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How Writers Work with Directors

Still image from The Wife film.

During week two of Film Independent's Director's Closeup, the discussion was about how writers work with directors, as well as how writers direct. The panelists were writer/directors Jane Anderson (The Wife), Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Billy Ray (Captain Phillips).

A lot of the conversation centered around the writer / director relationship during production. Some key points made by the panelists were:

  • Respect the boundaries. Once you finish writing you have to pass the baton to the director. You've run your lap, now it's time for the director to run theirs.

  • As a screenwriter who will direct the film, write as a writer and not as a director - forget camera angles, etc.

  • It's okay to disagree about the script, as long as it's about the how it will be expressed not what the film is.

  • Don't be territorial about your script. It's a collaborative art.

  • There's an alchemy that exists between the material and the actor. A great actor elevates the script. There should be room to allow for that.

  • The rehearsal process is between the director and actors. Any feedback the writer may have should be done directly with the director and outside of the rehearsal area.

  • Unless asked, there's no need for a writer to be on set, it's not fair to the director.

  • The idea is for the writer to disappear on the page. The absence of ego. Chip away at the story like a block of granite and eliminate anything that isn't in service of the story.

  • Directors need to focus on the big picture instead of the minutia in the script

  • There are four stages where things change: 1. In the director's process and spitballing with actors. 2. On set and dealing with the realities of production surprises. 3. Your own insight as the writer / director where you realize the dialogue isn't playing. 4. The editing room: the last rewrite. Where the final decisions are made.

There's more info about the panel on the Film Independent website.