Poor Writers

The role of the writer has always been of interest to me as someone who identifies with lost, tortured creative souls. Peter Wollen’s essay on auteur theory made me question the impact of the idea of a film auteur on writers. In auteur theory, the written word is crucial but the writer does not seem to matter much. Wollen writes, “What the auteur theory demonstrates is that the director is not simply in command of a performance of a pre-existing text…The director does not subordinate himself to another author” (53). In other words, the script is a mere outline for the final work. While many screenwriters would agree with this definition, I imagine that they might resent Wollen’s word choice. By respecting the script, a director is more of a collaborator than a “subordinate.” From the perspective of the Wollen essay, the writer, while still important, does not have the level of artistic respect that the visionary director possesses.

Yet John Caldwell’s essay provided an opposing perspective on the writer’s role in auteur theory in regards to television. Caldwell describes Horace Newcomb and Robert Alley’s theory that television “was a ‘producer’s medium’ (not a director’s)” (199). They argue that television changed auteur theory by making the producer-writer figure more central than the director. While they describe the issues of singling out a television auteur because the medium is collaborative, they recognize that the writer’s room is the heart of most show’s direction. It is interesting to me that television and film, two similar forms, have vastly different treatments of writers. While screenwriters often do not have a final say in their work, television writers are commonly show runners who control the general sense of the series. The differences between the Wollen and Caldwell essays highlight the contrasting treatment of writers in television and film.

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