The idea that screenwriters should be as “famous” as director implies that screenwriters are involved with the production process; they’re not, and as a result, don’t collaborate with those that are – and collaboration is what makes the success of a film. Audiences watch films, but the film and the screenplay aren’t synonymous, which is why most people have little interest in reading the screenplays to the films they watch. A badly-made film is a badly-made film, but screenwriters aren’t film-makers, and therefore shouldn’t be factored-into the quality of a film and how it was made. Especially because the screenplay will be rewritten based on notes and feedback from executive producers, as well as budget lines and what’s practical during the shoot – these are all aspects that aren’t known to the public due to their irrelevance during the film-watching process, so judging a screenwriter based on a film is ignorance of these details that are the important difference between what’s on the page and what’s on screen.
It’s easy to judge cinematographers because cinematography is an aspects the audience do see on screen when they see a film, but they’re not looking at what the screenwriter wrote, but will judge the screenwriter in much the same way that they’d judge the cinematographer. Which is why screenwriters also shouldn’t be praised in the same way. And if a screenwriter does have consistent success, that’s luck, especially because each screenplay’s likely to be adapted by different directors. Even Woody Allen, who’s won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay more times than anyone else, wrote the screenplay to Manhattan, which grossed $126.047M, but also wrote the screenplay to September, which grossed only $000.985M; equally, Allen wrote the screenplay to Husbands and Wives, Broadway Danny Rose, Zelig, Love and Death and Sleeper, which are all rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but also wrote the screenplay to Company Man, which is only rated 14%.
Then there’s Charlie Kaufman, who’s written three screenplays included on the Writers Guild of America’s list of the greatest ever, also wrote the screenplay to Human Nature, which is rated 49%. But Kaufman was still able to write Anamolisa, not because Paramount Pictures were foolish, but because they’re film industrialists, and therefore understand not to judge a screenwriter by films, but by screenplays. That’s what a screenwriter controls, and it’s all the screenwriter controls, so it’s all that’s considered to matter. The screenwriter doesn’t make the film, but they’re the ones that put the words on the page.
What the screenwriter does is present a film that could be but isn’t yet. Some screenwriters are also directors, but any success is accredited to their status as a director, being a screenwriter becomes incidental at that point. Screenwriters shouldn’t be famous because a good screenwriter just wants to be able to write screenplays. And anyone who wants to be a screenwriter to be a famous writer should just become a novelist instead.
And once any potential screenwriters understand this, those potential screenwriters can know whether they’re in it for the fame, or for the art. And as soon as a screenwriter does try to become famous for screenwriting alone, that leads to all sorts of problems. And Max Landis does these things to teach you not to do the same: