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View Full Version : Why is screenwriting such a collective job?



Exir
06-29-2009, 08:18 AM
Writers usually write stories and novels alone, with one or perhaps two editors making certain changes. On the other hand, there seems to be much fewer "authorial" screenwriters. Sometimes a screenplay seems to go through dozens or more revision by many different writers! Why is that so? Is that due to any practical reason, or is it just a paradigm caused by historical reasons?

It's particularly strange since it's the opposite in TV and on stage. There, TV writers or playwrights seem to be the "auteur" and has the most artistic control. Again, why is that so? Why is screenwriting an exception in that there is rarely one auteur?

Cyia
06-29-2009, 08:33 AM
Writers usually write stories and novels alone, with one or perhaps two editors making certain changes. On the other hand, there seems to be much fewer "authorial" screenwriters. Sometimes a screenplay seems to go through dozens or more revision by many different writers! Why is that so? Is that due to any practical reason, or is it just a paradigm caused by historical reasons?

It's particularly strange since it's the opposite in TV and on stage. There, TV writers or playwrights seem to be the "auteur" and has the most artistic control. Again, why is that so? Why is screenwriting an exception in that there is rarely one auteur?


I assume you're going by what's listed in the credits on a film. That is in no way indicative of who actually wrote it. Screen credit is determined solely by the guild.

Writer A<--- writes the screenplay all on his own, then sells it to the Prodco.

Prodco likes the concept, but wants it changed a bit (maybe for a specific actor or to fit a certain theme or to change the rating, whatever), so they hire --- B&C, a team they're familiar with.

The screenplay goes through a couple of new drafts, maybe even changes hands or gets picked up by a big studio as a major project - D, E&F come in to put another spin on it because of TPTB.

Once the movie's made, WGA sits down and goes over the whole thing start to finish and determines who "wrote" it according to their standards, then they assign credit.

Written by A

Written by A & B and C & D and E and F

("&" and "and" mean 2 different things - one's collaboration, one's independent work on a common project)

Written by D and E and F
Story by A

mario_c
06-29-2009, 08:41 AM
One thing to consider is TV and theater have always been produced much, much more cheaply that film. The gap has narrowed in recent decades, but with the 'blockbuster' mentality the willingness of producers - y'know, the guys paying for the party - to take chances on a writer's 'unique' vision has shrunk to almost zero. They are bankers, if you will, and bankers don't like risk. They really don't.

WriteKnight
06-29-2009, 08:41 AM
To answer your question - it's because of the 'sausage making' that goes into the final product. It's not necessarily pretty. As Cyia states, re-writes abound because it's a BLUE PRINT for a production. The people who buy a script, might not be around to see it to completion. It's possible the studio could shelve it for reasons uknown - then a new Dev Exec comes on board, and wants it changed for... whatever reason. Because there is SO MUCH money at stake, people want to 'make sure' it 'works'.

Less money at stake in producing a play. Television MOW's are also slightly lower in budget. Television EPISODES are a different creature all together - and might have a staff working on them. Or the 'producer' might also be 'the writer' - who oversees the staff.

I tell my friends who say "XYZ was CRAP! How did that script get made?" - "The trick is to write a script that is so good... it SURVIVES the development process, and something makes it to the screen."

Exir
06-29-2009, 08:49 AM
Hmmmm... Thanks for the responses guys. For directors who also write their own scripts, is this problem lessened?

Also, why isn't the studio trying to change this reality? It seems a dysfunctional process to make scripts. Very time consuming and sucks the life out of those screenplays. Yeah, I get your point that since there's so much money at stake they want to get things "right", leading to a whole legions of cooks that ruin the broth -- but, in the long run, good movies make more profit. Isn't it more profitable to give more trust to screenwriters as "auteurs"?

dgiharris
06-29-2009, 09:32 AM
I think one of the big problems in this whole mix is EGO. Maestrowork can educate us on the process, but as he describes it, you've got a lot of ego involved and that only exascerbates the problem

Mel...

maestrowork
06-29-2009, 06:52 PM
Yup ego is one. Production reality is another, especially if you talk about big budget SFX extravaganza. Indie films are better and you usually do see only one writing credit, a lot of times the same person who directs it. They have more control of production budget, etc. I mean, if they know they only have a $5 million budget, they would do the script a whole different way. Also, the production goes through fewer hands.

For a big budget movie, it is a totally different beast. You have everyone from the executive producers and producers (who pay for the production, by the way, so they have POWER) to the director to the actors who all want a say in what is being produced. Like someone said, the script was only a blue print. By the time it goes into production, it MAY not even resemble the original. And then you have last minutes changes based on whatever factors such as production conflicts, difficulties, budget ballooning, etc. and suddenly the producers say, "You can't do that. It's too expensive or I'll shut you down" or Hugh Jackman telling you, "I'm not doing this. It doesn't make sense to me." Or 10 million other reasons why the script would be changed at the last minute (one story is that Stanley Kubrick changed the script of The Shining so much during production that Jack Nicholson didn't even bother to memorize his lines, cuz he knew they would be changed the last minute anyway.

