during the â€œdaily rushesâ€ (film shot that day), Hollywood producers would watch the film while comparing it with the script. The old moguls would say â€œWe got some good pages today,â€ not â€œWe got some good film.â€
And woe to the director that dared deviate from the script. With a few notable exceptions like Preston Sturges, most directors were seen as technicians, not artists, who (old Hollywood joke) was often the brother-in-law of the producer!