The credit and the blame: Why is it always the Director’s fault?

By ·September 29, 2017 9:45 am

Scanning the Internet headlines recently, I saw where Patty Jenkins, the Director of Wonder Woman, is now the most successful female director in history. And by most successful, I mean the highest paid.

This is a good thing, both for equality in the workplace – whether we’re talking about Hollywood, the boardroom, or the fast food industry, women need to get the same shots and receive the same rewards as do men. It serves the goal of quality moviemaking too.

Wonder Woman achieved the impossible: it made the critics actually praise a DC movie. It broke the “pile-on” trend of bashing anything offered by the DC cinematic universe. There’s even talk of pushing for an Oscar nomination for it. This last won’t happen, but it’s nice that they’re trying (personally, I’m holding out hope that Logan will get some love from “The Academy,” too).

Patty Jenkins should be receiving lots of praise for the triumph of Wonder Woman. But why is she receiving all of it? What about Allan Heinberg, who wrote the screenplay, along with Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, who helped conceive the story?

Why do the screenwriters never get the credit when a movie is good? And why do they never get part of the blame when one isn’t?

Wonder Woman proved herself the mightiest of all the Justice League superheroes at the box office.

I understand that what is found on the printed page is only one component of what makes for a successful motion picture. But it’s a big component. One of the biggest. The greatest director in the world can’t make a good movie if the script from which he or she is working is garbage.

Likewise, no matter how good a script is, if it’s put in the hands of a lousy, untalented, or sloppy director, the end result will be unworthy of the storyline. When we see folks like Rob Zombie, who both write and direct their own projects, then it seems attention gets paid to the script. Otherwise, folks often fail to acknowledge that a script even exists. It’s all about the director’s “vision.”

I posit that a director cannot have a vision if someone hadn’t first provided for him or her a template, a road map. It’s high time we give more love, or hate, to the screenwriters out there; the unsung heroes, or villains, of the movies we all love or hate. Or love to hate. Or hate to love, for that matter.

Whatever the movie and whatever the genre, no film gets made without a script, even if the script as such only exists in the mind of the director. There are several instances of a movie beginning filming without a finished script. You would expect such movie to go off the rails, but that isn’t always the case.

What, you want examples? Sure. Happy to oblige. We’ll start with some of the less-than-stellar examples. Jurassic Park 3. Alien 3. Men in Black 3 (something about the threes, here?). None of them had finished scripts when they started, and you could tell. A better example might be the recent The Hobbit trilogy. While I, unlike many fans, enjoyed the films as standalone efforts (as straight adaptations of the book they fell far short), Director Peter Jackson has admitted that he began filming without a finished script or even a mental outline. If the movies have any deficiencies in the narrative, it is because of this rushed beginning.

What about the movies that, also lacking scripts from the outset, occupy the other end of the spectrum? There are some impressive titles, there.  Iron Man. Lawrence of Arabia. Sunset Boulevard. (Note: I realize these last two films are not “genre” pictures, but they are of excellent quality. Any geek of discriminating tastes ought to check them out. Lawrence of Arabia is a good, old-fashioned epic, and Sunset Boulevard, which I initially thought was some sappy love story, is actually really dark, the story of a murder. I recommend both of them.)

JAWS certainly didn’t suffer from the lack of a finished script before shooting began.

The best example, however, of a movie that had no solid script yet went on to become a classic, is Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws. One has to wonder why that is. Is Spielberg a grander visionary than Jackson? This seems doubtful. Sometimes, I think, the end result must be chalked up to serendipity. Spielberg has mad skills. But he also got lucky.

For this reason, we cannot say that Jaws contradicts the point I’m seeking to make; it isthe exception rather than the rule. By and large, for there to be a successful movie, there first has to be a successful script. We need to start giving credit – or assigning blame – where it is due.

In the end, it was Alfred Hitchcock, a legend in the directing field, who said it best:

“To make a great film you need three things: the script, the script and the script.”

Or, to quote from another master, Howard Hawks of The Thing (From Another World) fame:

“You can’t fix a bad script after you start shooting. The problems on the page only get bigger as they move to the big screen.”

If the directors understand this, why doesn’t everybody else?

Image credits: Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures

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