The major problem is, a lot of these top guys (producers, etc.) are NOT creative people. They look at everything from the money angle -- what they think will make money: Oooh, it's the Transformers, so give them more explosions, epic fights and sexy babes. Forget about plot. Give them an extended 30 minutes fight scene! A lot of them do not know art or storytelling if it smacks them in the face. Dialogue? What dialogue, just have them info dump. Character development? We don't have time for that. Etc. etc. So again, by the time they're done with the shooting script, the great stuff has been stripped off in lieu of all the big, overblown action-adventures.

And then there's the other end of the problem: the script starts off as total fluff to begin with. Again, those involved with the process are not necessarily creative types, so they only go by the money. Pitch them an idea that sounds like a lot of cash, and you sell the option. Then comes the pressure to deliver what you promise so you go with the sex and violence and big budget explosions and car chases in place of character development and plot because you run out of time. They only gave you three months to finish the script.

ChristineR
06-29-2009, 10:50 PM
I think the main reason is that so many things go into making a film that don't go into making a novel. For example, the script may call for a twenty-something actor, but a well known, competent, fifty-something actor may be available for a part. So a rewrite is needed. Or the script may call for shooting in the snow--which is really hard, and rarely done, and will make the film more expensive. Or a shot may just not come out, and there won't be any budget to reshoot, so the script will be rewritten to cover that plot point elsewhere.

WriteKnight
06-29-2009, 11:21 PM
Isn't it more profitable to give more trust to screenwriters as "auteurs"?

Bwahahahahahhahhahahahahahah!!!!!


Excuse me, I'm choking on my lunch. Well, sure - wouldn't it be nice to give the entire creative control to the screenwriter? Sometimes that happens - IF the screenwriter is also the director and producer. But that's a rarity - and usually a stinker to boot. Very few exceptions to that.

And please, can we drop the whole use of the word 'auteur'? Filmmaking is such an enormously complex and collaborative effort - I honestly think the only time one can use the term 'auteur' with any authority - is perhaps in film school. There you might write, direct, shoot, edit. choreograph, cater, finance and 'star' in your tiny student short - so you get to be the 'auteur' of that film. In which case "A Film By ..." is probably alright to use as a credit.

(Not intending to hikack the thread into 'how many hats do you have to wear to get 'film by' credits... but I'd start out by suggesting at least three of the major credits - Write, Produce, Direct, Star, and possibly EDIT)

And please take no offense at my laughter - as a writer I'd LOVE it if someone gave me complete control and financial freedom to make my scripts into huge succesful films... It's just convincing the people who hold the purse strings, that I know better what to do with their millions, than they do.

Hang of Thursdays
06-30-2009, 12:56 AM
Hmmmm... Thanks for the responses guys. For directors who also write their own scripts, is this problem lessened?

Also, why isn't the studio trying to change this reality? It seems a dysfunctional process to make scripts. Very time consuming and sucks the life out of those screenplays.

Because enough screenplays get through the process to either a) make a lot of money or b) win a lot of awards to make "changing the process" too expensive a proposition.

Exir
06-30-2009, 05:55 AM
WriteKnight: Haha, no offense taken ;) I guess I didn't express myself properly. When I meant screenwriters being more "authorial" I was thinking more of a single screenwriter having more creative say on his script rather than being one of the 17 hacks hired to rework the screenplay. But your point is taken.

Maestro: Yeah, good point. Some producers think they know what makes their films sell, who thinks they know their changes will somehow "improve" it, when it won't. Ego. I guess that's why so many big name directors refuse to have other people produce their work, although I do think a producer-director duo, with the producer in charge of the finance is a better working model.

Thanks all for the replies!

Exir
06-30-2009, 05:58 AM
Hangofthursdays, Christine: Yeah, I guess that's a good point too. Financial and other external influences requiring changes to the script.


Hugh Jackman telling you, "I'm not doing this. It doesn't make sense to me."

Hah. Here's another question (I know I'm having lots of questions, so bear with me ;) ): How much creative control do movie stars have? And I'm not thinking of movie stars who are allowed to improvise because of the director's permission, but movie stars "hijacking" the director/screenwriter/producer's creative control.

Jim McLain
06-30-2009, 11:21 AM
There is a whole section in Contracts for the Film and Television Industry on film credit for screen writers. If you want any hope of credit, get it in writing when you sign the sales contract. As a former attorney I know that a verbal contract is worth the paper it is written on. If you want WGA to support your claim, get it in writing.