This week we were asked to reflect on the importance of the script and the scriptwriter’s status within literary culture. In other words, does my career choice have any significance?
Immediately I wanted to shout out a resounding “YES, OBVIOUSLY!” But then doubt crept in; why is this even a question? Maybe I am redundant? What if my passion for pursuing this area in my industry is futile?
With that, I skidded off to read Maras’ seminal text, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice (2009). According to Maras, there are two arguments. One, the screenwriter is the auteur, who claims authorship of the final film. (Which makes sense) Or two, a film director takes ownership as the author. (A little hard to swallow.)
Until relatively recent history, the script was an outline, simply a guide from A-Z. The director took the “manual” and developed a film through “improv” styles of direction. Due to this process, predominantly in western culture, the film director receives fame and glory. In contrast, the writer can find her name somewhere in the credits. Personally, I keep a lookout for the writers; only now can I fully appreciate their craft and work in any film.
As time and the art of filmmaking have evolved, my ego re-adjusted itself. I came across a sweet spot. A third option. Some grace! Somewhere in the middle where William C. deMille, who was both writer and director, states, “[the writer and director]’ are both creating the picture. I, for one, cannot lay down an exact line of demarcation or find the spot where the writer ends and the director begins.’ 1939.” And the world made sense again.
Today, the scriptwriter’s skills are intrinsically involved in the film process. However, they do vary from writer to writer, production to production etc. Generally, screenwriters prepare their script to enable readers to visualise the tone and settings and how it will work on screen. They collaborate with the producers, directors and actors to draft and redraft their script till it is ready for “ACTION.”
As mentioned above, the depth and breadth of our roles vary. But, with the ever-growing demands of our audiences. The fact remains that we have the architectural responsibility to develop a well-formulated creative blueprint. It starts with a story, a concept, the initial vision of the tale. We are responsible for structure, plots, filling plot holes, mapping the internal and external world of the protagonist. Breathing purpose, desires, needs and wants into a character and their relationships. And then, when we have done our job, we hand it over to the following creator to bring the piece to life. Screenwriting is a craft. The writer’s development of a script is both an individual and collaborative effort for the success of a film.
With this surface-level dive into the importance of the script, I feel my initial instinct to shout out a resounding “YES!” is plausible. We are moving into the age of the auteur, a time for the writers to step up and produce stories that our audiences crave.
Screenwriters are no longer at the bottom of the trough but instead rising to work in unity with their fellow filmmakers in bringing a story to the screen.