This week I have had the opportunity to delve in to some classic film studies, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never really had the chance for whatever reason. The discussion around Auteur Theory was certainly an interesting and still quite controversial topic.
It is one of my bug-bears that writers are often still given far less credit than they deserve, and it is frequently only when there’s something wrong with a film that the script gets mentioned. If the script is great, oftentimes it’s “naturally” great so it kind of goes unnoticed. Absolutely, the director has a huge impact on the resulting film, leaving their fingerprints all over the finished work. But without that initial script, without the idea, the concept, the blueprint for executing this fantasy world come to life on the page, the director would have nothing to work with.
However, during a conversation with my tutor, the question was posed: but where does it stop? Everyone comes to work on a film to do the best job they possibly can – the DoP, the sound people, the camera people, the lighting people, hair, wardrobe, visual effects – the list goes on and on and on. Who’s to say that these people haven’t hugely influenced the final film (especially the director of photography, in my personal opinion – the visuals can have such a dramatic impact upon a film). Yet again it all comes back to the initial idea.
Without that seed of an idea and the full 120 minute or whatever length script that emerges from the writer’s brain and fingertips on to those blank sheets of paper, there would be no movie.
But to work professionally as a screenwriter, it seems this is one of the hard lessons that must be learned: the director will likely take the majority of the credit for a job well done. Scripts change dramatically before they reach the screen, more often than not. Oftentimes they’re unrecognisable from what the writer originally submitted. But that’s just the way it is.
It is quite sad that the sale of screenplays for public consumption is still a fairly niche market. Out of all of the films that are made, only a handful of scripts are deemed worthy of publication (rightfully so, in many instances). They are not considered literary, or indeed necessarily worthy of publication. But in my mind, they are an art form. To take a concept, a theme, some characters and present it as visually as possible, telling the most incredible stories in the most paired-back language possible is a true skill, and certainly not something that everyone can master.
Admittedly, the vast majority of screenplays published are the shooting script (and often adapted to include more description – almost prose in places), but there is still a great deal to learn from simply reading scripts, whether they be good or bad.