Variety recently hosted an awards season roundtable discussion with some of the biggest names in screenwriting of 2013, including Steve Coogan (“Philomena”), Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”), Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”), John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”), Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”), and Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”).
The topics of conversation included creative control and main differences between their visions in writing their respective scripts vs. the vision of the directors for the films. Each screenwriter gave insight into their biggest challenges in composing their scripts, whether it was due to editing certain scenes, working closely with the director, or fighting studios. All in all, the general consensus was that screenwriting is a completely different medium than all other writing because at the end of the day, it is the means to a mass collaborative effort.
Read some of the highlights from the round table discussion below:
“This is the most collaborative medium in the world, there’s nothing close to it. You have to get used to that very early in your career otherwise you’re going to spend a lot of time being very frustrated…when you’re writing for another director, you are trying to articulate their vision of something…if they want help from me, I’m very happy to provide it, generally directors have, if they don’t, let them go do their thing and you go just start writing something else.” –Billy Ray
“John Lee (“Saving Mr.Banks”) is a very different director. John Lee wants the writer on the set…he wanted to know everything that was going on in my head as I’d written it, and we rewrote on set, as well, so it was a very, very different and incredibly collaborative experience.” –Kelly Marcel
“It’s a collaborative story-telling medium, that’s what it is…young aspiring writer that want to get into movies- it’s like are you a writer, writer-cause novels, theater maybe, if you’re going to come to films it’s a collaborative story-telling medium by a lot of different people. The hierarchy on a shoot is the director, then the writer may be right under there or may be kicked out of the room. It could be anything.” –Richard Linklater
“You have a picture in your head of the way it’s going to look and then everybody else pitches in their portion the throw their spice into the stew and it always comes out better than you’d envisioned, always.” –Tracy Letts
“Film is completely different from a novel. If someone has written seven novels, it is completely different and what people bring from it but that is the beautiful thing about it is when it works you can see, as a writer, you can see everything that has worked in that scene, above and beyond just what was written on the page.” –John Ridley
“In the writing process, you’re engaged in it, but you can feel angry at certain points when you’re trying to tell something, when you feel what you hope the audience feel.” –Steve Coogan