As usual, writers were ignored at the Baftas – as a screenwriter, I know what that feels like
It takes a village to make a film, and when your career depends on your name and credits, it can cost you work when you’re left out
Sunday night’s Baftas ceremony was a glittering celebration of film. But to listen to all the speeches, you might think those films sprang out of nowhere, pulled together like celestial fragments by the genius of the director. Not a single winner thanked the writer.
Wait, two winners did – in the Writing categories. They thanked their co-writers.
At least film writers get televised awards. In the TV Baftas, writers aren’t in the glitzy ceremony with the actors. They’re shunted off into the non-televised Craft awards.
This isn’t anything new, sadly. The auteur theory suggests that the director is the author of the film. They’re the ones on set, marshalling everyone – and to be fair, one person has to be in charge, to keep everyone on the same page. But they can only be on the same page if there are actually script pages. Sets must be built, locations secured, actors hired, scenes scheduled – it all starts with the script.
So why are writers forgotten? Because everyone thinks they can write. The director (or actor, or exec) can waltz in, make a few changes, and think they’ve written the entire thing.
As the saying goes, “where were you when the page was blank?” Robert Riskin, Oscar-winning screenwriter of It Happened One Night, famously grew tired of director Frank Capra hogging all the credit by claiming to “put the Capra touch” on his work. So the legend goes, Riskin sent Capra 120 bound, blank pages, with a note saying “put the Capra touch on THAT”.
Before anything happens, the writer is alone. The script has to be researched, plotted, written, rewritten, rewritten again, rewritten for a lower budget, rewritten because a big actor is cast in a small role that now needs bulking up, rewritten when that big actor pulls out, rewritten to make the ending work on half the money, and rewritten again until it’s ready.
The script convinces financiers to fund the film (you sometimes get paid before you write the script, if you’re lucky, but good luck with that), hire a director, producer, cast and crew. If you’re really lucky, the film gets made. And the writer is instantly forgotten.
They’re not the only ones. Every cast and crew member is responsible for that film, making invaluable, overlooked contributions. There is a growing movement to get awards bodies to recognise stunt performers, who literally risk their lives to bring us exciting sequences, while the actors pretend they “do their own stunts”.
Tom Cruise is an exemption from this, as he really does his own stunts, so much so that I involuntarily yelled out “oh f***ing HELL, Tom Cruise” during Mission Impossible: Fallout, as if I was his mum and he could hear me.
It’s not all hopeless, though. In the title sequence of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the first credit says “A film by a lot of people”, which is the perfect way to reflect how films are really made. The opening credits of Deadpool credits the writers as “the real heroes here”. And at least all the people who “helped” Bradley Cooper write his Bafta-winning song got a mention in his Bafta acceptance speech. Although to be fair, I could probably bang out a decent song if Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson “helped” me too, Brad mate.
Sure, these are “first world” problems, we’re privileged to do what we do. But it takes a village to make a film, and when your career depends on your name and credits, it can cost you work when you’re left out.
So come on, directors, throw us a bone. You get all the credit anyway, so take a moment to remind people that someone wrote that film you’re lifting a shiny award for.
At least say we “helped”.
James Moran wrote Severance, Cockneys Vs Zombies, Tower Block, and episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks, and the upcoming The Rubbish World of Dave Spud. He is under no illusion that he will ever win a BAFTA, unless they introduce a “Best Kill, Zombie or Swearword-Combo” category