Dear writers,

we’ve known each other a fair while now and I have some vitally important news for us. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell us this, but it really is rather important and once we’ve gone through the denial, the outrage, the pleading and the depression and finally moved into a state of benign acceptance, we’ll be a lot happier and a lot better off.

Not financially, obviously; but mentally and spiritually, which is a close second. If we can accept this truth then writing scripts will be a lot more enjoyable … or at least, slightly less frustrating.

Are we ready? Here it comes:

SCRIPT WRITERS DO NOT WRITE FILMS, WE WRITE FILM SCRIPTS.

There, I’ve said it. Are we shocked? Upset? Maybe a little confused?

Let me explain.

A feature film is two hours of footage distilled from a process which takes several years to complete (roughly seven, if Hollywood gurus are to be believed). It involves a small army of people working excruciatingly long hours, doing all sorts of clever things with lights and costumes and sets and gripping their foleys and other filthy stuff.

Each department depends wholly on all the other departments in order to make a good film. Only when absolutely everyone is working at their best will the end product be of the desired standard. Okay, yeah, maybe one department can slip slightly and the sheer wonderfulness of the rest will compensate – but in the main, it takes everyone firing on all cylinders to come good.

A film script, on the other hand, is 90-120 pieces of paper with some ink on them.

Paper and ink which tells a wonderfully complex story, perhaps (or something about masturbating monkeys, if you’re me) but it’s just paper and ink all the same.

Can we see the difference?

When we sit down to write, no matter what software or computer we’re using, a feature film does not appear on the monitor. Nor does it appear from the printer when we push ‘print’. No. What we get appearing before our very eyes, commanded by our very own tippy-tapping fingers, is a film SCRIPT.

Film script, not feature film – can we see the difference now?

Our product, the thing we’re trying to sell, is the script. That’s the thing we have to try and make as good as possible – because we have no control over the feature film. It literally has nothing to do with us.

I know, I know, it’s very nice to be able to point at a film and say to the girls we’re trying to impress:

“That’s my film, that is.”

By the way, if there are any girls reading – does that work? Would anyone be impressed by that? Because the ones I try it on tend to fall asleep before I’ve finished my sentence.

“That’s my film.”

No it isn’t. It’s a film LOOSELY based on our script. The best we can hope to say is:

“I wrote the script for that.”

Because, and once again I draw our attention to this important distinction:

SCRIPT WRITERS DON’T WRITE FILMS, WE WRITE FILM SCRIPTS.

I know some of us want to be recognised as the author of a film, or the creator, or get that ‘A film by’ credit; but really, why? Why do any of us feel we deserve that credit when we’ve had absolutely nothing to do with:

Casting
Acting
Cinematography
Direction
Producing
Editing
Lighting
Set design
Props
Stunts
Visual Effects
Sound Effects
Music
Catering
And pretty much everything else we can possibly imagine?

I mean really, come on – fair’s fair. I even think the ‘Written by’ credit is a little misleading. In reality it should always say ‘Script by’ and even that’s not usually true after the fucking directors have stuck their oar in and everyone from the producer to the tea-boy has given us notes.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we don’t deserve credit for writing incredibly beautiful, thrilling, action-packed or moving words (about masturbating monkeys); but by the time the actors have improvised all over the script – how many of those words actually make it into the finished film?

We’re very quick to claim the director, the producer or whoever ruined our scripts; but we’re very slow to realise the resulting feature film really has nothing to do with us. It’s just not ours – it’s theirs.

We did not write that feature film, we wrote the script.

The script is our end goal, it’s the thing we have to perfect – or at least make as good as possible. We should hold our scripts up as an example of our ability and pin our self-worth on their quality, rather than wasting tears on a feature film which makes no fucking sense and looks like it was filmed by two chimps fighting on a trampoline. They didn’t ruin your script, it still exists as an individual work of art(ish) – they just made a shit movie out of it.

I met a visual effects designer once who was working on a high budget Hollywood movie. One he thought was a complete pile of shit. Apparently everyone involved (apart from the producer, writer and director) knew it was going to be a pile of shit. Why then, I asked, did he get involved? Because he knew the effects, the ones designed by him, would be fucking awesome and seen by a lot of people who would happily hire him for the next project.

His work, the product he was selling, was going to be good no matter how shit the film was.

Personally I think we should all adopt that attitude. We can’t control the final film, we can barely even influence it – going round telling people it’s ours when it’s a pile of shit doesn’t really help.

