Writers: Are we our own worst enemies?

gangster, violence, gangs, independent film, rape, murder, sex As you may or may not have noticed, my third feature, We Still Kill The Old Way, was released over Christmas.

For reasons I won’t go into here, I haven’t seen it yet but friends and family who have were certainly impressed and reviews thus far have been generally excellent.

As co-writer of said movie, I’m obviously pleased for all involved yet there is one thing that’s becoming increasingly irritating to me. So much so in fact, that the other day I actually did something I said I’d never do. I complained about a review. In fact, I’ve subsequently complained about three. 

It would be obvious to assume that these were negative reviews but in fact the opposite is true. Each was full of praise for the film and the performances with none giving it less than four stars.  However, all three (and others to be fair) neglected to mention one specific thing, the writers.

Now to be clear, this is not a moan about me. As I’ve written many times, screenwriting is very much a hobby for me (albeit one that takes up most of my time!) as I consider myself first and foremost to be an author (and even that’s pushing it!). Furthermore, as I’ve also written many times, I’m never precious about scripts and am more than happy to hand them over to a director and let them take over. As long as they pay me of course!

However, whilst I’m always delighted to read the compliments paid to actors and directors, the fact remains that the starting point of any film or TV show is a writer with an idea sitting in front of a blank screen. Without them, there would be no film to talk of so is it not right and proper that their role should, at the very least, be afforded the courtesy of a name check rather than a cursory mention of the script they churned out?

What annoys me most about this is that the people writing reviews are my peers and as fellow writers, I’d argue that they actually have a duty to talk up both their fellow scribes and the work that they do. For by not doing so they surely underpin the notion that writers are the least important people in the creative process when the reality is that the opposite is closer to the truth.

After all, do you really think Arnie came up with the line ‘I’ll be back!’ all by himself? Or that Jack Nicholson just threw together the ‘you can’t handle the truth’ speech from A Few Good Men as they were sitting on set? Of course not. They came from the imagination of some poor caffeine, alcohol and/or nicotine fuelled hack sitting in front of a computer in the middle of the night. 

So film critics of the world, the next time you heap praise on a movie, why not remember the individual who put it all together and give them a mention.

Not least because one day, that might be you.

Thanks to all those I’ve spoken to over the holidays (and at Chelsea yesterday) asking about my next project.

I can’t say anything at the moment other than talks are well advanced for a new film and I’m hoping to pen to paper on that within the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’m working on a new script and will then start work on another book as I am determined to add to my list by the end of the year. On which note, thanks to everyone who brought The Crew, Top Dog, Billy’s Log and Wings of a Sparrow over the holidays.

I hope you enjoy them!

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8 thoughts on “Writers: Are we our own worst enemies?”

  1. I think of the writing as coming up with an original recipe, assembling all the ingredience and baking the cake. The director and actors ice it. People buy it because they want to enjoy the actual cake. Who goes into a cake shop and asks “what have you got with almond icing?” The standard rate for a script in Australia is 3% of production budget – plus any equity you can wrangle – usually zero. Transfer that proportion to cake production and it means that on a 10 buck sponge job they’d be investing 30 cents for the bit people actually care most about and $9.70 for the icing. Get a short film up at Cannes if you want to know how it really feels to be ignored as a the writer.

  2. An interesting dilemma, Dougie.

    Is it the case, though, that the writer’s recompense is the money (s)he makes from selling the script and perhaps also the income from increased book sales generated by the film? I ask because our writers’ group was told by a TV producer never to sell book rights to a film maker or screenwriter because it is they, and not the original book author, who make the big bucks on the project. The advice was to write your own screenplay from your own book and try to sell that. I was doubtful about this advice because I suspect film directors prefer to work with their chosen screenwriters and because I thought the fee for the rights plus book sales would be recompense enough for the original book author. Some folks (eg Jeff Pope) get nominated for Oscars etc for best screenplay. Does this only happen at the Hollywood level, perhaps? If so, then it seems most unfair.

    1. Well having done both, I certainly think it’s more interesting and satisfying to adapt your own work then let someone else do it. It’s also frustrating as hell, if not downright painful!

      But on the point of selling rights, I think in most instances a producer will find a book and go after the rights with a writer in mind as it’s fair to say that not all authors can write a screenplay as it’s a totally different discipline. It’s also true to say that most authors are happy for any income these days and if someone comes in with a wad of cash to pay for the rights to a novel, their hands will be chewed off.

  3. “What annoys me most about this is that the people writing reviews are my peers and as fellow writers, I’d argue that they actually have a duty to talk up both their fellow scribes and the work that they do.” Ah, Dougie, if only, if only reviewers, aka critics, were writers of the creative kind like yourself but they are not. They’re a different sort of writer, a degenerate of derivation, some say a parasite on the blood, sweat and tears of the creative writer. They’ve never really sat in front of a blank screen. They start with the true stuff in front of them and spitball off of that for a living. So, if anything, they, the critic, would be loathe to bang the drum too loudly if at all for the screenwriter given that they can’t do what the creatives do. It roils them to the core. Hence, they give you their silence if not their contempt.

  4. That’s a good point and one I have a degree of sympathy with.

    But I still believe that as a community, we should be talking up what we do. Not just for our own sakes but for the sake of education generally. After all, writing in whatever form we choose to do it, is important!

  5. You sound like a good egg, Dougie, but too often ego trumps common sense and the commonweal. Let’s toast the selfless critic!

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