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Troublesome writers when directing

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  • Troublesome writers when directing

    I've done a few shorts now and they've been lots of fun, but I noticed than on some projects I keep hitting a similar issue. I write myself but I also love interpreting other people's work so I take on scripts that were written by friends or other people.

    I like including the writers in the production process, but almost every single time when I start to implement my own ideas the writer starts to make trouble. The last project I had I was talking to the writer in a pre-production meeting and not only was he being incredibly precious about his (sometimes unnatural) dialogue, but he was acting as if I needed his permission to make any changes. Plus, he was always following me around and telling me what shots and camera angles that he liked. He even flat out vetoed some blocking ideas I had becasue it "wasn't what he had written".

    I tried to explain to him that the way it works is that once the script is handed to a director it becomes their vision, not his and he really didn't have a say, but he flat out refused to accept this and genuinely believed that he was at the top of the food chain. I very politely and supportively asked him why he just didn't direct the film himself if he knows what he wants, but he said he didn't have the technical expertise or the know how to do the pre-production.

    I ended up leaving the project as it was suffocating, but it seems like there are lots of people who are not prepared to sit in the Captain's chair and take the responsibility which comes with that, but they will try to direct the film through you without having to actually learn the hard bits. I've had similar bad experiences with DPs who try to take over. One of them flat out refused to do a shot because he though his idea for a camera angle was better and I ended up having to fire him which was very upsetting to the cast and the rest of the crew as we're meant to be having fun.

    Of course not all projects are like this. I've had some fantastic collaborations where everyone has known their station and quite a lot of suggestions from everyone were used.

    However, I've experienced the usurping more times than is comfortable and I'm wondering if this is common on other productions?

  • #2
    As a screenwriter who has also produced several features and numerous shorts, the best recommendation that I can make is: (1) discuss everything thoroughly before agreeing to work with someone and (2) get all agreements in writing, even when no one is being paid.

    I definitely know that writers can be obsessive about our words - at the end of the day, that's all we have. But you're right that it's up to the director (and ultimately the producer) to make decisions once pre-production and production commence.

    I think you may need to re-think the concept that "we're meant to be having fun." If you're doing anything beyond a family video, you do need to treat it professionally and ensure that your cast and crew do so as well. Otherwise you will bang your head against the idea that your idea of fun is not the writer's or the dp's or the actors'.
    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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    • #3
      ..this sort of issue is exactly what ALL those many, many MANY, MANY pre-production meetings with writer, DP, Gaffer, set design, producers, wardrobe, actors, etc,etc,etc. are for. Everyone from each department needs to have their input as everyone has a vision.... MUCH more so with writers and professional actors, as their visions can often be in conflict. The Director MUST realize that this form of story telling is an immensely collaborative effort, and be open to suggestions from all departments as the only way to have a successful production is to actually finish it. It really does start in those pre-production meetings. Ultimately, their is no one closer to god on earth than a Director on set and everyone should be made aware of this before the first scene is shot.... but.... be a "benevolent" dictator...

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      • #4
        The writer's intention to behave like *an assistant to the director* is not enough when it comes to complying with the director's rules.
        ... ... ...

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        • #5
          Do you think that maybe some people are too close to the dialogue or should the dialogue not be changed? As someone who has written my own short films, when I direct them later, I don't mind if the actors put it into their own words, accept for maybe a few key lines here or there, that have to be said a certain way, for a certain impact, but even those, the actors might have better ideas that may surprise me, so I will them use them.

          However, a couple of times, when I acted in other people's movies, the dialogue was very poetic, I found and had trouble reciting it in it's exact originally that they wanted for some lines here and there. But they were very touchy about it, and wanted me to recite it exactly as written. Is that good, or is that bad, and maybe it's the actor and director's job to stick to original dialog?

          OP, when it came to the DP you fired, did he just have a problem with one shot, he refused to do, or did he have other problems on top of that as well?

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          • #6
            Not all creatives have people skills as well.
            Sometimes 2 personalities just collide.

            Sometimes there is a lack of trust coming from not really knowing each other.
            Maybe the writer had bad experiences with directors killing his work. Maybe he could not just let it go.
            I've met such writers: trying to co-direct.
            I love it when people throw suggestions at me. If time permits I would even shoot things both ways if it sounds like it could work.

            I've met actresses demanding to do their own makeup, because they didn't know the MUA. (Very bad for the mood. She came with that demand 1 day before shooting.)
            I've seen models objecting to their hairstylist after being flown into 5 star hotels for high end fashion, because they 'could smile if they didn't feel pretty'.

            So there is ego, professionalism and social skills: they all meet on set.

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            • #7
              Actually, the script I have right now, that I am planning to direct, written by someone else, there is a plot hole in the climax, and I re-wrote it to fix it. I didn't tell the writer yet but will, but is there a good chance they would mind?

              Mainly the villain leaves his gun unattended, and I just didn't buy it, so I rewrote the situation, so that the main character could take his gun from him while it was on him. But do you think the writer would most likely mind something like that?

              Some of the dialogue is also written very poetically, and I thought that the actors are going to have a difficult time with such dialogue, so I would be okay with it, if they put it in their own words, but do you think they would mind, since the poetic dialogue is meant to be more unique and original?

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              • #8
                1) You still ask opinions about predicting someone else's opinion?

                2) Leaving the gun is unlikely to you, but it is not a plothole.
                A plothole would be the protagonist suddenly having a bazooka out of nowhere.

                3) I would discuss that gun part with the writer and suggest the alternative.

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                • #9
                  Okay thanks. I guess plot hole was the wrong term, I just didn't see a reason why he would do that I guess. I'll talk to him about it.

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                  • #10
                    As I writer, I can tell you that I would be really pissed off if you took it upon yourself to change that without discussing it with me, UNLESS it has already been established that you have the right to do so. I would, however, be open to discussing (a) what my reasoning is for writing it that way and (b) your suggestion as to how to improve it.
                    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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                    • #11
                      Okay thanks, yes it's best to ask, for sure. I asked the writer and he got back to me and he said to to go ahead and change it that way.

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