A Screenwriters Experience...

“The screenwriter winds up for the most part in an antagonistically cooperative or cooperatively antagonistic relationship with everyone he’s working with: the producer, the director–even the actors, if they’re intellectual types like Paul Newman or Burt Lancaster. Almost everyone unconsciously feels he knows as much about writing as a writer. It would be unthinkable for a writer to tell a director how to direct or a producer how to produce or an actor how to act or a cinematographer how to light a scene. But it is not at all unthinkable for anyone to tell a writer how to write. It comes with the territory.

Now that is bound to produce problems, unless you have a superlatively integrated psyche so that you can take anything and always remember that it’s the picture that counts. But your ego, your sense of professionalism, comes into play, and you often notice a glaze coming into the eyes of the director and the producer when the script is finished. You get the subtle feeling that they would not weep if you got hit by a truck. I’m not exaggerating. Somehow the mere fact that the director didn’t write the picture–he’s only directing it–is very difficult for him to take, and some of them have never learned to take it… After you’ve struggled with the script, done some of the casting, and somehow it has been your picture, in comes the director. Once that picture starts shooting he’s the captain of the 747, and it’s pretty tough to move to the back of the plane and just sit there, particularly if you see things you don’t like in the dailies. Sometimes it gets to be an antagonistic relationship, to put it mildly.

The only way that a writer can have the upper hand is to write something that is so unfailingly, unarguably perfect that there’s just no way that anybody can take any objection to it. The problem is, who the hell knows where it’s that good, including the writer? It’s a very inexact science. Everybody has an opinion. My advice is to be smart enough or lucky enough in all these creative battles to lose the right battles.

You have to understand that people feel threatened by a writer. It’s very curious. He knows something that they don’t know. He knows how to write, and that’s a subtle, disturbing quality that he has. Some directors, without even knowing it, resent the writer in the same way that Bob Hope might resent the fact that he ain’t funny without twelve guys writing the jokes. The director knows that the script he is carrying around on the set every day was written by someone, and that’s just not something that all directors easily digest.”

- Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, The King & I, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf)


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