Ironically, writers are finally gaining respect, thanks to today’s discerning audience rather than an admission from a grudging film trade
“Writing never comes easy. The difference between Page 2 and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death.” – Aaron Sorkin
Film writing is an arduous process. Nurturing an idea for months, sometimes even years; creating an outline, evaluating its potential as a full-fledged feature, agonising over the plot points, structuring a scene, economising every word in the dialogue – these chapters in the story of a perfect screenplay can push a writer to the brink of insanity.
Sorkin’s words are likely to ring true for most writers in the world, except for those perhaps in our industry. Because here, along with the vagaries of the profession, writers have bigger, scarier battles to fight. If a garment worn by the leading lady in a song sequence costs more than the en tire writing fees of the film, there has to be something fundamentally wrong with the system. It is this injustice, dollops of idealism and of course, a passion for films that led Datta Dave and me to start Tulsea – a strategic media and content management company that today, is representing India’s top and upcoming writers and directors and seeks to be part of the solution.
But first, why this problem? Why do we treatour writers so shabbily? This question continues to puzzle me. After all, it is only logical to accord a writer respect as the head of the writing department, as you would the head of cinematography or sound. Perhaps our exposure to oral traditions of storytelling (grandma at bedtime, for one) has led us now to expect stories on tap, to expect them to cost little or even nothing.
Or was it the wave of unofficial rip-offs of Hollywood films in the ’90s and 2000s that killed the equity of the writer? After all, it isn’t like writers of calibre didn’t exist earlier – Abrar Alvi, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Sachin Bhowmick, Prayag Raaj, Salim-Javed and Gulzar, to name just a few. So did formulaic films make the writer redundant and easily replaceable?
Then there’s the sitting duck analogy that comes to mind – screenwriting is a unique kind of collaborative process, where one individual puts pen to paper but anyone is free to provide feedback or offer suggestions. Our love for cinema often deludes us into believing we can all be writers. As tantalising as the thought may be, it is a foolish flight of fancy and simply isn’t true.
Although screenwriting is often referred to as art, I believe it’s a craft. And craft is the sum of talent, ability and hard work. So just as you wouldn’t tell a DoP how to light his frame, because you know nothing of his craft, you should bite your tongue before you advise a writer on how he ought to structure his scene. This temptation to badger the writer is also perhaps one of the reasons we see derivative and uninspired writing all around us.
Even if one were to take an uneducated, unsolicited opinion in one’s stride, the line has to be drawn at the delicate, even tricky issue of credit. Giving feedback to the writer, brainstorming with her or making suggestions and notes does not imply that any kind of screenwriting credit is due. Only the person who makes a written contribution to the screenplay and is in contract with the producer as a writer will merit a screenplay credit.
I will concede, though, that there is a glimmer of hope, with a few producers demonstrating vision and their belief in the importance of investing in talent pipelines, and the emergence of skilled writers with a strong voice and a solid command over their craft – Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor, Piku), Sudip Sharma (NH 10) and Akshat Verma (Delhi Belly) to name a few. Otherwise, it has mostly been a whole lot of lip service being paid to the importance of writers and how essential the writing process is, with no significant steps being taken towards questioning the status quo.
But then, luckily for us, the beauty of change lies in its inevitability. The world is shrinking. Technology is aiding rapid access to content from around the world. The audience is voracious in its appetite for movies, TV shows, digital series and documentaries, all accessible at the click of a button from the confines of homes or while on the move.
We are in the last quarter of 2017 and the domestic box office has been battered with flops. Big-budget, star-driven films have bombed while Hollywood films like Fate Of The Furious and Annabelle: Creation have drawn crowds. Shows such as Game Of Thrones and Narcos have captured the imagination of the younger audience. In this new dynamic and competitive environment, nothing rings truer than that old advertising line – the customer is the king! And the only thing that will get his undivided attention is differentiated content.
Never before has content been this vital to the health of the business. Respect the writer. Nurture the writer. Be fair to her, be mindful of her rights. Let’s put passion right up there with commerce and refresh our memories with Alfred Hitchcock’s quote. “To make a great film, you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”
– To write rightly and what to write and the respect a writer deserves
(Written by Chaitanya Hegde, Partner – Tulsea. Tulsea is a strategic media and content management company that represents India’s leading writers, directors, producers and production companies