Filmmaking – the screenwriter’s role

After twelve months of hard graft I was thrilled to finally see my four-minute short film, ‘Enemy Lines’, on the big screen. ‘Enemy Lines’, the story of a British soldier returning from Iraq and witnessing an anti-war protestor getting mugged, was one of 11 short films produced and screened through Northern Film and Media’s Stingers programme in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Enemy Lines film shoot

Now I’m ‘officially’ a screenwriter, with my very first commission in the can. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far about the writer’s role in the filmmaking industry:

  1. The first draft is just the beginning.

    From first notes to the draft I finally submitted to Northern Film and Media, there were four rewrites. After that there were an additional two rewrites at the advice of NFM’s script development officer. Then after the film was accepted for the programme, I had to do a further two rewrites to incorporate feedback from the UK Film Council. Surprisingly, both the producer (FNA Films) and the director, Michael Steel, were very happy with the script I presented them and no changes were suggested. This, I’ve been told, is very unusual, so most writers need to be prepared to do further drafts to incorporate the producer and the director’s vision.  However, I had to do a further two rewrites in order to pacify a location provider who felt the script was too violent – they also asked me to cut out the smoking! So that is 10 rewrites of one short, four-minute film. Phew!

  2. Filmmaking is a collaborative process

    The final product that was viewed last week was not just ‘my’ film. Yes, I provided the blueprint, as it were, but the end result was an amalgamation of a number of people’s visions. Michael Steel has just as much right to refer to it as ‘his’ as it is mine. The look and feel of the piece might have been suggested by my script, but the overall impact depends just as much upon the director’s filming, editing and sound choices. Oh, and let’s not forget the actors! Thanks particularly to Freya Parker and Richard Riddell. Freya was not like anything I had imagined the lead female to be – in spirit or looks. She had a completely different interpretation of the character from mine – but it was just as valid, and it worked very well. Richard’s interpretation was just as I had imagined – but if it wasn’t, there’s nothing that I could do about it. If you’re a writer who fears losing control of your vision, this may not be the right medium for you.

  3. Enemy Lines actors

  4. Communication with the writer is not the filmmaker’s priority

    My main gripe with this whole process is that I have frequently felt side-lined. I have struggled to find out what my role now is, if any, in regard to the film. Everyone has been kind and polite, but I still don’t feel that I have the answers to my ‘what now’ questions. Is it worth quitting over? Absolutely not. If that’s just the way the business is, then I need to deal with it and move forward. Once the script has been ‘signed off’ essentially my role is over. Busy directors and producers don’t have time to hold a new writer’s hand. Do I wish it was different? Of course I do. Apparently ‘Enemy Lines’ is now going to be shown at a series of film festivals, I’ll let you know which ones as soon as I find out myself.

  5. It’s a man’s world

    I was one of only two female writers selected for the programme. NFM state up front that they are looking for writers and directors from different ethnic and gender backgrounds, so I don’t think it’s their fault, particularly because most of the selection panel were female. Perhaps women just didn’t apply. Both of the pieces by women writers this year were quite masculine in theme. Was that just a coincidence? For next year’s scheme I’ve submitted a piece dealing with women’s issues; we’ll see how it goes.

  6. I’m not going to make much money – yet!

    Like most forms of writing, screenwriting, certainly when you’re starting out, is not very lucrative. After 12 months of work I have not added to my bank balance through this film, but the professional leg-up I have received is worth far more to me right now than hard cash. If you’re in it for money, you’re in it for the wrong reason.   (For a reality check on what writers really earn, check out my post and the following animated discussion on Can You Earn Money from Writing?).

Well, to quote a screenwriting icon: ‘That’s all folks!’ Next time I’ll be looking at the importance of writing visually and cutting back on dialogue.

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2 comments on “Filmmaking – the screenwriter’s role

  1. Pingback: Incurable Disease of Writing » Blog Archive » Just Write Blog Carnival November 28, 2008 Edition

  2. Pingback: Screenwriting: the director’s perspective at The Crafty Writer

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