Writers’ Rights

I’m not one for ranting, but there are a few things on which I feel strongly. One of those is respect.

Lack of respect is the fundamental reason for prejudice and discrimination throughout the world. In filmmaking, a lack of respect between the people involved in making the film sours the experience for all involved. And it’s just plain rude.

A director recently told me they were planning to rewrite a script and wondered if I wanted to be involved. I then discovered this was a script they did not originally write. Where then, I asked, is the original writer? (It turned out to be all above board, so I was pacified).

If I’d found out that someone – anyone – had rewritten my script without my knowledge, I would be livid.

I’m not talking about the process by which a script becomes a film, where the odd word sits more naturally in the actor’s mouth than the one you wrote or the sun was setting too quickly to make the shot “afternoon”, but mucking about with a script at SCRIPT STAGE is unacceptable.

Why don’t you just ask the writer to do it for you? That is, after all, their job. And, if you don’t work well with the writer or don’t like their style, hire another one – but tell the first fracking writer and give them their due!

Pat Higgins showcases this perfectly, heart-breakingly in this post. Phill Barron calls to the Heavens to address directors in general on this topic here.

But is this a symptom of the larger film problem? Writers are largely unrecognised in film. Directors are the powerhouses of cinema. In television, the writer is king – and the recognised writers in cinema are largely those who have made the jump: Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon.

I dug out this example from Dale Launer (via Scott at GITS) about credit in films. The actors are amazing, the direction perfect – but what of the writing?

The BAFTA and Oscar coverage every year, especially on the news channels, focuses almost exclusively on the Best Actor and Actress, Best Director and Best Film. Even when Aaron Sorkin won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network, he wasn’t mentioned on BBC News.

If I go to a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, the conductor may be excellent, the musicians sublime, but Beethoven has to take some credit, right? Without the orchestra, the sheet music is meaningless, but without the score, the performance can’t exist.

I’m not saying we should all march down the Boulevard and demand everyone give us some recognition (though the Writers’ Strike did demonstrate the role of the writer pretty effectively). However, we need to command respect for our work. And we need to get angry when our friends, our fellow writers, are screwed over.

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