Friday, August 13, 2010

How many writers does it take to write a movie?

If you go to the cinema as much as me and if you’re as big a screenwriting geek as me, you’ll be glued to the opening credits. Specifically, the writing credits. Yes, there they are – flashed up for a nanosecond right at the end just as the movie opens.

How many are there? Do you recognise any of them (“cripes, it’s the guy who wrote Epic Movie – let’s get out of here!”)? Is there any significance to their order on screen?

I always get worried if there are more than three writers. Even three is pushing it, and may not even reflect the true number of writers involved. As Nikki Finke pointed out, the recent A-Team movie had 11 writers working on various drafts of the script, from experienced screenwriter Bruce Feirstein to a spec-script rookie called Jayson Rothwell. In the end, the only credited writers were Skip Woods, Brian Bloom and Joe Carnahan. As in, the movie’s director Joe Carnahan. It’s actually surprising that the finished movie makes any sense at all (it does, barely).

Feel free to disagree, but I think it’s pretty much impossible for a script to be any good if 11 disparate writers have had their paws on it. 4 or 5 writers is still going to result in a very confused tone and the final screenplay is bound to be less than the sum of (all) the parts. Here’s a novel idea these days – why not have one writer work on one script until it’s good?

I keep a database of all the movies released each week and who wrote ‘em (told you I was a geek) and the results tell a story. For the most part, the only films that have one scribe credited as opposed to at least two or three are European films and indies. The only exceptions are people like Christopher Nolan or Woody Allen, who write their own scripts and in any case, wield significant clout. I believe, looking over the list, that the movie with the most credited writers in the last year was The Tooth Fairy, starring Dwayne Johnson – six writers in all and there may have been more.

This is a depressing fact – it is very, very hard to get sole credit on a Hollywood movie these days. There’s nothing else for it – we’re all gonna have to get as big as Mr. Nolan. Only then will we be able to write multi-million dollar mindbenders that the execs don’t understand but audiences love!

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