Thursday, April 26, 2012
There's another joke that circulates among writers, it goes like this:
Why don't directors like writers on the set? Because writers are the only ones who know the director is faking.
A new director I met once asked if it was necessary to have the writer on the film set. The answer to that depends on the director. Good directors usually might ask the writer on the set, insecure directors won't. But again, no real rules.
But the fact that the director asked me that question is it's own answer. If you're asking you really have the answer and it's a big "NO".
I've been "on the set" for a dozen movies and in all cases was at the request not of the director but the producer. I traveled to Luxembourg to work on two movies, originally written by other writers, then to Manitoba to work on three movies, two of which were mine and then to Puerto Vallarta for another writer's script, all in one year.
Since these were TV movies (MOW's) the producer had more power over the director. This is in contrast to a few other movies I wrote where I didn't show up, usually because they really didn't need me. My last movie, Town That Christmas Forgot, was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario and I stayed in LA.
To be honest, I really don't like to go on set for movies because, frankly, it's boring as hell. I find myself hanging around the craft service table eating donuts and talking to production assistants. Some crew members ask why I even show up, after all, the script has been written.
That's the issue for some jobs; rewrites. They can be good or they can be hell, depending on who you're working with. Sometimes it's the producer, sometimes the director, and some times the star who might have some power.
And a lot of people not in the "business" wonder what writers do at all. I really believe most people think the actors make up the words. Every year when the oscars are announced, the media afterwards mention the actors and directors.
Never the writers.
How's that feel for being insecure. Hey, we're over here. We're part of the movie too. In fact there wouldn't be a movie without us.
Regardless, movies are mostly a director's medium. But TV is the writer's medium and this is where we strike back.
Because episodic TV has to have new shows every week, writers learned fast that nobody can do anything without a script. And because writers stay on the shows and write new episodes every week, it's the directors who come and go. They're often referred to as "traffic cops", they show up, they say a few "action's" and they leave.
But the writers stay. Without them there's no show next week.
When you watch the credits on TV shows, you'll notice, at the beginning of course (nobody wants tail credits, the ones that fly past at the end of the show), show producers and executive producers.
The truth is almost all of them are writers. I've seen as many as 15 "producers" in the first few minutes of a TV show but they're not producers in the sense that they sign paychecks.
And when the Emmys are broadcast, you always hear the actors thank the writers.
But when it comes to respect, this is my take on it.
I don't really care if they (producers and actors and network execs) respect me or not, just pay me. I've written great scripts, good scripts, okay scripts and sometimes not great scripts and the better the producer, the better the writing goes.
A good producer will recognize the writer's value and will give good notes and suggestions. A bad producer will make your life a living hell.
A writer friend of mine who passed away a few years ago was always quick to tell me to demand respect. He would challenge anyone on the set who dared to even ask about what writers do. It was always a little too far for me, but he demanded respect.
But again, respect is what you create, not what anyone else thinks. Maybe it comes with confidence, maybe some of it is built into some of us and not in others.
But even then, if I happen to walk onto the set of a movie I may have written, someone will undoubtedly ask...
"So why are you here?"
I usually say "for the donuts".