A must-see for screenwriters and film critics

Tales From the Script (2009) is a documentary that probably won’t excite the average viewer. However, if you have notions of one day becoming a screenwriter or you like to do film criticism, then it’s a must-see picture. It is very simple in style and simply consists of a lot of screenwriters talking to the camera–telling their anecdotes, advice and experiences. Much of it is very interesting–again, at least to screenwriters and critics.

The film also gave me a lot to think about as well since I spend an awful lot of my time critiquing movies…and often criticizing the quality of the screenplays (this is often the worst part of a film). What I learned is that so little of what you see on screen is what was in the original script. There are many re-writes (often dozens)–and LOTS of changes insisted upon by practically everyone but the gaffers and grips! First, the producers and directors want their say–and since screenwriters are about as low on the food chain as you can get, these folks get a lot of say. Next, when the actors read through the scripts, they also have tons of suggestions–and if they are very famous and have a lot of star power, these changes WILL be made. But that’s not all–you also have committees of studio execs, junior execs and junior junior execs who also want to make changes. One of the interviewees said that in some of her films, only about 20% of what you see in the final picture was her original script!! So, I certainly will be sure to be a bit kinder–perhaps being sure to criticize the final script not the screenwriter.

In addition to learning about this process, the film also talks about how tough it is to make a living screenwriting, how originality is often frowned upon and, surprisingly, how being famous for a blockbuster or receiving an Oscar does NOT make the writer necessarily that much more marketable. It’s all very interesting…and very depressing for young filmmakers. But it’s not all depressing–the DVD has tons of extras. Some of these are things that were edited out of the film due to time but some is great material–such as a special extra where they have specific advice for a budding screenwriter. Well worth seeing even if it is NOT especially cinematic or exciting (plus the music really is pretty cheap and awful). For the right audience, this is a brilliantly insightful and satisfying film. And, if you want to see it, it’s available through Netflix or Amazon.

Martin’s Grade: A-

by Martin Hafer