There is an old adage that puts the perceived worth of a writer in film into perspective. It goes: the starlet was so stupid she slept with the writer to get the part. Boom boom! What a hoot. The writer, especially on large Hollywood productions is not held in high regard as say the director, producer, DP or even the composer. Writing is inexplicably regarded as less important than music.
I suppose there are probably fewer people trying to make it as film score composers compared to those trying to become screenwriters. There is always value in rarity. But can it really be the ready availability of writers, that has them so low down the totem pole of filmmaking? After all was it not the old master of the macabre himself, Hitchcock, who pointed out – “to make a great film you need three things; the script, the script and the script.” Hitchcock knew a thing or two about film, so perhaps he knew what he was talking about.
Let’s be clear; without the writer or writers on a film, you end up with Michael Bay-esque films, all action, explosions and no coherent story. Now, if, as is probably true, writers outnumber composers and possibly every other type of individual involved in film with the exception of actors, Hollywood, the juggernaut that it is, can be choosy when it comes to recruitment. So, aside from the nepotistic route to Hollywood employment, one can assume that only the best writers make the grade and get the big jobs. Or maybe not.
I suspect it is the more a case of the more amenable writers who get the jobs, the ones prepared to write whatever is asked of them. Film is a collaborative process, but the story should still be paramount and come first.
It seems so strange, almost archaic, that writers are held in such low regard in film, yet in television, it is the age of the showrunner, most of whom tend to be writers. Showrunners are, in the modern age, shown great respect and lauded as creative deities almost. Such has been the impact of television writing in the modern age, big studios have begun to look to television for talent. Not that this is a new phenomenon, it was just never so blatant. Many a film director made their starts on television and music video, the same can be said of some screenwriters; starting on the small screen and moving up to big screen projects.
In recent years the trend has gone the other way, with writers and filmmakers finding more creative freedom on the small screen. They can also tell bigger stories, no longer feeling the need to squeeze it into one hundred and eighty minutes or less.
On television, the writing matters. It is not about the big spectacle. The intimacy of television, the fact that you don’t have to leave your home to enjoy it, means the expectations are different. It is not on a forty foot screen, so you don’t necessarily expect visual pyrotechnics. They’re talking in your living room, crying in your bedroom, dying in your kitchen. They are close up, inhabiting our personal spaces, living their truths in our homes.
When a film cannot hide behind the spectacle or the set pieces, the writing matters. When you write a story, a screenplay, it is not a one-time process. It is not something that, unlike other aspects of filmmaking, that is fixed later. Yes, there are films where the script has been rewritten on set, but normally the script is ready before the film. Films generally get made because there is a good script or story. The actors – the good ones especially – come on board because of the story. Even crew sometimes only come because of the story.
Film and television is a medium for the storyteller, the writer. We will sleep with the dumb starlets or stars as long as we get to tell our stories.