What are your thoughts generally on the state of UK screenwriting? Most UK movies seem very "clunky" on the script level.
This may come as a bit of surprise but the state of UK screenwriting is extremely healthy. There are a lot of talented writers out there and they fall into three categories: Well Known, Making a Good Living and Breaking Through. The well known writers are leading the way for box office success, at home and abroad. People like Richard Curtis, Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright, Purvis & Wade, Frank Cottrell Boyce etc.
Some writers will flirt between the ‘well known’ and ‘making a good living’ categories; Paul Laverty, Mellis & Scinto, William Nicholson, William Osborne etc. And then there’s the ‘breaking through’ group where, well, the list is endless. Most UK screenwriters reside in this category and this is the group that’s referred to whenever the system comes under criticism. Their work may vary from glimpses of brilliance to frustratingly bad, and possibly both in one sitting.
However, the assertion that most UK movies seem very “clunky” is an unfair criticism aimed at the writer. There are a host of changes, alterations and amendments that can occur during the development and filmmaking process, some or most of which won’t be approved by the writer, or the poor scribe won’t even be consulted. Producers, directors, script editors and actors occasionally make the wrong choices, and a script suffers, but it’s the writer who gets the blame. If the film does well, then the director gets the credit.
So-called reputable film critics regularly lambaste the state of British screenwriting but when was the last time they read a script? Would they know a good screenplay if it came up and said ‘hello’? What do they know or appreciate about the craft of good screenwriting? And do they really differentiate the writer’s skill from the director’s vision? And as Jeff Jarvis writes in the Guardian, do we really need critics anymore?
However, critic response is umbilically linked to audience reaction. We can go to see a film and be mad as hell at the poor quality of the story, and wonder ‘what the hell happened to the script?’ But what do we know about the film’s development? What was it about the original script that got the producers, directors and cast involved? There must have been something, right? The industry wants to make money, not piss people off. Nevertheless, the desire and ability to make money through films also comes with ego and insecurity. People in powerful positions will meddle with a script in their efforts to either second guess the audience or satisfy their own ego. Let’s not be too hasty to blame the writer.
The problem with poor films is that it encourages aspiring writers to churn out mediocre material. If their script is ‘just as good’ than the latest UK flick that bombed at the box office, then why shouldn’t they get a shot at the big time? That’s hardly valid reasoning though. Why should we get a break just because our work is as bland and average as the latest release. We should continue to strive for the highest quality in our work; scripts that contain the writer’s unique voice, a story with something to say and characters with a refreshing heart and humanity. Then we could rid the criticism against UK screenwriters forever.