In honor of the striking screenwriters, I wanted to write a list of my favorites, either contemporary or all-time. But I decided that it would be more respectful to not exclude any of them. Even the bad writers need recognition right now. I've tried writing screenplays, and I salute anyone who has had one produced, whether brilliant or not. Even if it weren't difficult to actually write a script, it's certainly tough to deal with the b.s. of Hollywood and the sad truth that your vision will likely not make it to the screen as devised. So, instead of concentrating on real writers, I figured I'd look at screenwriter characters, specifically those portraying the hardships of the job.

"Joe Gillis" from Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder).

I imagine there's nothing scarier for a struggling screenwriter than the thought of ending up like poor Joe Gillis (William Holden). The opening shot of Wilder's classic shows the character floating face down in a swimming pool, and immediately he's labeled "an unsuccessful screenwriter." This sets up a hopelessness for the character, and for writers in general, as the film then flashes back to one of the greatest stories of Hollywood cynicism ever made. Gillis not only represents the difficulty of making it as a screenwriter, he also shares some juicy lines about how writers aren't recognized enough by the public ("Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along."); about drastic alterations to his scripts ("The last one I wrote was about Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat.") and about the desperation that turns good writers into seemingly hack writers (replying to talk of his once promising talent, he says, "That was last year. This year I'm trying to make a living."). There were screenwriter characters before him, and plenty after, but Gillis will forever be the quintessential example.

categories Cinematical