Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I bought a DVD of a low budget film last week. The cover looked good, the trailer looked great, the cast looked fantastic... but for all the production value obviously poured into the film there was still something lacking... a decent script.

There are some great, well written and very entertaining low budget films out there, but there is also a lot of dross. I can't understand why this is because I know for a fact there are a lot of up and coming, very talented writers out there desperate for a break, so why are low budget films still being made with substandard screenplays?

The one I watched last week was written, directed and edited by the same person. The visuals were excellent, something you would find on a film with a higher budget, it was well shot and acted yet the plot didn't match up to the rest of the effort put in. Why? Was it an ego trip on behalf of the director, that he felt he needed to write the screenplay too, to keep control of his vision? Surely he knew the screenplay was lacking? I can't believe for a moment he didn't care, not when he had taken so much time and obvious effort over the rest of the film. So why not put the same effort into the screenplay?

The thing that bugged me most about the film was the fact there was about thirty minutes of scenes repeating exactly the same thing, getting over the same point again and again with different characters and introducing new characters late on to hammer home the same point. And the worse thing is it did it all with dialogue and not with action. In truth only one of those scenes were needed. Just one. That's roughly twenty-seven minutes of film wasted on nothing.

I really don't understand why anyone would risk making something that is less than brilliant when it's their reputation on the line. There really is no excuse, there are plenty of writers out there who can produce a script worthy of your efforts, so why not use them?

It's what we do.

It's all we do.

Give a new writer the opportunity to show you what they can do. I'm sure they will surprise you. At the very least have a professional reader take a look at your script and give you notes on how it can be improved, then work on it.

Directors, don't just settle for any old script just because you wrote it and want to retain control. That way you're spreading yourself too thin. Concentrate on what you're good at and let us writers do what we do best, then there will be many more high quality low budget films to come.


Lucy V said...

"Directors, don't just settle for any old script just because you wrote it and want to retain control. That way you're spreading yourself too thin."

Seriously? There's loads of excellent writer/directors out there and for screenwriters to pretend otherwise, they're deluding themselves.

If a screenwriter wants a director to render his/her spec screenplay as image, or hire him/her as a writer, then they have to have something to offer that director doesn't have, which is a brilliant concept with a great story and great characters, or ability to do this.

But guess what - loads of screenplays and screenwriters don't have either of these things either and THAT's why there's loads of dross out there. Pretending that directors are "spreading themselves too thin" and all screenwriters need is a "chance" is not the answer. Working on concept, working on craft, meeting the right people, making teams, developing stuff together is where it's at, rather than throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping for the best.

Dominic Carver said...

Perhaps I should have made it clearer that 'SOME' writer/directors spread themselves too thin and should stick to directing.

I know there are many very talented writer/directors out there and have enjoyed watching their films. What I'm questioning are those writer/directors who obviously pour a great amount of effort into making their film look fantastic, but don't take the time to make sure the screenplay is of the same quality.

Surely that should be their first priority?

Phill Barron said...

Dom, have you read the script for this film?

Or are you looking at the finished film and making assumptions about what the script might have been like?

Even when one person writes, directs and edits there can still be many things going wrong which greatly compromise the original intention. The script could have been fantastic, but production could have been so catastrophic that this was the best cut available.

Putting that aside though, it's very, very difficult to tell when your own script's good. Even getting opinions from others doesn't always help because people can be incompetent or polite. This person may have worked really, really hard on the script and just been blind to its faults. All great writers sometimes write bad scripts!

Dominic Carver said...

No, Phill, I haven't read the screenplay and I understand that difficulties during production might have been responsible for some of it, but not all.

I'm very critical about my own work and have very high expectations for what I produce. When I hand a script in to a producer and I'm told it's really good, I doubt them, I almost demand they find something wrong with it. This in turn means I put high expectations on other's work too, but as writers, even writer/directors, shouldn't we all be aiming for this as the norm?

I also want to state the film wasn't that bad, I actually enjoyed most of it, I just got fraustrated with the quality of plotting, character development and dialogue. If it had been a school report it would have read B-, could do better!

Phill Barron said...

Even with a ton of development and everyone ripping the script to shreds at every stage, things do get missed. Sometimes stupidly large things which just aren't apparent on the page.

It's probable the writer/director worked really hard on the script and genuinely believed it was the best it could be - probably backed up by everyone who worked on the film.

There's always personal taste in these things too - I found MARGIN CALL to be an hour of people repeating the same information to each other over and over and over again ... yet that film is lauded as an amazing film.

I just think it's (possibly) disingenuous to suggest the writer/director didn't work really hard on the script.

On the other hand, I have no idea what film you're talking about so you could well be right.

Dominic Carver said...

I am, trust me. I would not intentionally poo poo someone else's work.