MA Writing for Script & Screen – reflective blog week 1

Week 1 has been both daunting and exciting. Both course leader John Finnegan and module tutor Mat Owen are friendly, inspirational and offer reassurance. 

The required academic reading text by Steven Maras, Auteur Theory, is not only daunting due to its academic approach (academia v art) but also seems to be pulling me away from the reason I took the course, that is, to write screenplays and develop my craft in writing screenplays, as well as collaborate with others in writing screenplays.

The Maras text seems to be ostensibly about authorship. I wonder if the underlying cause that this text attracts so much polemic is a question of money, rather than what it presents itself as, that is a discussion on who is the true author of a film and whether screenwriters are artists who can claim authorship. 

I was drawn by the visual on the course module syllabus – a still of Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz  – to watch Mank, dir. David Fincher based on a screenplay by the director’s late father Jack Fincher.

To a backdrop of pre-WW2 American politics, it explores the relationship between Mankiewicz and Orson Welles during the writing of Citizen Kane, for which Mankiewicz had to fight for screen credit. It also explores the fraught relationship of the screenwriter with Luis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Although the Maras text presents itself as a conflict of theories (auteurism v anti-auteurism / conception and execution v separation of conception and execution, I do wonder if its value today is due to its monetary value rather than its artistic / literary value. Hollywood is big business, worth in the region of $150 billion per year. 

I am aware from reading screenwriting articles and speaking to screenwriters of the process each screenwriter has to endure in order to ensure, in an industry which employs a multi-writer system, the writer is paid his dues. For this entertainment lawyers are employed and scripts are scrutinized with a fine tooth comb for each word set on each age, to ascertain what each writer should be paid. Consequently, Maras text has more than artistic value. Am I right in thinking its pro-auteur stance may have a negative effect on earnings of the screenwriter. Is this why Maras states ‘Few issues provoke as much emotion in screenwriting theory as the auteur discourse.’

The text Writing the Short Film by Patricia Cooper is providing much food for thought regarding sound and is forcing me to rethink my short film concept. I am looking forward to writing the 1 page outline of Isaac in Week 2.

What do you think?

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