When Robert Deniro presented the award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the March 2nd Oscar ceremony, he introduced writers with this:
“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”
How true. There is no doubt this is true. We need to stick together and protect our work. We need to read, write and share one another’s works in progress. In a world of visual mediums, we need to incorporate film and video into our writing. We need to adapt in order to send our images in the best possible way for the most impact.
Apparently, John Ridley (writer of 12 Years A Slave) is in a battle with the film’s director Steve McQueen (and producer Brad Pitt). On viewing the Oscars, there is obviously no love lost between these three. According to reports, they have been feuding for a while but kept the feud under wraps so as to not tip the scale in any way before the Oscars. That was the right course of action. Now, all bets are off and the gloves are on.
I read the screenplay before viewing the film. To say that I was disappointed is putting it mildly. The screenplay is so far superior from the finished product, it is difficult to describe. In fact, the screenplay is so good, it gave McQueen a template so brilliant, it would have taken an act of extreme incompetence to screw it up. The screenplay should have (and did) win best Adapted. The film should have not won Best Picture. But most Academy members do not read the screenplays (they don’t even watch the films!). This year’s Best Picture was a purely political move. With all the competition, 12 Years was not the best picture but as Ellen Degeneres said in her opening monologue, “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists. And now, please welcome our first white presenter, Anne Hathaway.”
In a nutshell, McQueen and Pitt are attempting to take writing credit for Ridley’s work. After reading the screenplay and viewing the film, there is no way in hell that McQueen (nor Pitt), deserves a writing credit. In fact, if there was an award for blowing the vision of a writer, they would have taken that one home. It was a fine film, but what was written and visualized for them was far superior to the final product. They chickened out. They took a heart wrenching work and softened it. They pulled out rather than plant the seed. They blew it and like Degeneres said, it was in the bag. I have heard people describe the film as “hard to watch.” It was not hard to watch for those who actually read Ridley’s work. The screenplay is so difficult to read, I found myself having to calm down before sitting down to view the film. My disappointment is due to McQueen and Pitt’s lack of courage. They limp-dicked a most brilliant work. Read the screenplay and watch the film – you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
Regardless, we writers need to protect our work more than any creative artist in the film business. Similar to stage managers in the theatre, writers are the unsung heros of the show. Without stage managers, you don’t have a show. Without screenwriters, you have no story.
We may very well be isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy … but we are also the unsung meat and potatoes on a table of wilted greens and stale wonder bread known as the famous people. You may be onstage, but the work behind the scenes is what allows you to actually be in the light. And like the honorable and brilliant writer he is, Ridley is now denying there being a problem between him and McQueen-Pitt. Playing the game is important. I am sure Ridley has been advised by his manager to let the feud go and this is the right thing to do. Writers, being the unsung heros of the film business, cannot afford to be in a feud with Brad Pitt. Ridley was asked by McQueen to write 12 Years on spec (free) while they secured financing … which took four years to acquire. That is just how it works, even with above-the-line writers like Ridley.
Thanks to Ridley for a most brilliant template of screen writing. The rest of us know who and what you are as a man, a human being, sometimes addled with soul-crushing feelings of inadequacy … and we honor you for it. To all writers – keep at it. Story telling changes lives and enhances relationships. From the time before TV and films this has been true and will never change. My father used to say: “The only thing constant in life … is change.” He is right of course. Additionally, the most life-changing events are universal and always remain. Change remains with tradition as the very foundation, otherwise there is no home in which to write.
– Laura Tompkins
Oh and by the way, the winner for Best Original Screenplay was the deserved one. Her by Spike Jonze is truly brilliant. Jonze does not partake in these issues since he writes, produces and directs his own work. His screenplay is exactly what is in the finished product. Thank the Gods of the Writing Universe!
And in the interest in supporting writing with visuals, a video: