Tuesday, April 18, 2006


How co-mingled do you think screenwriting and directing are? Lately, I've been getting the itch to do more than just write. I want to direct...I think. I have no formal training and no real technical filmmaking knowledge. All I have is a growing desire to oversee the visual telling of the stories I write. How can an aspiring screenwriter put himself out there as a writer/director? Is it as simple as the old Nike slogan...grab your XL1 and JUST DO IT? We read a lot on twoadverbs and similar sites about the aspiring screenwriter, but the path of the aspiring writer/director seems to be shrouded in mystery. Can you shed some light?

I think writer/director is a much more powerful and attractive entity than either discipline alone. And we’ve seen writer/directors develop some star power over the years. However, I don’t believe that the writer is always the best director for his script. Some writers are myopic, and some movies would have been better served had they been directed by someone other than the scribe. Regardless, directing your own script certainly allows you to bring your creative vision to complete fruition – instead of having it filtered through the mind of someone else.

Directing films is a labor of love. It is usually driven by a passion that your question (above) seems to lack. Is your desire to “oversee” based on a creative need or just some ego-driven, type “A’ personality pursuit to control your scripts? (That’s not a bad thing, by the way.)

You’re not ready to “put yourself out there” as a director simply because you have the desire.

You need to direct.

A director and a screenwriter have different toolboxes – and you must discover if you have access to those directing tools and the skills to use them.

Work on some films, take a course, and visit message boards where you can exchanges ideas with other directors. Without your having any professional filmmaking/on-set experience (as a P.A., or editor, or assistant director or screenwriter or hairdresser), it would be nuts for a producer to risk the budget and give you a job – even to direct your own script.

When a producer buys a script, he knows what he’s getting. It’s on the page. A director’s vision is in his head. And a producer risks million of dollars with the hope the vision translates. (Buying a pitch is riskier than buying a script but not as risky as making the film, since the producer isn’t spending the sort of money on the pitch as he is to make the movie.)

Of course, you can finance your own film. But thousands of shorts and features are made every year by new directors. Most of those films are never seen – let alone released.

Back when Spike Lee made SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, everyone noticed because there was less competition. And it was a greater achievement (technically and financially) to make a film. With the advent of digital video and “Final Cut Pro.” almost anyone can make a film today. And almost everyone does. As a result, films from new directors flood Hollywood every year – just like screenplays. Similar to breaking through as a writer, you must score big with a film – winning important festivals or getting lots of buzz.

You could direct a few scenes from your script - as a "teaser" to show potential investors what you can do behind the camera. But attaching yourself as a director (to your script), without any real experience, would severely hinder a package. It can be easier for low budget genre movies. For instance, I’m working on a project with PGL screenwriting winners Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstun, and Marcus is attached to direct – despite an absence of professional experience. (He does, however, have plenty of on-set experience and learned the filmmaking process first hand.)

At this point, I suggest you perfect your writing.

Many of our best directors started as writers. Billy Wilder perfected his craft writing German screenplays, and Preston Sturges cut his teeth for ten years behind a typewriter before he directed THE GREAT MCGINTY. Steven Zaillian had written a trio of scripts before he directed SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISHER. (He had even worked as a film editor before seeing his first screenplay produced.) Scott Frank, who has written some great scripts, had an uphill climb getting the opportunity to direct his first feature, the upcoming, THE LOOKOUT.

Why not wait until you’ve had a script produced (or maybe even ruined by a director) before you decide to take matters into your own hands? Regardless, you’ll need to dabble in directing in order to determine if it’s what you really want to do.

Ask the question again after you’ve made a film. I’ll have a different answer.

Send your questions to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net


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