The Writer – Not Director – Is the First Artist in Film

Michael Cieply, the main New York Times reporter covering Hollywood, had a recent piece wondering why mainstream directors of mainstream movies had not been snubbed by the Academy in favor of international directors of quirky, indie, (relatively) low budget movies. I don’t like to answer a question with a question, but, Who cares?

I love Cieply. A quarter century ago, when he was writing for the Wall Street Journal, he described me as (I realize that by now I’ve memorized this) “…the prime broker for Hollywood’s hottest commodity: new writing talent.” I have exploited this quote exactly one zillion times.

What on God’s green Earth could be less important that the Academy Awards? My (some say legendary) advanced screenwriting class at UCLA has met traditionally on Monday evenings. Until a few years ago that’s when the Oscars show aired. Even though the Academy Awards presentations were produced by my late, sorely missed pal (and founding dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and TV and, therefore, for many years also my boss) my eight students and their instructor held class as usual and missed the (yawn) show.

No profession is more overrated than film director. As the Japanese master Akira Kurosawa said years ago, a bad director can ruin a good script but a good director cannot make a worthy movie from a lousy script. It is not the director but the writer who is the first artist in film. This is because she is first. There’s no purpose to the director, the actors, the spectacular effects, the musical score, or anything else until and unless a worthy script is written.

Comments are closed.