I have a lot of admiration for screenwriters. They are the unsung heroes of the film business; without their stories, no film would ever be made. Being a writer is hard, anxious and often lonely work. You stare at the blank screen. It waits to be filled, it must be filled, and so you start to write, praying that the end result is worth the effort you give to it. I've started and not finished countless screenplays whose stories just wouldn't go anywhere, written and completed eight full drafts of an absolutely dreadful romantic comedy and, through various writing groups I've belonged to over the years, read a lot of developing screenplays that will, thankfully, never see the light of day. I'm such a geek, in fact, that I often read the scripts for films I love, over and over again, just to feel rhythm of the words on the page, and to get a sense for how those words translated into the finished film on the screen.
As so often happens, Anne Thompson at The Hollywood Reporter has written an astute piece on screenwriting that is so obvious it seems it should be carved into granite above the entrance to every studio in Hollywood: Great writing makes for great movies. The film with which Thompson explores this hypothesis is Stranger Than Fiction, which debuted at Toronto (sadly, I missed it there), and she makes her point about great writing by enumerating how many big stars wanted to be in the film based on the script alone. Some truly great films have come out of a script that speaks its truth to actors so purely and loudly that they simply must see the film get made. They'll work for scale, drop other projects, shuffle their schedules around, all for the sake of that golden opportunity to be in a film so good that it demands to be made, whatever the sacrifice. When critics and cinephiles bemoan the dismal quality of so many films sludging their way out of Hollywood, very often what we are really bemoaning is the lack of originality in storytelling, the lack of passion in penning that story, and mostly, the lack of truth that seems to permeate so many films.