To write a screenplay means dedicating yourself to hard, arduous and often frustrating work tolling hour upon hour of pen-gnawing and wall-staring and creeping self-doubt. And when the first version finally is ready you, as the writer, know that it inevitably will take at least as many hours upon hours of dedication throughout the editing process. The screenplay is, in this first version, as finished as if you were to sit down and start from scratch. More or less. But this burdensome fact is lightenend by moments of absolute clarity during the writing process, when pieces click themselves into place and details that you barely knew had been added for any kind of reason gain a new and significant meaning. In those moments the world around you seems to come into focus in a way that few get to experience, and it is simply marvellous.
As a screenwriter I am deeply satisfied by occupying a space behind the camera. I have no need whatsoever for public recognition, applause in the movie theatres (though, admittedly, that would be all kinds of fantastic) or any want for my name to be top-billed on the movie poster. But there is something that astonishes me about the community I wish to join: the screenwriter is not considered a cornerstone of every production and, rather, the tendency is to not even have the screenwriter present for the shoot.
How is this so? How can the person whose brain made it possible for the film to even exist at all simply get a handshake and a paycheck and be expected to hand over the reigns completely to the holiest of the holy: the director? Nothing bad to be said about directors, some of them take a script and elevates it. But then again, others don’t seem to grasp the concept of the character arc or how the building blocks of the screenplay have been strategically placed for very specific reasons and when one of these building blocks is removed it will result in changing the very core of the script. (Read Gladiator and watch the film and you’ll understand what I mean. Why, Ridley Scott? Why?)
In the podcast Scriptnotes screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss this reoccuring reality for proffessional screenwriters and both agree that the choice seems based on something close to madness when the producers decide to exclude the person/persons from the production who, like no other, know the details of the world about to be realized and recorded. The screenwriter has spent years of his or her life nursing their idea and know every moment, every beat of their script, aside from which they are also fully aware of the choices that were made along the way in order to ensure the script’s final draft. The screenwriter, thanks to this, can easily argue against making any changes that may come to harm the finished product. To not keep such a treasure trove of knowledge as script advisor throughout the different stages of production seems a poor decision from an investor’s point of view.
Unfortunately the reality is what it is, and the screenwriter’s role in the spinning wheel that is the film community is continuously taken for granted. (No wonder so many screenwriters are also directors.) The hard, arduous and often frustrating work is easily overlooked and the attitude seems to lean against the perception that anyone with a strong enough idea can sit down and write a screenplay. Fair enough. I could probably hammer together a bridge if I wanted to. The question is if anyone would choose to use it. And how it would stand against the test of time.