This is one for the Ya Can’t Win Dept. UK screenwriters are saying that UK film execs are so aggravating to work with that they’re being pushed into the very medium that so many writers in the U.S. bitch about – television. As another U.S. TV writer who also did a movie or three would say, “case in point:”
by Dalya Alberge
Three of Britain’s Oscar-nominated screenwriters say that an increasing tendency among film studio bosses and directors to “mutilate” film scripts is forcing top writers to either direct their own work or write for television, where they command greater respect.
Jeffrey Caine, William Nicholson and Steven Knight – whose acclaimed screenplays include those for The Constant Gardener, Gladiator and Dirty Pretty Things respectively – told the Observer that writers were often sacked without warning from the studios and would then discover that their original work has been altered beyond recognition by a production line of writers.
Caine said that studio executives, directors or actors who “ride roughshod” over film scripts can leave writers feeling embarrassed when their names appear in the credits. Writers often find themselves blamed for excruciating dialogue they never wrote, he said, adding: “I have seen lines of dialogue in films with my name on them that I wouldn’t have written under torture.”
To add insult to injury, writers are sometimes unceremoniously removed from projects, though their name may appear in the credits. They may not even be told they have been replaced: they discover their sacking by chance on a blog or trade report. Nicholson recalled delivering a commissioned screenplay and receiving a phone call from the studio saying it was “wonderful – we’re so excited”. He then heard nothing. Two years later it appeared in cinemas; other writers had taken it on. His name was on it, but it bore little relation to his original.
The phenomenon is not new. Howard Clewes, a leading British screenwriter, took his name off Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando, in 1962, because he was so dismayed by the rewrites. Today’s writers do not have that option. Writers’ Guild rules do not permit writers to take their name off a screenplay if they have been paid more than a certain amount. Studios can, in effect, buy their names.