Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school.
Screenwriters never get any love. That’s the conventional wisdom when it comes to film. Even the most brilliant writers toil to bring an idea to screen, but their fate is the same: indifference and obscurity for the writer, praise and immortality for the director.
Television and theater are different. Here, writers are seen to have primary creative control and may go on to have successful, respectable careers. But adjectives like “successful” and “respectable” are far too healthy for screenwriters. If you’re not a writer/director, you can be fairly certain that your name won’t even register in the mind of 99% of your film-going audience.
Occasionally, though, a screenwriter flouts conventional wisdom and gains recognition and success for their winning personality, thoughts on cultural issues of international importance, and charming physique. Ok. A screenwriter has never gained recognition for any of those things. But if I said the following writers became famous for their screenplays, you never would have believed me, would you?
Charlie Kaufman is probably the closest thing we have to a modern screenwriting auteur – that is, someone whose authorial voice seems to overpower a work so as to leave an indelible creative fingerprint. Though he’s taken the plunge into writing/directing with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman first gained widespread notice for his screenplay for 1999’s Being John Malkovich. From there, cinephiles eagerly awaited projects with Kaufman attached as writer. Kaufman wrote for directors like Spike Jonze, George Clooney, and Michel Gondry, but the thread that seemed to most strongly link Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn’t that it fit into a particular director’s filmography. It was that it came from the mind of Charlie Kaufman.
Other writers have succeeded in writing movies, too. Nora Ephron came from a journalism background. Ephron reportedly helped in shaping the script for the Watergate-thriller All the President’s Men (she was married to Bernstein). She gained critical and commercial attention for her scripts for movies like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally before writing and directing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Listen to Nora talk about her experiences as a screenwriter on Charlie Rose here.
Shane Black is a writer-turned-filmmaker who gained attention when he sold his screenplay for Lethal Weapon in the 1980s, thus helping to launch one of the most successful action franchises. Black became a symbol of the confident, financially successful writer and made his directorial debut with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Though Dustin Lance Black (no known relation to Shane Black) had quite a bit of experience writing and directing, he gained notoriety and celebrity after winning the 2008 Oscar for best original screenplay for Milk. In 2011, Dustin Lance Black penned the Clint Eastwood directed J.Edgar, and his name was a selling point in the film’s marketing.
What does this mean? That screenwriters live in a time when they’ll be loved and admired? That it’s easy to write something that gets made into a movie? A good movie? That writers who face disillusionment and rejection will one day be vindicated – an object of adoration in the center of a circle made up of beloved family and friends? No. It just means making it as a screenwriter is hard, but if you’re lucky enough to pursue a dream in writing movies, there are some stars on the horizon to help you out.
Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch films from some of our favorite screenwriters and get a crash course on the classics.