Wait. Huh? What do you mean? I mean exactly what I said. The screenplay is not the movie. Have you ever read the screenplay of one of your favorite movies? If you're a writer, this is a must. If you're simply a fan, don't do it. It may negatively change your viewpoint of your fave film. Either way, if you choose to read the screenplay, you will be let in on the biggest secret of Hollywood.
The screenwriter is not God. What!?! Get ready for your bubble to burst. A screenwriter writes a screenplay, it is purchased by a studio, and the screenwriter is never heard of again. Well, something like that. Of course once you become the Quentin Tarantino's of the world, you begin directing or producing so the studio keeps you around during the creative process but it ain't because of your screenwriter title. Making a movie is one of the most collaborative processes in the world. Decisions are made by so many different people wearing so many different name tags with titles that as a movie-watcher, you'll never know who made the decision that made the perfect moment in your fave movie of all time. Honestly, it could've been the key grip. lol
Let's break it down. A screenwriter develops an idea (maybe with a team but for the sake of this post, our screenwriter is a soloist), creates characters, draws out a plot line and composes everything together beautifully to tell a story. Our screenwriter has connections so he/she meets with a studio. The studio likes the idea and buys it on the spot (yeah, right). Our screenwriter signs some paperwork and receives a check. Bye bye, screenwriter. Now, it's time for the real work to begin.
What the studio failed to tell the screenwriter is that they like the idea but not the story. So, they hire more writers to rewrite the script, after extensive notes from the studio executives. (Hence, the "and" amongst the writers in the credits of the film. Sometimes the script changes so drastically that the first screenwriter receives story only credit. Other times, the first screenwriter's name will appear first followed by as many "and's" as needed for the other writers brought in by the studio to give them the story they really wanted. Note: If it is an "&," then it is being credited to a writing team.) So, the rewrites are done. The rewriters are paid. Bye bye, rewriters. Now, off to be creative.
The studio, along with the producer (who may or may not work for the studio), must then hire a director, and in film, the director is God. Ultimately, it is the director's vision of the screenplay that movie-goers see on screen. After the director reads the script, he/she takes his perception of the screenwriter's goals and turns them into fruition. Do you know what this means? This means that the director could have it ALL wrong. You're the writer. Only you know what your characters truly wanted, right? Well, no one cares. You were paid. Your job is done. The director will play stepparent and will either turn your screenplay into gold or dust.
The director will meet with his/her creative team (often chosen by the studio with the director's consent because he/she likes to work with who he/she likes to work with) which includes, the cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, and the producer (and probably a gaggle of other people). This team will then plot every aspect of what the movie will look like from their expert point of views. A lot of what each department does falls into categories covered by other departments. Hence, the collaborative efforts of these meetings. Hence, ideas being thrown from all over the place. Hence, you watching the film and never knowing if a choice was made by the screenwriter, the director, the actor in the moment, or the Assistant in Makeup who thought something might look really cool if...
With that being said, I have read plenty a bad screenplay that turned out to be an awesome film. I have read pure gorgeousness on a page and seen it turn to crap on film. I'm the person screaming at the screen like, "Who made that choice!?," because I know what the screenwriter intended. Sigh... it's jacked up if you're a writer who is totally attached to your work. However, if you understand from the beginning that you are simply the incubator, the place where the idea forms, and that it takes a village to raise your child, you may be able to deal with giving it up and allowing other people to ruin it or make it Oscar-worthy. Like I said, it's a collaborative process. Get into it or get out of screenwriting.
Shannan E. Johnson, a writer who doesn't write.