The screenwriter vs. the director sparked intresting conversation in Hollywood and now thanks to the internet the world. In the last couple of years, this debate resurfaced. Who is the better filmmaker? was the first question. Now it’s boiled down to why screenwriters get no respect.
Being a writer-director myself I noticed the power dynamic and wanted to find the answer. I’ve discovered eight reasons why directors get the credit.
The History of the Power Change
Since the 1930 Hollywood always paid writers well. Some members of Hollywood celebrate writers but ignored by the stars who spoke their lines and abused by execs to have the entire film credited to the director. Fame and power which controlled the machine were saved for producers and studio heads back then.
Over time the Directors Guild started to rise in popularity leaving the Writers Guild behind.
Giving the power to the director and unleashing the words “A Film By” legally. Much later the Director’s guild also stated the one director per film rule giving the audience clear distinction over who’s creative work was being shown.
Unlike the Writers Guild allowing serval writers credits on one film. These two elements aided and pushed the directors ahead of the screenwriter.
Directors are far more Visible
Its right directors are more visible during the creation of a film. Film companies put out a lot of press to presale the audience with millions on the line. During this period mostly actors but now directors are going to sit down with Conan and other late night hosts as a part of the promotion, which sheds light on directors like never before.
In a way, they have become celebrities more than creatives giving them clout like a big name actor would bring to a film.
The camera is always in there face not just during promotion but the filmmaking process. Behind the scenes, extra content as a part of buying the blue ray DVD was a huge selling aspect of the film. The camera follows the director around the set through wardrobe changes and set design portions of the preproduction.
The writer, on the other hand, gets zero press. No one sends him out to interviews to promote the film merely because by this time the film isn’t his.
Hes now seen a former employee of the project. I notice some writers going out on interviews especially the newer generation such as Max Landis. These events aren’t set up by studios though which means the event doesn’t add much weight. Most of the time writers will just be given a credit and an invite to the screening for pictures.
So where are writers mostly? In there houses, apartments or friends couches with 100’s of notecards, one laptop with final draft pulled up.
People think Writing is Easy and Directing is Hard
Respect comes with an exclusivity title. The harder something is, the more respect people have for those that do it. Or in this case, perception is the reality. In most peoples eyes this includes those who aren’t in the beast of the Hollywood system writing seems easy. Therefore not much attention is given to those who do. When faced with an audience people say
“oh you wrote the movie, that’s cool.”auidence
Not for a second thinking of the sometimes years and late night hours working on a free script that might not even become anything.
This is not really there fault. During school, most people were forced to write short stories and paper after paper. This distorts peoples view of creative dramatic storytelling. Which results in people thinking they can do it too.
Even if the above statement is true, that doesn’t negate the fact that directing is hard. You’re the captain keeping anywhere from 20 to 300 crew members on the same page. Leading is a real challenge in its own right, and people do have a case for its difficulty compared to screenwriting.
When you’re a director, everyone is counting on you. The producers, crew, actors, future audience members and even the screenwriter.
Good Scripts can become Bad Movies
How many good well-written scripts become bad movies? I guarantee 70% of bad movies first started off as good scripts. It’s tough to get a lousy screenplay past all levels of a production company with it being entirely terribly written. The problem stems from the direction of the movie.
For example, almost everyone can agree that Quintin Tarantino is a master writer. Well, Oliver Stone and a few others didn’t think so back in 1994. When making Natural Born Killers. The movie was originally a Tarantino script but was rewritten by the filmmakers. Producing a 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. Tarantino denied any affiliation with the project claiming that they changed his writing so much he didn’t even want credit leaving him a “Story By” credit.
Tarantino’s story isn’t unique; its just one of the most well-known by denouncing the involvement you forfeit the money. Keeping a lot of lesser-known writers mouths shut.
Bringing me to my next point. Bringing a script to life no matter how good is hard work. Bad movies plague even the best directors resume. Sometimes being a little off which translates to “what the hell was that.” For people either it’s a good film, or it’s terrible. No in between. Directors have one chance to get it right no rewrites or edits, unlike the screenwriter who sits there with all the time in the world.
Writing is Cheap Production Cost
How much does it cost you to write a screenplay? Calculate the cost of writers duet $79.99. Or you can use a free screenwriting program. Maybe you order take out 3 times a week. Whether you write a script in 12 weeks or 2 years virtually the cost is time and effort.
