Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything

Screenwriters need better publicists.

Really. I mean, name five great movie directors. (Coppola, Allen, Scorcese, Egoyan, Truffault).

Now name five great screenwriters working right now. (Charlie Kaufman,Diabolo Cody,Tony Gilroy, Larry McMurtry, Willam Monahan).

Everyone knows the first five. Movie geeks know the second five.

All the screenwriter usually does is completely create the universe and the people and the tone and the tempo of a movie--and then watch as the critics, academics, studio heads, talking heads, Larry King, politicians, rock stars, bloggers and people on the street rave about the directing, as if the story and the world emerged, untethered, out of the fertile imagination of some 32-year-old film school graduate best-known for directing a memorable series of Infiniti car commercials. (We'll exempt directors who direct from their original scripts, like Allen or Tarantino).

Check out the Writer's Guild West website sometime. There's some advice for credited screenwriters who are having a movie shot: be sure to be included in the interviews when they do all those extra features for the DVD package, because it's your union-negotiated right to be part of the DVD extra features--and there have apparently been more than a few times when they forgot to call the screenwriter up and invite them to the set that day.

Anyways, William Goldman--give or take Billy Wilder--is the godfather of modern screenwriting. He wrote Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Oscar winner, highest grossing film of 1969); All the President's Men (Oscar winner), The Princess Bride, Marathon Man (based on his novel), Magic (ditto) and has been a highly, highly-paid script doctor for 30 years now.

He also wrote Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983, a memoir about his Hollywood experiences, where he coined the legendary piece of Hollywood wisdom: "Nobody knows anything."

And if you think that's an outdated piece of insight, consider that in 2008, studio suits tried their hardest to send Slumdog Millionaire straight to DVD without a theatrical release, and you'll see that it's still as relevant as it ever was.

He also is a celebrity screenwriter, someone whom the producers would never forget to call up the day the DVD extras were being shot, because having Goldman on your picture is a selling point--something other screenwriters ought to remember, particularly during those award speeches when some emotionally overwhelmed actor or actress remembers to thank their agent and their high school drama coach, but forgets/neglects to thank the writer. (But would an actor ever forget to thank the director? I think not!)

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