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Who killed Mozart?

Thinking of the responsibility a screenwriter and a film director have for the success or failure (are you listening, DC?) of a film can be interesting.

If the film is a success, we can be sure that the screenwriter and the director have done a good job.

If the film is a failure, we can be sure that either the screenwriter or the director have done a bad job. Unless about a thousand other people did, too.

So where does the screenwriter’s job begin and end? With FADE IN and FADE OUT (and all the script meetings with script development people in between).

A film director’s job is less easily bookended. If the director ‘just’ directs the film during film production, that’s the beginning and end of it; but what film director only does that? Directors usually play a large role in developing the screenplay (but screenwriters never share directing duties – discuss); directors will often be involved in casting the film, and even elements of film production like shooting location choices, and music/composer choice, too. A film director will often get involved in editing the film as well. Film direction actually involves editing because film editing, like cinematography and film art direction, plays such an enormous role in the audience’ eventual experience. So a film director’s job description is a broad and often very time consuming one: it can begin long before film production, and end long after the wrap party.

This brings me back to the degree of responsibility the screenwriter and director can shoulder for the success or failure of the film. A bad shooting script will always lead to a bad film. A good screenplay (should one survive until production, so by this I mean the shooting script) will generally lead to a good film, even if the production is mediocre. If a film fails or succeeds, the director gets all the blame/praise, however; the screenwriter is usually only blamed/praised by experts and insiders.

You rarely hear of a director blaming a screenwriter for the failure of a film, however. That’s because film directors (and if the film is a star vehicle, the film stars) usually have such a large say in the development of the screenplay. You very rarely hear of a screenwriter blaming the director for the failure of a film because, well, screenwriters are nice. Really. But seriously: most screenwriters will understand that the success or failure of the film depends on the quality of the film screenplay. And if the script was brilliant originally, but gets wrecked by the involvement of people who are not specialist screenwriters and script consultants?

Enough said.

This blog came from an idea for a metaphor that we can apply to the roles played by screenwriters and directors in the production of films. So, say, Mozart’s symphony number 49 gets performed at the Albert Hall or the Carnegie Hall or in your living room. In this metaphor, the screenwriter is Mozart and the director is the conductor. If the conductor is a moron, much of Mozart’s genius will shine through – but only just. If the conductor is a genius, Mozart’s genius will, if anything, be amplified. But the screenwriter is Mozart.

Believe it.

This is useful and interesting trope with which to frame the roles played by film screenwriters and film directors, I think. Let me know what you think …

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