Making A Movie

Making A Movie

Imagine a young child, eye level
with a floor full of miniature toys, concentrating intently on building
a make-believe world. To the child, the toys are not miniature figures
made of plastic or wood. They are real characters with real adventures.

The child frames the action, crafting scenes that unfold in a world of

Looking through the lens of a camera
as actors bring to life a writer's story, the filmmaker is also peering
into a world of imagination. The director, producer, actors, screenwriter,
and film editor are all essential players in the journey from concept to
finished film. In this remarkable process, thousands of small details-and
often hundreds of people-come together to create a Hollywood film.

In the Beginning

The year is 1890. Directors, editors,
and cameramen are making silent films with the help of a "scenarist," usually
an ex-vaudeville actor who invents humorous situations. But where are the
screenwriters? These early films don't need them. Without sound, there
is no need for dialogue. ( Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA],


The Storytellers

All of that changed with the advent
of sound for film in the 1920s. Suddenly, actors needed something to say.

Writers flocked to Hollywood in droves from Broadway and from the worlds
of literature and journalism. For a brief time in the 1930s, some of the
world's most famous writers wrote Hollywood scripts: William Faulkner,

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bertolt, and Thomas Mann.

In 1932, William Faulkner earned
$6,000 in salary and rights for a story, a substantial of money at the
time. Just five years later, F. Scott Fitzgerald earned $1,250 per week,
more money than he had ever earned in his life (Brady, 1981, 26) , and
enough to get him out of the serious debt he had fallen into. Despite generous
pay, the conditions
under which these world-renowned
writers labored were anything but ideal. Hollywood was a factory system,
churning out movies at a furious pace. Screenwriters found themselves at
the bottom rung of the studio ladder.

By the end of World War II, screenwriters
were complaining about their place in the Hollywood machine. Leonard Spigelgass,
editor of Who Wrote the Movie and What Else Did He Write (Brady 1981, 50),
summed up the situation:

"Over the years we have been called hacks, high-priced secretaries, creatures
of the director or producer, pulp writers, craftsmen, sell-outs, cop-outs,
mechanical robots.No Pulitzer Prizes for us, no Noble's, no mention of
our names...." (Brady, 1981, 51)

Screenwriters continued to earn
little prestige for their hard work, until the filmmaking system experienced
some important shifts.

The status of movie stars began
to increase, and writers often found to be powerful allies. Occasionally,
stars would request a script by particular writer, as happened with Katherine

Hepburn and the movie of the Year. Hepburn brought the script to the attention
of studio head Louis B. Mayer, and the script's writers, Ring Lardner Jr.
and Michael Kanin, received $100,000 for its use (indieWire, 1999).

A few writers also managed to obtain
creative control over their work. John Huston, a well-known filmmaker who
began as a writer, demanded a clause in his contract with the studio that
would give him the opportunity to direct. A screenwriter gained more respect
if he demonstrated a real talent for directing.

Increasingly, writers became more
important players within the studio system. Even so, some left the security
and good pay of the studio to freelance for whoever held the reins-studios,
stars, or other players. By the late 1940s, screenwriting was a lucrative

Screenwriters today are important
and often powerful players in the filmmaking process. They are paid as
well as directors and producers are, and their work is considered an art.

Screenplays are often published and sold to the general public in bookstores
just like novels and plays. (Malkiewicz, 1992, 33).

Chernin 3

Though rare in the 1930s and 1940s,
many screenwriters today are asking to direct in order to guide their script
through the filmmaking process. The number of writers who turn to directing
steadily increases year after year. Even if they do not direct, screenwriters
often have a say in the project from script through production, collaborating
closely with actors and directors to advance their ideas through to finished

The Director's Vision

The director's vision shapes the
look and feel of a film. He or she is the creative force that pulls a film
together, responsible for turning the words of a script into images on
the screen. Actors, cinematographers, writers, and editors orbit around
the director like planets around the Sun. Despite the director's pivotal
role, most Hollywood movies are designed to pull you into the story without
being aware of the director's hand.