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These writers just had to direct their own stories. Hereҳ why that works

Ӊn France, there is a tradition for one person to be both the writer and director,Ԡsays French writer-director Florian Zeller, whose drama Ӕhe FatherԠreleases from Sony Pictures Classics this week. Ӊtҳ not always for the best. But for єhe Father,Ҡit was not possible for me not to be the director of that story.Լ/p>

Auteurism, in which a filmҳ director and writer are the same person, is no longer just a French thing. For years, award season has brought on prestige picture after prestige picture full of auteurs. Along with Zeller, this season includes Julie Taymor (Ӕhe Gloriasԩ, Alan Ball (ӕncle Frankԩ,Charlie Kaufman (Ӊҭ Thinking of Ending Thingsԩ,Francis Lee (Ӂmmoniteԩ,Kelly Reichardt (ӆirst Cowԩ,Paul Greengrass (ӎews of the Worldԩ andArmando Iannucci (Ӕhe Personal History of David Copperfieldԩ. Some wrote original scripts, some worked with adaptations, but all are clear: They just had to be the ones to tell the story.

Anthony Hopkins and writer-director Florian Zeller on the set of Ӕhe Father.Լ/p>

(Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics)

Ӕhe first thing I ever wrote was something someone else directed, and that experience taught me I had a set way of seeing my work and how I wanted to visualize it,Ԡsays Lee. Ӂt that point, I thought, љouҲe going to have to write and direct your own stuff; thatҳ the only way youҬl have a singular viewpoint in there.Ҕ

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Itҳ not unusual for lauded screenwriters to jump the fence into directing their own work, because נunlike Lee, who has been able to direct and write his first two feature films נthey needed more industry traction before they could be trusted to helm a film. Charlie Kaufman won an Oscar for Ӆternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindԠin 2005 and has directed three feature films (which he also wrote) since then, including Ӆnding Things.Լ/p>

Jessie Buckley with writer-director Charlie Kaufman on the set of Ӊҭ Thinking of Ending things.Լ/p>

(Mary Cybulski/Netflix
)

Ӕhere was no chance when I wrote my first screenplay that anyone would let me direct it, and that was reasonable,Ԡsays Kaufman. ӎow, I know what I want and what Iҭ thinking by the time I direct a movie, so Iҭ confident I can answer questions with authority.Լ/p>

For Taymor, her multilayered ӇloriasԠscript, which she says had to be Ӷisual and cinematic,Ԡrequired someone who could imagine a device or leitmotif in the script, then carry it to conclusion. Ӂs a director, itҳ important to not just conceive of these ideas, but understand how they weave throughout a story seamlessly.Լ/p>

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Ball also picked up a 1999 Oscar for his Ӂmerican BeautyԠscript, and ӆrankԠis his latest directing effort, this time considered a television movie on Amazon. But before that Oscar, his contributions post-scriptwriting were not exactly encouraged. Ӕwenty years ago, when сmerican BeautyҠhappened, one thing I requested when we sold the script was to be on the set,Ԡhe says. Ӊt was a great experience for me to be there נbut if IҤ had different ideas about what should be going on in the set, IҤ have been banned.Լ/p>

DP Rodrigo Prieto, writer/director Julie Taymor, and Lynn Hendee watch video playback on the set of Ӕhe Glorias.Ԡ

(Dan McFadden/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

As it turns out, auteurs have also managed to take over at the Academy Awards, at least when it comes to the screenwriting categories. The last non-directing, solo screenwriter to win an original-screenplay Oscar was David Seidler for Ӕhe Kingҳ SpeechԠin 2010; ever since then, every Oscar given in the category has at least partially been credited to the director. Adapted-screenplay writers fare better, but the last solo non-directing adapted-screenplay writer to win an Oscar was in 2014, when Graham Moore won for Ӕhe Imitation Game.ԠHad Kaufman and Ball been submitting solo scripts after 2010 that they didnҴ direct, itҳ unlikely theyҤ have earned Oscars.

But directors נeven those heavily involved with writing their own scripts נrecognize the importance of having independent voices, whether itҳ those of writers or other crew. Reichardtҳ ӃowԠis based on Jonathan Raymondҳ novel by the same name, and the two are friends and neighbors who are in ӣonstant conversation,Ԡshe says.

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Ӎy filmmaking is better from working with writers,Ԡshe says. Ӊ look at my first screenplay and think, щ wish I had a writer on it.Ҕ

Director Paul Greengrass on the set of his western ӎews of the WorldԠwith Tom Hanks

(Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures)

ӓometimes you want a writing partner when you direct,Ԡagrees Greengrass. әou yearn for that cross-fertilization, because sometimes it takes you to a better place. A director may need someone to articulate what is un-articulatable for them.Լ/p>

Yet the way the system is organized, while directors may piggyback on scripts theyҶe adjusted in the collaboration with their writers, those who write the scripts do not have the option for a ӣodirectingԠcredit. The reasons are wide and varied, but it means non-directing writers rarely get to lay full claim to their own categories any more.

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Part of it is that separating a finished film from its script נor expecting all voters to read a script and watch the film נare real challenges. Ӊtҳ hard for academy members to see through to a good screenplay if the film wasnҴ good,Ԡ Taymor says.

Ӊ donҴ think that the Academy Award determines whatҳ a good screenplay,Ԡadds Kaufman. Ӕheir track record is fairly dismal. I read somewhere that the writing screenplay award in the academy is an also-ran, like, the film is critically well-received but theyҲe not going to give the award to them.Լ/p>

Is any of this fair? Probably as fair as anything is in the highly subjective awards season world.

ӆilm is still very much a director-led form,Ԡsays Iannucci, who acknowledges it takes a village to make a film, no matter who gets the top-line credit. Ӕhatҳ one of the reasons I love it. But directors are like orchestral conductors. I always think, їhy is his face on the front of the CD?ҠYouҲe not listening to him; youҲe listening to the 150 other people sitting behind him.Լ/p>

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