Will Hollywood Ever Stop Crapping All Over Writers?

This is me putting on the girly war-paint, rather like Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) in the photo above from Inglorious Basterds, and preparing a rant.

It really, really bothers me that, when choosing a winner for any Best Picture award, the screenplay is often the LAST thing people care about, if they care about it at all.

Avatar getting Best Picture at the Golden Globes?  Really?  It’s better than Inglorious Basterds?  Better than The Hurt Locker or Precious (neither of which I’ve seen, but have heard nothing but good things about)?  It’s telling that whenever anyone raves about Avatar, they use adjectives like “beautiful” and “stunning”, adjectives that have more to do with the look of the film than the words coming out of characters’ mouths.  More to do with the visuals than the originality of the story.  And it really bothers me that a good story and quality dialogue is seen as an added bonus to a good looking film, and not the other way around.

I enjoyed Avatar when I saw it.  I actually do want to see it again in 3-D next time.  It IS a beautiful film, and a lively adventure.  But, to quote the fabulously geeky Scott West, whom I follow on Twitter, “If Avatar was presented as a popcorn FX movie and not hyped as the greatest film ever, I’d be more forgiving of it.”  It’s true.  When the story exactly parallels that of a Disney film to the letter, and when I find myself cringing at the cliched dialogue over and over again, I can’t seriously consider that film Best Picture material, no matter how groovy the special effects are.

As I was LiveTweeting the Golden Globes tonight, I saw several people say things like “It’s like Titanic all over again.”  I would disagree with that.  I really liked, and still like, Titanic and thought that it deserved Best Picture that year.  The difference between that film and Avatar is that in it, Cameron managed to create strong original characters and a believable love story in the midst of a movie about a historical event everyone knows about.  Yes, a lot of the dialogue was cliche-ridden and stilted – but it was more acceptable since it was a period film, and the dialogue of the early 1900s was more stilted, and is where a lot of our current cliches started.  The characters were compelling and nuanced, and the structure of Older Rose reliving the story of the Love Of Her Life before throwing the blue diamond into the ocean really worked. Was it really sentimental a lot of the time?  Sure.  But I’ve never been one who automatically equates “sentimental” with “bad.”

As for Avatar – I liked the character of Jake Sully very much.  I dug the fact that this guy in a wheelchair was getting to fully use his body through an avatar.  I loved that angle, I thought the character had great humor, and thought Sully a great take on typical sci-fi heroes.  What was bad about Avatar is that the rest of the characters in the film, from Sully’s love interest to all of the “villains”, were completely one-note.  They were like Commedia del’Arte stock characters.  That + generic story that is pretty much Pocahontas + cliched dialogue = not Best Picture material.

So, why did it just take home that very Golden Globe?  And why is it considered “the one to beat” at the Oscars?

Ricky Gervais joked about writers getting no respect as he introduced the Best Original Screenplay category…and everyone, including the writers, laughed.  My question is, why is that funny?  Why is it seemingly understood that writers are the low men (and women) on the totem pole?  WHY IS THAT OK?

It’s funny, but I never really considered screenwriting a viable path for me.  I’d only ever written prose, and prose (both fiction and non-fiction) is still what I do mostly.  However, since starting The Pack, I’ve realized that there might be something to this dramatic writing biddness.  As I learn how to improve my screenwriting skills from brilliant friends of mine like Alex Chancey and Adam Hunault, I realize what art it takes to write a quality screenplay, and how wonderful it can be to tell a solid story through a solid script.  It’s something I never thought I’d even like, and I now think I might like to do more of.  I know how hard it is, and I know how much work goes into a mediocre script (ie: mine).  I can’t even imagine the work that it must have taken to write something like Inglorious Basterds.

This is why it is imperative for me to meet a hot, British footballer (or rugby player – but please someone who’s new to the game and hasn’t had his ears bitten off or anything yet) and marry him so I can become a British citizen and go live in the UK, where they seem to treat their dramatic writers with a bit more respect.  David, if you ever tire of Posh Spice, give me a call.

But seriously, Hollywood, wise up.  Respect your screenwriters. This should be the rule, not the exception.

PS – I would also very willingly marry Ricky Gervais for my UK citizenship, and would gladly hold his tiny penis anytime.  🙂

4 thoughts on “Will Hollywood Ever Stop Crapping All Over Writers?

  1. Alex says:

    The writer being a joke has never made sense to me. Actually, it never made sense to me until I saw Mission Impossible II. That movie was the first time I was aware that a script was written around action sequences that John Woo wanted in the movie. But that mentality is the reason why the writers are a joke.

    As writers, we think that every movie HAS TO start with a story. The greatest movies of all time started with a story. But studio execs aren’t concerned with stories. They’re businessmen and they’re marketing analysts. If people will watch Ass: The Movie, they will make Ass: The Movie. It’s worth it to them to trick people into seeing a movie they’ve dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into it, regardless of the quality. All that matters is they turn a profit.

    The script to Avatar was never as important as the whole of the film itself. I’m still impressed with it as a spectacle (which I am in the process of writing about) but it’s not a special story. Unfortunately, the creativity is only in the visual aspect of the film. Which is OK but, the way I see it, if your movie is getting Oscar consideration, it should work even if your movie didn’t cost all the money in the world. I give him props for designing the world, the creatures, the flora and fauna of Pandora, all that stuff, but he should have had someone punch up the script to keep all the same beats and make the dialogue listenable.

    But then again, it’s the second highest grossing movie worldwide (after Titanic) so who’s right?

  2. Alana says:

    Along the lines of Hollywood being a business, it’s also easier to tell from a thirty-second trailer whether a movie has recognizable stars and/or cool special effects than whether it has a decent script.

    I still haven’t seen Avatar, and don’t feel a burning need (except that if I’m ever going to see it all, I do trust it needs the big screen for all the pretty). Generally, I agree that no quality of direction, acting, or design can save a really bad script. It can certainly help a mediocre script: The example I always come back to is Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. But even Johnny Depp couldn’t save the second or third Pirates scripts, because the man is only human. …But then, I’ve still seen them, damn Hollywood.

    I am all over opening night for your Ass: The Movie.

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