Feature: Script problems: Authorship
Take a look at a script. The chances are (especially with recent blockbusters) that there will be more than one writer working on it and depending on the amount of writers working on it this may explain a few things that may have bothered you while watching a film.
A good example of this was Dr Strange. Now Dr Strange is very good and this is not to say it is bad. However there are times when the film makes some odd tonal shifts. This is no accident; writers from the TV show Community were brought in to do a script rewrite as it was felt that there was not sufficient humour in the film.
This is not a new phenomenon. Indeed in the case of blockbusters like The Rock (Clement and La Frenais) or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (Tom Stoppard) the addition of improved banter and dialogue arguably improved it while sometimes big names get their big breaks in unexpected ways such as Quentin Tarantino doing rewrite work on the Saturday Night Live flop It’s Pat, though if you’ve seen Crimson Tide you probably spotted his slightly out of place debate on the best Silver Surfer comic run that somehow Denzel Washington manages to say with a straight face.
Unfortunately sometimes this can result in oddly disjointed films or they smack of committees, hitting various checklist points; pop culture references, future franchise setup, banter or comic relief, rather than feeling part of a complete whole.
One alternative to this as a writer is to direct yourself. This has both advantages and disadvantages- the obvious advantage is that you can have a clearer voice. In the case of Quentin Tarantino, Billy Wilder, Kevin Smith people tend to think of them more as directors, forgetting their work as writers at the same time.
The disadvantage is that you then lose an aspect of adaptation. Sometimes you need a director to look at the material from another angle. Christopher Nolan’s approach to Batman was a perfect example. While he may have been an outsider to the comics his style was ideal for creating a more grounded approach.
Prepare for improv
It sounds like the oddest contradiction. How can you prepare for something people make up on the spot? This is the thing, if you are a writer you want to be sure that your script is reasonably respected unless it is specifically written with this kind of performer in mind.
Christopher Guest films work in this way. You have an outline of a story, who the characters are and what their end goal is. The improvisation is essentially filling in the gaps of a structure that is already there.
As someone who has performed improvisation before it is about knowing the rules before you start. Ironically it is only then that you properly flourish. So while there may be some great accidental moments on film the likelihood is the writer and director would have allowed for it.
Treat it right
Unfortunately studios have to deal with practical issues and one of these is sticking to schedule. Reports suggested that David Ayer had six weeks to write the script for Suicide Squad and at times it seemed to show. While in my opinion there are some great character moments and some good ideas it does feel like it needed some judicious pruning and could’ve used a bit more grounding. Personally I would have preferred The Joker as the main villain rather than the CGI magical zaniness.
The sad fact is writers tend to be forgotten when a film does well but scripts will often be the first thing blamed if something goes badly. It is strange because in a multimillion production the script is arguably the cheapest part but also one of the most crucial.
Ultimately the “authorship” of a film is not just the writer because there are so many other parts; acting, music, cinematography, make-up, effects and so forth are all things that could make or break it depending on what you are doing.
Arguably as someone with ambitions to write I am biased when it comes to emphasising the importance of writing. But I would argue the script is something that is worth taking time over because a poor script with great visuals and great acting will still be ultimately frustrating for an audience.