How Much Creative Control Does a Screenwriter Have?

The subtitle of this excellent article on the power – and lack thereof – of screenwriters is “3 things you need to know about the screenwriter’s relationship to the filmmaking process,” and believe us when we say the word “need” is right on the money.

by Lauren McGrail with the Lights Film School Team

“A reader experiences a novelist’s work directly. An audience experiences a screenwriter’s work through someone else’s lens.”

Throughout my years as a script reader and while working as Lights Film School’s screenwriting instructor, I’ve spoken with many screenwriters and students who share the same apprehension about the filmmaking process:

Will my script be changed by the director and actors?

In fact, one person went so far as to assume that – because they’d heard that the director and actors tend to change a script during production – they didn’t need to worry so much about their final draft containing writing they weren’t happy with. “If it’s going to change,” they asked, “Won’t it just get fixed anyway?”

Well, yes, the script may change during production – but no, you shouldn’t rely on that change to polish your draft. Where possible, your draft should be the version of the script that you’d be happy to have followed to the letter.

Scripts can evolve throughout the filmmaking process, including on set, for a whole range of reasons. In a best case scenario, those changes are made directly by the screenwriter, or – at the very least – involve their consultation.

Sometimes, however, the screenwriter isn’t involved in script changes at all. Even so, lack of involvement is not grounds for waving away the responsibility of producing an excellent screenplay!

It’s important to remember three key points, which we’ll explore here together….

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