by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
August 14, 2005
HOW DOES HE FEEL ABOUT STUNT DOUBLES?
SYRACUSE, Ind. -- Although I know people have differing views on writers and our so-called contribution to society, I try to stay out of the fray, except to say that people who don't like writers are mouth-breathing goobers who watch too much pro wrestling. Other than that, I have no opinion.
But all that changed thanks to an April 20, 2001 opinion column in the online edition of The (Toronto) Globe and Mail.
In an editorial whine-fest about the pending Hollywood strike by the Writers Guild of America, columnist Doug Saunders had a hissy-fit over the idea that writers think they're the creators of Hollywood movies. Saunders says that instead of the writers, it's the directors, producers, actors, and possibly even the guy who gets the little bran muffins for the actors, who actually create movies.
To Saunders, writers are just the people who crank out a bunch of words so the actors have something to do while they're prancing about in front of the camera.
I have a couple of words for Saunders, but they're not repeatable, unless you're in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The big complaint by the WGA is that writers are basically the gum on everyone else's shoe when it comes to movie making. They're allowed on the set for one or two days, they don't get any recognition, there's only one Oscar given out for screenplays, and most moviegoers don't even realize a writer created the film in the first place.
Television writers, on the other hand, are the cat's meow when it comes to show creation. In tv Land, the writers are the ones who wield the true power, like "The Practice" creator David E. Kelly, or gold-and-jewel-encrusted Michael Crichton who created "ER."
So as the contract talks enter the final stretch, the movie writers are feeling like the kids who were picked last for kickball, and are threatening to strike on May 1st. Their issues? Movies should no longer have "A movie by ..." or "A so-and-so film," with the producers name filling in the blanks.
Because, the writers say, we're the ones who came up with the movie in the first place, not the director or the producer. They also want access to the set, they want to be interviewed, and they want to go to the premieres. After all, if it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be a movie, right? Well, mostly.
I'll admit that the producers and directors play a huge part in getting a movie created, and if it weren't for the actors, we'd have nothing to watch. But Saunders -- a writer -- seems to forget that if it weren't for the writers, the producers and directors wouldn't have anyone to call on their cell phones. And movies would be nothing more than people milling aimlessly about, mumbling inanities because they only dialogue they could come up with would be too lame for a porn flick.
Actor #1: Hey.
Actor #2: Uh, hey.
Actor #1: So, uh, how's it goin'?
Actor #2: Oh, not so bad. Uh, what are you doing?
Actor #1: Oh just stuff. I thought I'd head to the Taco Locker for, uh, lunch.
Even with Tom Hanks and a volleyball, this would still make for a crappy movie.
Saunders offers the lame argument that since movies are mostly visual, the dialogue is almost unnecessary, and that's why writers aren't so important. That may be true if you watch Jackie Chan movies, but it takes someone smarter than a run-of-the-mill Canadian columnist to churn out something more complex than "Jackie kicks a guy in the privates."
In an effort to throw the writers a bone, Saunders does reluctantly agree that writers play a slightly important part in the creative process. After all, he says, "no film would exist if some writer, somewhere, hadn't scratched out a few pages of words."
A few pages of words? Is that like saying Moby Dick is just a big fish? Are Minnesota winters just a little chilly? A typical movie script is close to 120 pages of dialogue, actor directions, and even scene background. It's not "Jackie kicks a guy in the privates."
It boils down to this: the actors need the writers more than the writers need the actors. If the actors didn't have writers, there would be a lot more movies like "Mission Impossible 2." But if the writers didn't have actors, we'd have ... books.
If writers really aren't that important because they don't do anything more than scratch out a few pages of words, then why does everyone go ga-ga over writers like William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, or Samuel Beckett? If they're "just" writers, then why are these men considered some of the greatest playwrights in history? Why isn't Irving Hassenfeffer considered a big Hollywood player after his 1976 appearance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Grand Dakotan Dinner Theatre in Pierre, South Dakota?
Why? It's because if it weren't for the writers like Arthur Miller, Irving Hassenfeffer would have been reduced to sitting on the stage, reading the week's hog report for two truckers, a waitress, and his mother.
After reading Saunders' misguided diatribe on a writer's actual contribution to Tinseltown, I would humbly ask that he "scratch out" a few more columns on any topic he would wish to name. I'm trying to housetrain my dog, and his contribution to my efforts will be duly noted.
Editor's Note: Erik is on vacation this week, so we are running a favorite piece from 2001.