From Jeremy Sandford
I much enjoyed Dominic Sheehan’s nicely written article ‘A Film By’ in the last Writers’ Bulletin, about the tendency of some directors, God bless them, to get off on a bit of an ego trip and claim rather more cudos in the creation of a movie than strictly belongs to them.
Films, of course, are collective efforts but the credit ‘A Film By’ does rather suggest that the director may be involved in a version of the game ‘I’m the King of the Castle, Get Down you Dirty Rascal’.
There can be a bit of financial jostling too. In a recent attempt to launch an unauthorised video of ‘Cathy Come Home’ which I wrote, I was interested to find that the deal offered me by Parallax would pay me about 7p out of every £12.99 that the film sold for. This compares to the £1.30 one might hope to get from the publisher of a hardback book.
It was a fraction of what Cher, who has a thirty second burst of one of her songs as incidental music in the film, was going to get.
There was just a tad of exploitation here, I thought, and the director of the film, my old friend and colleague Ken Loach, authorised a sleeve whose front cover had ‘A Film Directed by Ken Loach’ on it and no sign of a credit for Carol White, who played ‘Cathy’, or myself who wrote it, not to speak of Tony Imie who filmed it, Roy Watts who edited it, or Tony Garnett who produced it.
Sort of lacking in solidarity, I thought, with his fellow workers. Ken, a director of Parallax, has recently been making for them a film about the exploitation of office cleaners in California.
With the help of the Writers Guild I was able to halt the release of the video and Ken recently (well, six months ago) told the Observer that he would now ensure that I, and Cathy’s children, would be properly rewarded. This has not actually been followed by the appropriate paperwork.
If writers are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind, as Percy Bysshe Shelley called us, I don’t think we are particularly welcome at the contemporary consumerist banquet.
One way of disempowering the playwright’s message is to beam publicity onto the actors and the director. Removing the writer from front place in the spotlight makes him/her miles easier to control or modify.
So that the medium itself may truly become the message, programmers prefer an actual message that is bland rather than dynamic, that rocks the boat enough to cause a frisson but not so much that it blows a storm. Hence the ambivalent feelings stirred up by ‘Cathy Come Home’.
The remarkable conceit and flambouyant egos of many directors may, of course, have something to do with phrases like ‘A Film By ...’
A friend who ghost-writes autobiographies tells me that once the work is done the subject of the autobiography pretty soon comes to believe that they wrote it all themselves.
The relationship twixt writer and director (producer) certainly has shifted since George Bernard Shaw used himself to jump up onto the stage to explain to his cast how to speak their lines.
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