Monday Prescriptions – Can you write and direct?

Clickety Click, we’re on our 66th Monday Prescription today! Take a look back through some of our previous posts and feast your mind on other topics we’ve covered. You might just find the answer you’re looking for.

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Now on with today’s Monday Prescription. The often pondered question: should I write AND direct?

Film Doctor - director or writer

Should I?

Well, first let’s destroy any black and white notions of a writer/director and introduce a whole rainbow of variations. On one end of the scale, there are directors that are credited and perceived to be writer/directors for doing one pass on the script with minor dialogue tweaks and, on the other, directors who are the sole creative author of the story, characters, plot and dialogue and fully write their own screenplays.






 

Examples of writer/directors

The Director Director: Doesn’t write and therefore doesn’t take credit in some cases but there are plenty in existence who take a writing credit by contributing small elements to a script in its latest stage before shooting. A ‘director’s pass’. Ben Affleck, for example, took co-writing credit for his work on The Town and Gone Baby Gone but did not contribute sufficiently to Argo‘s screenplay to either take, or be eligible for, credit.

The Collabing Director: Works with the writer from scratch and the writing process is very much a traditional writing partnership. Stanley Kubrick did this with Arthur C. Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Billy Wilder famously always worked with I. A. L. Diamond thoroughly before shooting (although Wilder was originally a writer).

The Adaptations Director: Works from a source material – books or graphic novels. How loyal that director is to the book varies depending on their own branding and authorship. Many do straight adaptations, where as others (such as Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock) ruthlessly chisel it (the story, the style or the plot) into a work that belongs to them. Others include Baz Luhrmann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg.

The Writer/Director: Also known as the ‘auteur’, this is who the French New Wave were REALLY talking about. A writer/director writes a screenplay with literary flare on spec, finds the finance/gets a studio involved and then re-approaches the material  creatively for the shoot.  Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Federico Fellini. Often also produces.



 

Which am I?

This all depends on your process and your inclinations. If you are in love with and addicted to writing and appreciate the literary form as much as you do cinema, then you might just be an auteur! Tarantino and Ethan Coen are renowned for their love of literature (Tarantino bangs on about Hammett, Chandler, Leonard etc and Coen has written short stories). If you don’t enjoy writing, prefer to work from a perfect script and are shoot and edit-centric, then you’ll probably not want to write yourself at all. That’s fine too. Everyone is different and screenplays are often acquired at different stages, some more ready than others!

 

Credit/Ego

One key component of your desire to write/direct is sincerity. You must not chase a writer/director credit for your ego. You must truly earn it. Paul Thomas Anderson EARNS his stripes as a writer in a long dedicated process and, presumably, because he enjoys it.

Steven Spielberg engages in extremely long debates with writers over story and the work but he has the humility to give them full credit, acknowledging that, even though he contributed huge ideas and eventually directs the piece as he sees fit, he did NOT write the screenplay.

This does not mean write just stubbornly for the sake of earning that credit. If you don’t enjoy it and/or it is not one of your skills then bow down to those who can and show them respect. There is no shame in it and you will most likely have a better production as a result.

Want to stand out from the crowd? Look at David Fincher to see a director who still has a distinctive style and voice but does not write on any of his projects.

 

Reasons why one might Write/Direct

So having said all that, and citing a long list of A-list examples, let’s bring it back home and look into why an independent or up-and-coming film creative might write and direct:

Concept: You and the producer see extreme promise in the hook but aren’t 100% on the screenplay. If you know what to do with the story and can deliver then you might be the best person for the job.

Financial: You don’t have the money to option a script or to pay a writer to write one for you. This is not good enough though. Unless you have the utmost respect for the written word and can 100% write plot/story/character/dialogue then taking the plunge might not be the best option. With some blood sweat and tears, you can find a talented writer, early in their career, willing to collaborate.

Brand-awareness: Perhaps you’ve got a very good sense of what a ‘you’ film is. We’re not talking about genre here. We’re talking about everything. The plot, dialogue, music and visuals. In which case, especially if you love writing, go ahead!

The idea of being a writer/director: We covered this in the credit/ego section. Seriously, if you want to write a screenplay just for the credit and you don’t enjoy writing and you know you aren’t any good at it and have no intention of respecting this form, then please do book yourself in to see a therapist. You have major ego issues. Ouch!

Direct to get your writing noticed: This has worked for many writers. Usually making a short to show off their talent. This is fine as long as you do your due diligence on the art and intricacies of direction first.

Because you love both forms equally and have a specific theme/topic/plot that you wish to convey.

 

So which one am I? Or am I both? I’m still torn!

We obviously can’t answer that for you but here are a few examples of alarm bells that might be ringing in earshot and can help you decide:

 

Warning Signs – Writing

You don’t enjoy it.

You don’t read much – screenplays, books, news or essays.

You don’t regularly come up with ideas and uncontrollably write them down.

You continually receive bad feedback.

You visualise everything in your head but don’t take the time to paint those images and moments with words. You see the screenplay as a blueprint and not as its own work of art.

TEST: name 5 named screenwriters who don’t direct. Can’t do it? Then you’re a long way off.

 

Warning Signs – Directing

You don’t understand enough about film grammar – camera placement, movement and what it means to use a different lens.

You do not have the personality for it – to lead, to dictate, to manage.

You are not familiar with each part of the process – writing, directing production, edit + sound.

TEST: What is FPS? Do you know the difference between shooting on a 24mm and an 85mm lens and the impact it has on the audience? Have you shot anything yet? No? Guess the answer!

 

Conclusion

Find out what kind of writer and what kind of director you are. Do you like to simply tweak? Or create from start to finish? Are you one or the other or both?

Most ‘pure’ writer/directors tend to miss the solitude and fantasy required for writing when they’re directing and miss shooting when they’re writing. As always, your competence will come from love, dedication, craft, hard-work and imagination. Whatever you are, good luck!!

Anything we’ve missed? Got your own story/dilemma?

Please add it in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

 

‘Monday Prescription’ No.66 – Approach both crafts with respect and understand the individual requirements of each. Write and/or direct for the right reasons. Compulsion is mandatory. Your ego is your enemy.

Have a great week!

 
The Film Doctor Team
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