Writers and Directors

Posted by Jack Rothman on

Reader Gail McCall of Toluca Lake asks

What attributes do directors believe writers need to have for good collaboration to take place on the set?

Expert Jack Rothman replies

For my book, Hollywood in Wide Angle: How Directors View Filmmaking, I interviewed a cross-section of 32 feature film directors. In our talks, they gave their take on qualities of writers that make for good collaboration on the set. I'll spell out their responses briefly.

Directors like working with writers who see the director as the decision maker in the situation, the person truly in charge of the process and outcome. They want a writer to understand that a movie is emergent, surely growing out of words in the script, but also from the circumstances of the shoot. The sun may be going down and action has to be compressed, or certain actors can't speak certain lines, or the previous scene has set a tone that's different and exceptional and ought to be followed--although it veers from what's on paper. Directors believe their job is to convert the script as given into a new, distinctive, cinematic form. They want to work with writers who understand that task and operation, who know that time, budget, and unpredictable circumstances inevitably will impact what's filmed. They eschew writers who want to stick to the original words at all cost. "If the words, as such, are what it's about," one asked me, "why not just flash the script up on the screen?"

Directors don't want to deal with writers who see screenwriting as a stepping-stone to directing and therefore move into the director's shoes whenever they see an opening. Or writers who think directing is relatively easy and automatic and who are liberal with suggestions to the director and the actors. Most directors, I found, value the contribution of the writer highly, but they believe that the chemistry between the two--influenced by the attitudes mentioned--makes it possible for useful collaboration to take place on the set.

I wonder what attributes writers think are necessary in directors for good collaboration to take place? If readers let me know, I'll summarize their responses in a future communication. Email me at jrothman@ucla.edu.

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