Heard the One About the Actress?

There’s an old joke about an actress who goes to Hollywood and is so desperate to land a part in a particular movie that she’ll sleep with anyone who can help her get one. But she’s so dumb, she sleeps with the screenwriter. Movie screenwriters have similar status to the scum at the bottom of a Beverley Hills swimming pool, unless you’re JK Rowling who, according to the Sunday Times Magazine last weekend, is worth £519m, compared to the mere £42m that Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) is worth. If that desperate actress had been a little smarter she’d have slept with JK, who wrote the screenplays for the Harry Potter films, right? Nope. Those, with the exception of The Order of the Phoenix, were adaptations of the books done by Steve Kloves. Who?

I bet you can’t name five movie screenwriters (and I’m only going as high as five because I know how well-informed and intelligent the readers of my blog are!). I reckon the average person on the street couldn’t name two (not counting those who are also famous actors, like Emma Thompson, Sylvester Stallone and Matt Damon). But they could name hundreds of actors and probably a few directors. It’s odd, in a way, because a movie usually needs a script, and a script is unique to a particular writer, whereas any number of actors or directors could bring it to life (in their own unique ways of course). The truth is, although one writer probably wrote the original script, once the option has been bought, other writers are usually brought in to polish it. Sometimes the person who wrote the original script doesn’t even get their name on the credits.

TV writers get a bit more credit – you’ll have a slightly better chance of naming more than five TV writers, whereas you’d probably struggle to single out many TV directors or producers. But again it’s the actors that most people associate with a particular show. Novelists who are fortunate enough to find a publisher are much easier to name than screenwriters; they generally get the limelight they deserve because there aren’t as many people involved who can steal it. So, in mathematical terms, the credit a writer gets is inversely proportional to the number of people involved in the final product (especially if some of those people are good looking and charming like George Clooney and Julia Roberts). Going back to JK Rowling, her novels are what made her successful; if she’d pitched Harry Potter as a movie script in the first place we’d probably never have heard of her and she’d still be struggling to pay for the coffee she drank while writing in an Edinburgh cafe.

Given how poorly writers are valued (my daughter says she’s embarrassed to say that her Dad is a writer), it’s ironic that probably the only profession that, on average, pays worse than writing is……acting. Given these insights, I’m writing a novel which I’m then going to adapt as a film. I must get back to it now – I’m thinking of giving my main character a wand and special powers. Failing that, I’ll try to sleep with JK Rowling.

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