Sunday, November 04, 2007

Random thoughts about scripts

The Belgian writers' group ASA held a round table recently to try and define what a movie script is, with a view to being better able to present the writers' case in discussions with other bodies. To cut to the chase, the definition was never agreed on but the discussion itself turned out to be fascinating.

Script doctor and writer Luc Janssens set the ball rolling by suggesting that the script is a "technical document used to make a film". But others found that belittled the craft and artistry of storytelling. Inevitably, the question of structure came up. And just as inevitably, the claim that structure is somehow an American idea was made (something I have always thought was strange - like David Lean or Hitchcock didn't use structure). Director Harry Kümel ("Malpertuis", "Eline Vere" and opera) rightly jumped in to point out that a lot of the early analysis of drama was done by a Frenchman. Janssens added a long list of writers stretching back to Shakespeare that used the 3-act structure.

Kümel was critical of the current reliance of the European movie sector on public support. "It's not with subsidies and commissions that that we'll create new European cinema. I dream of a European cinema that complements America's."

But how do you judge a film and its performance? Kümel: "A film must be seen by the number of people it is intended for." That's actually a neat definition if you think about it. An art-house drama could never compete with the tent-pole summer movies. But that does not mean that it is operating in a vacuum. There are still yardsticks for analysing its performance.

" becoming a doctor..."

On to writing itself: "It takes years, that's the problem," according to Janssens. "Scriptwriting is like becoming a doctor - it takes about the same amount of time to become a good one. It's not because you learn the rules that you are a writer... We looked at the number of schools and courses that are available in Europe for the moment and found over 300. But in my opinion, only a very few of them - including London and Rome - are worth anything." The problem is one of commitment, with many film-making courses not devoting enough time to the script.

Another question that cropped up was: "Who exactly is the author of the script?" Some writers complained about being considered as luxury typists by directors. The habit of directors and even producers demanding shares of the authors' rights was also discussed. "I don't accept that," said Janssens. "When I finish a script, I've done 80% of the directors job."

More about Luc Janssens


Nicolas Van Peteghem said...

thanks for the review. i called ASA, i'll be a member soon!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael for this review. It really shows the main thoughts of this evening. Frédéric Castadot (Vice President of ASA)