Most newer writers have other jobs to supplement income until they get picked up by a TV show or spec sale. With the cost to entry so low almost anyone with the will can become a screenwriter. Not saying all will succeed but you can at least take a crack at it.
DIrectors have a different path. Not a single directors path is the same. Some work within production companies and wait for a chance, some raise the money themselves, and some earn it. Yes, I’ve heard of newborn directors working two jobs and borrowing from friends and family to make $100,000 for there the first production. If it’s good enough, some executive might see what you’ve done and hire you to do it again. Infants on might.
Christopher Nolen worked during the week to earn money and worked on only the weekends for an entire year to create his first feature following in 1988.
Spike Lee after film school saw that no one was going to believe in him but one person his grandmother. Who mortgaged her house to give Spike $175,000 for his first feature film shes gotta have it. Each director whether you like them or not had very unconventional ways of becoming who they are.
The Director gets all the Blame
When a film hits the theatres, everyone apart of the project holds there breath. The writer, producer, director, actors, crew and even the production assistant cross there fingers.
Why? Because if the film does well, they get to all come back next year and do it again. They all don’t have to worry about looking for jobs they are already hired. This is probably how the crew of John Wick feels since coming back for a third round. If the film flops at the box office, everyone is upset but usually at one person the director.
If the film doesn’t work its only the directors’ fault alone. No matter if the producer didn’t want to give him his locations because they wanted to save money or one of the actors decided to spaze out at the last minute holding up production. Those things don’t hit the press. All that does is how bad the director is. All this pressure is on one person’s shoulders from preproduction to the opening weekend.
For the writer, unless they are commissioned to write a script usually in 12 weeks. They don’t have an army of people counting on them for a reoccurring paycheck the next go around. Their job is done once thy hand over the script to the producer.
Directors can change the script
No one except the writer and director truly knows the changes to the script. The writer might have specific dialogue, but during filming, an actor might add lip at the request of the director. Adjustments like these happen all the time on set. It could even end up changing the entire scenes based on a feeling. Most of the time this happens for the betterment of the film. What does this mean to the question of the writer vs. director?
The director can essentially be his own storyteller just using the script as a base. He can go with the entire text as written and about 50% of the time this happens, but it depends. The director’s job is to do what’s best for the film with the money given and the actors that are cast. If there is a better way, some scenes in the original script could get cut. This brings me to my next point.
The Director’s Vision, not the Writers
Did you know that sometimes the writer of the film isn’t allowed on set? The reason being is that complains too much. “Hey, why are you choosing to do it this way?” People don’t want to hear this during a 12-hour shift. Movies make fun of writers on set doing this, and they didn’t grab that joke out of thin air.
The Screenwriter Life Span
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10% of directors get paid $166,400 for a film. A vast margin difference from screenwriters which on average get $86,000. Why is this because of all the reasons mentioned earlier in the post. The visibility, the blame, how good scripts are sometimes harder to direct. But the biggest reason is the life span of a director.
Most directors are lucky to have a career spanning 10 films. Yes, you probably cam mention Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott who are in there 70’s and 80’s and still going strong. But most directors will be lucky to have 5 before they start having diminishing returns.
Screenwriters, on the other hand, can write until they’re dead. They usually don’t sprout grey hairs as early as the stressed out directors being yelled at by all sides. Being a writer myself It would be very hard to concentrate if a producer is walked in my bedroom every 10 minutes asking if the first draft is done yet.
The Solution to the issue
Even though we’ve argued both sides in this post both the screenwriter and director are essential in the filmmaking process. So let’s discuss possible solutions. Solutions that could benefit the writer getting more respect from not only the people they work with but the audience also. Not to mention making up the extra $90,000 a year in pay.
Becoming a Writer-producer is one option. Not only will you shape the story you will have final say on the outcome of the movie. This will also give you some strong residuals on the back end if the movie does well. And not to mention if your film gets the best picture award you walk on stage, not the director.
Becoming a Writer-director is another option. This is what Quintin Tarantino decided to do after the Natural Born Killers fiasco. Not to mention his other film True romance which was also changed around too but only the structure, not anything was rewritten during production. Aaron Sorkin just dropped his directorial debut with Molly’s Game.
As writers, if no one will give us respect, we have to take it.
In conclusion, without writers, the film industry will cease to function. God forbid some executive tries to write films and discovers how hard it is.