Sunday, 1 July 2012

Not worth the thin air it's written on

Did you read this blog entry from Piers, about the possessory (and frankly downright disrespectful) film credit 'A Film By' - and then enter the director's name. The post is spot on so I'm not going to repeat it, just read it there instead. The prevading disrespect in the industry to the work the screenwriter does is endemic. As Piers points out, it mainly arises out of self-interest. Namely from the director, but not always, for various reasons. That's not really an excuse, but at least we can understand where it's coming from. 

But what about when it's from people with no real self interest? For example award ceremonies like BAFTA not televising the screenwriting awards. Or movie magazines marginalising the role screenwriters play. Or film critics and reviews ignoring the screenwriter when something is great and then blaming the script when it's not?

Every Thursday my wife reads the new movie reviews from Roger Ebert. (She's American so we can forgive her for this.) And a few weeks ago she read about Bernie, the new Richard Linklater movie (see what I did there?) Here's a quote from the opening paragraph:

"Jack Black plays an east Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, and it is surely one of the performances of the year. I had to forget what I knew about Black. He creates this character out of thin air, it's like nothing he's done before, and it proves that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role."

I haven't seen the film. I haven't read the script. Jack Black is indeed a fine actor, it may well be like nothing he's done before and one of the performances of the year. Good actors can and definitely do bring an enormous amount to the role from what is written on the page.

But creating the character out of thin air? Really Roger? You don't think that maybe Jack was good enough to read the screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth? 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the script is bloody awful and Black literally had to make everything up as he went along. Didn't do that recent BBC One drama any harm did it? Oh wait.

Maybe we should stick to what we've always done then and have a really good script before we start, and just for a change acknowledge the people who came up with it and the ones who probably spent more time than anyone else working on the movie.