I’m the voice
of this guy…A couple of years ago, I spoke to a room full of recent Princeton graduates–all aspiring screenwriters. I asked them a fairly simple question. “When is the job of the screenwriter over?” Some said when the script is done, some said when the movie got greenlit, a few said when the movie started shooting.
All fine answers, but in my opinion, all wrong answers.
The screenwriter’s job is over when the film is print-mastered and prepared for duplication. For those of you less production-savvy, I’ll adjust that slightly.
The screenwriter’s job is over when the movie premieres.
When I say “screenwriter,” what I mean is “the screenwriter currently employed.” There should always be a screenwriter currently employed on the project (see my essay on The Stand By Writer), and that writer’s skills may be required until the very last moment the story can be affected.
For instance, on Monday, we did our final mix on the final reel of Scary Movie 4. As it so happens, I’ve enjoyed the great pleasure of being the “Mel Blanc” of the movie (so says our post-production supervisor). If you see the movie, odds are that every single grunt, groan, single word, off-camera shout or generally non-descript utterance is yours truly. It’s quite possible that I may imitate an actor or two for a line here and there (not that I’d ever admit that or tell you which actor, I ain’t talkin!). Even better, I actually have a real role in the film as the voice of the Saw Puppet.
A Saw Puppet with a secret!
Okay, enough bragging about stuff that’s not that impressive.
The point is that there were opportunities even up to the final minutes to adjust off-camera lines and dialogue for the puppet, and before I or anyone else could perform them…someone had to write the words.
And if I weren’t there, who was going to write those words? (“You, Lieutenant Weinberg?”)
Let me now make a larger point.
It’s not just good for writers to be around to work on this stuff. It’s good for everyone else, including the mixers and music editors and dialogue cutters and producers and post-production supervisors to be comfortable having writers around working on this stuff. We cannot live on the one hand under the delusion that our jobs end when we finish typing the script document, and complain on the other hand that we’re not viewed as part of the team.
If we’re not a purposeful part of the team, then we are not part of the team. Mind you, I’m not in this for a crew jacket. I want to be part of the team in order to influence the movie. See, the calculation that many miss is this: work leads to power.
Let’s all say it together.
Work leads to power.
Credits are nice, and starting the process is great, and getting the green light is wonderful. But continuing to WORK on the movie is what earns us the ongoing influence and actual power-over-the-film that we really want.
I started writing on July 1st. I stopped writing on March 27th. Somewhere in there, I wrote treatments, I wrote drafts, I wrote scenes, I wrote lines, I wrote ideas, I wrote moments, I wrote versions and I wrote explanations. All writing. All on equal footing in my mind. All necessary.
If you believe yourself when you type “The End,” then you’re in for some surprises when you see what happens to the movie at the real End. And yes, this might mean taking fewer jobs and sticking with one gig longer. It might mean short-term financial losses in exchange for what will probably be long-term financial gains. It’s worth it. You will be a linchpin. You will be a filmmaking partner.
Work leads to power. Raise your carpal-tunnelly fist in the air…and keep it up there until the dupers start spinning.