Film ProductionOften the layman believes that a finished film production represents one man or woman’s vision, usually either the writer or the director. In truth, the films that we sit down to watch in the movie theatre or at home represent a series of various people’s influences that arc and spike during different phases of the filmmaking process. The following is a list of some of the bigger creative influences that exist as a film shifts from the conceptual stage into actual production and finally into post-production and marketing.

Studio Executives – The only people who maintain significant power in the decision making process throughout the entire life of the film are the studio executives, and even their level of influence varies slightly, depending upon where in the process the film is. In general, however, the studio execs are always at the top of the power pyramid, and the only point in time where someone else might match (but not overtake) their level of influence is during the final script polish and shoot, when the director takes charge of visualizing the film.

Director – As stated above, the director is the only person in the power chain who can rival the studio executive’s influence at all, but there is a very critical distinction between the longevity of the studio exec’s and the director’s respective influences.

Most of the time, the director doesn’t even enter the picture until the script production process is in its late draft stages, and therefore he or she generally doesn’t provide any input into the creation of the overarching narrative or characterization. Similarly, the director’s influence may spike during the actual film shoot, but this same influence falls exponentially during post-production. By the time the film is in its marketing and release stages, the director’s influence is practically non-existent.

Producer – After the studio executives, the producer is the head honcho and the individual with the most consistent level of significant influence throughout the filmmaking process. Often the producer is the person who oversees the writers during script development, and thus he or she can have a direct impact upon the evolution of the narrative. One common job of the producer is to read the various screenplay drafts and to provide constructive criticism in an ongoing dialogue with the writers. This substantial influence carries into the shooting of the film and finally only begins to wane during the marketing and release phase.

Writers – Despite what you may expect, the writer is the low man on the totem pole in this list of film collaborators. Each individual writer brought in to work on the script will have a moderate amount of influence only during the period of time that he or she is directly rewriting drafts.

When a new writer is brought in for rewrites, that writer will typically replace the previous one, whose own level of influence will drop to zero. The last writer brought in for a script will usually have a slightly higher level of influence than the prior ones, since he or she may continue to tweak the script during the shoot itself. Even this last writer, however, must continue to answer to the producer, the director, and the studio executives.

The level of a writer’s influence may also depend on the type of film being made. Action blockbusters, for example, don’t rely upon extremely original or witty dialogue, but rather upon the level of excitement present in the action sequences.  If the third act needs more energy added to it, then the producer can just as easily hire in some extra writers to insert some high action scenes (as opposed to returning to the original writer and hammering out a solution to the problem), and everything will still work well. Therefore, the writer in an action blockbuster is far less likely to have any real creative control.

On the other hand, the most successful comic scripts have usually been written by people with high levels of creative control over the quality of the film. When a single writer has the ability to create a unique voice within a script – one that cannot be easily duplicated simply by hiring in someone else – then that writer will certainly continue to maintain that influence up to the time of the shoot.

In cases where the writer also has other roles within the filmmaking process (for example, when Kevin Smith wrote and directed Clerks or when Woody Allen writes, directs, and act in his own films), then obviously the influence of that writer will skyrocket.

One interesting factor to think about when considering a writer’s influence lies in the dilemma of who gets the credit for the script. In the United States – far more than in European filmmaking – there is a tendency to hire a new writer to rewrite a problematic script instead of returning to the original writer to work through the problems.

This process of hiring and firing writers can occur numerous times throughout the life of a script. When the film finally gets shot, not only will the final film credits not mention the names of all of the writers brought in for the various drafts, but the film may not even credit the writer who ultimately held the greatest influence over the final form of the script.

One great example of this occurred in the writing credits for a film called Raging Harlem, which had four different writers brought in for writing and rewriting at various times. The second and fourth writers undoubtedly held the most influence over the final form of the script, since the film itself most resembles their drafts, but the screen credits were assigned to the first and third writer.

Another example of the inconsistency between influence and credit appears in the film Interview with the Vampire. The original novel, written by author Anne Rice in the 1970s, had been adapted into numerous scripts over time, none of which worked due to their tendency to trip up over the sexualization of the vampires (especially the child vampire) in the novel.

Finally, a man named Neil Jordan created a script that embraced the vampires’ sexuality rather than avoided it, and this script ultimately became the film version we can see today. Jordan’s name appears nowhere in the film’s credits, however. Even though the screenplay was almost entirely his, the credit went to the novel’s author, Anne Rice, who had written an earlier, unused draft of the script.

In fact, often first draft writers are grateful to be fired from a job, especially if they don’t feel personally attached to the storyline. The reason for this is that they know they will get the credit for the final draft, regardless of whether they put in the work or influenced the final draft of the screenplay.

The other, best writer to be is the final one in the line-up, the one who does the polish during the film’s shoot. This has less to do with credit, however, than it has to do with money. The final writer will get paid on a daily basis as he rewrites throughout the shoot, and over time this position can be a very financially lucrative one.