Of late Hollywood had plunged into the season of back – to – back awards and acceptance speeches, when every winner reminded one that filmmaking is a collaborative endeavor and not just one man’s individual efforts. In these recitations of all the collaborators, however, one noticeable point was that screenwriters are rarely if ever mentioned, which is ironic since the speeches usually are in need of a serious rewrite.
Such omissions have become increasingly apparent lately, since more & more films have either been written by the director or perhaps not written at all. One is convinced that no director named Anderson had ever hired a writer. Further on, ‘Birdman‘, with all its frenetic energy, plays like it was created scene – by – scene by its hyper – caffeinated cast for instance the director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, takes screenplay credit along with 3 other scribes, including 2 friends.
Arguably, the visually arresting ‘Interstellar’ would have been a far more better & satisfying film had a talented writer worked on its dialogues & plot, Chris Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, are listed as the writers. ‘Boyhood‘ was appreciably admired but, again, it plays as if the actors, year after year, invented scenes as they slowly aged.
The obsolescence of the screenwriter also is apparent in the trend towards what some critics call the “post – plot” movie. ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ is a prime example of a movie that offered great shtick and a wisecracking raccoon but no true narrative. “The movie encourages you to enjoy yourself even though you’re not sure what’s going on,” observed Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, he’s a traditionalist, to be sure.
To the contemporary filmmaker – writer, panache and camera movement are more important than the compelling dialogues. Author Stephen Farber (another traditionalist) reminds one of Billy Wilder’s declaration: “I like to believe that narrative movement can be achieved eloquently & elegantly without shooting from a hole in the ground, without hanging the camera from a chandelier and without the camera dolly dancing a polka.”
The argument about writers & writers’ credits dates back at least to Andrew Sarris’ pronouncements in the ’60s about “auteur” filmmaking. Sarris had venerated directors like Alfred Hitchcock, who distrusted both writers & actors. Pauline Kael had then come along to advance the cause of Sidney Lumet, who ranged from ‘Network’ to ‘Serpico’, and who closely worked with prominent screenwriters.
The painful truth is that many of the films of Hollywood’s vintage years, despite their often pedestrian, studio – driven structure, were exceptionally well written in terms of plot & dialogues. One should take a week off and read his way through some old studio scripts crafted by the likes of Nunnally Johnson & Dalton Trumbo, who it seems had laboured in the old studio writers buildings, and one would be enormously impressed by their craftsmanship & richness of the dialogues. One should also take time out, and if one can lay their hands on, and read unproduced scripts written by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald & Ben Hecht, then it would become clear why they were never made, but they indeed deserved to be published.
Roddy McDowell, a keen student of studio history, had once advised to read some screenplays he’d collected that had been developed by studio chiefs explicitly as starring vehicles for their favoured mistresses. It was supposed to be a unique collection, superbly written scripts by top screenwriters that were never made, probably because their relationships usually blew up before the films got their green lights.
Of late one at last realizes that good writing doesn’t necessarily create good filmmaking. It’s more important today to capture the “big scene” rather than the elegant moment between characters. No doubt Superheroes don’t have to talk pretty or for that matter Raccoons in an outer galaxy are not expected to be eloquent.
But one can see why there’s discussion in at least one agency to change the title “motion picture lit agent” simply to “lit agent.” That way, they can remove the movie stigma.