Movies, obviously, are a storytelling medium and as such, at a fundamental level the process of getting a movie made is the process of establishing a healthy relationship between a film’s producer and that film’s screenwriter. How you go about that was the subject of a consistently hilarious and often illuminating discussion during the From Script To Screen: Getting On The Same Page With Your Writers panel during Produced by 2015.
In attendance, moderator Chuck Roven, with Panelists writer Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, 30 Rock), producer Jennifer Fox (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy), writer-director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy), and writer-director-producer Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Traitor, The Day After Tomorrow). The discussion sprawled, touching on topics such as the fact that producers don’t actually earn a living that often, and the differences between working in television and film. Most often, it stuck tangentially to the panel discussion, not that the audience was complaining. It’s no shock that a panel made up of writers and people who work with writers would be frequently funny as hell, the result being a conversation notable for as many bon mots as for nuggets of useful advice.
Of course, the point was to talk about how to get writers and producers on the same page, a question that was mostly answered near the end of the discussion. Cannon advised that producers familiarize themselves with the craft of storytelling. “If you can ask yourself ‘how well do I understand story and story structure?’ – I’ve been in many writers rooms, where the writers who are hired to write don’t understand story,” she said. “And I think practice and studying and making that a skillset of yours strong is gonna help you so much.”
Gilroy agreed, comparing the relationship between the producer and the writer to that of a director and actor, and urging aspiring producers to be specific, and knowledgable. “A script is a blueprint, you might as well be building a plane,” gilroy said. “If someone comes in and says ‘it could be bigger,’ or ‘maybe it could be red,’ that’s not the same as ‘the rivets are in the wrong place, at 400 miles per hour it’s going to destroy itself.'”
“Writers know their scripts,” he continued. “Good writers know their scripts. I know the math of my scripts, I know every element of my script, and I don’t see what’s wrong with it all the time, I might see it but I don’t see the mistakes, but I understand how it’s built. I sit down with someone who starts giving me notes and I get the sense that they don’t know the script, or they don’t understand story – and you encounter this all the time – that’s when my eyes start to glaze over.”
Nachmanoff had the last word, saying “notes are a conversation between the producer and the writer, and it should be an intelligent conversation. Don’t try and tell people who presumably you’ve hired for a lot of money what to type. You’re much better off explaining what your issues are, what you’re trying to get at in the scene or in the moment, that you’d like to change, then put the writer’s brain to work on how to solve that problem.”