If we tell people we wrote the script for ‘Pile of Shit 2: Revenge of the Shit’ and they point out it was a pile of shit, we can agree. The film has nothing to do with us, once the script leaves our hands it’s … well, out of our hands. It doesn’t matter how good the script is, if every other department is incompetent (or follows incompetent direction) then it will be a shit film.

Then kicker, of course, is when the film is superb, it’s really nothing to do with us either. True, we have contributed a major part to its success; but it’s still not really our film.

We should always do our job to the best of our ability – and that job is to write a script, not a film. Once again:

FILMS ARE NOT WRITTEN, THEY ARE MADE … AND NOT BY US.

Unless we produced and/or directed it – in which case we should be fucking ashamed of ourselves.

Hope this finds us well and doesn’t upset us too much, just read, digest, absorb and get back to doing what we do so well (or so mediocrely, if you’re me) – writing scripts.

Love

Phill

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Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Dear writers,

  1. Phill, you lovely, lovely man. I’m afraid I have to heckle you.
    “Written by” and “Script by” (or rather “Screenplay by”) are terms that have different and equally valid meanings, both according to the WGGB (or if you’re writing in America, the WGA). These definitions have been enshrined within the UK in the Screenwriting Credits Agreement, under clause 4.
    Here is a link to it, for those who want to bone up on the subject:
    http://www.writersguild.org.uk/public/userimages/File/Agreements%20and%20rates/Screenwriting_credits_agreement.pdf

    I realise you are a far more professional writer than me – what with you having had scripts bought and made, and such, and I to date have not *grinding of teeth* – But I am slapping your wrist.
    These terms can have an effect on how much you get paid, so you can’t just throw them aside in a blaze of indy ‘buck the system’ glory.
    Consider yourself reprimanded.

    Love and kisses,

    Eleanor

  2. I’m not actually advocating any change – I like my rut, I’ve worked hard to get here – I’m just pointing out it’s a bit misleading, that’s all.

    Obviously if anyone actually suggested the wrong credit I’d stab them with the nearest pencil.

  3. What rut?

    Directed By
    Written By*
    Produced By

    *or which ever other term applies to the type and amount of work done.
    Written By, isn’t really that misleading. It applies to a spec story that the writer came up with and then wrote a script from, and then sold that spec script to a producer (who may or may not have proceeded to help the writer change it in various ways, which would then change the credit in various ways).
    If a producer comes up with a story and hires a writer to write it, then it is Screenplay By.
    I don’t see how that is misleading….?

    You wrote a very valid post, but appeared to be claiming Written By is an invalid credit. Which, I guess you weren’t.
    If you need me to sharpen any pencils for you, just let me know. 😉

    Sorry. I am obviously in an arguementative mood. I’ll shut up.
    (I’m a bit hacked off because of something totally different that has nothing to do with this.) Sorry.

  4. Awesome, Barron.

    That is all.

  5. But without us, there is nothing. We make it up. We’re fundamental. And enough people are already telling us that we don’t matter, are happy to believe that actors make up all their own lines, and what they don’t the directors do. Look at movie magazines – actors invterviewed constantly, directors interviewed constantly, Diablo Cody interviewed occasionally. I think we should take every peice of ownership we can, because if we don’t, other people certainly will.

    I say all this realising I have had nothing produced. And yet. And still.

    • High five!

    • It’s an odd art form because the script isn’t seen as a finished product. In terms of making a film, the writer is one of the first and most important components – but once we’ve done our job we have no significance, influence or responsibility for the resulting film.

      In a way I feel writers are doing themselves a disservice by trying to take more credit for the film – to me it feels like they’re joining in the chorus of ‘the script isn’t important’.

      It is. The script is an artform in itself and we should be proud of it in and of itself. Whatever happens to the script afterwards is nothing to do with us. It’s not our fault, so how can it be our glory?

      I’m pretty sure authors, who some script writers hold up as a paragon, don’t think of a film adaptation of their book as being THEIRS (unless maybe they wrote the script too) but rather as a bastardised version of their original work of art.

      Why don’t we take the same approach?

      I say we should be proud of our own work as it stands and let other people take the blame for turning it into a shit film.

  6. I write movies.

  7. JJ

    I’ve been having this exact argument with hordes of people ever since the whole John August / Scriptshadow blowup. People shouting in talkbacks, “I wanted to write a film, not a script!” People justifying sending out terrible, half-finished spec drafts because the script is always a work in progress and it’s not done ’till the movie is released. DEAR GOD.

    You’re dead right–the writer’s job is to WRITE THE SCRIPT. Once you type THE END and send it out, you’ve done the lion’s share of your job. A lot of screenwriters need to take some more damn pride in their work and accept the responsibility of being artists.

  8. Thanks with regard to giving these good post.

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