Tarkovsky speaks about...

Screenwriting vs. Directing

From Lectures on Film Directing (notes from classes taught by Andrei Tarkovsky at the VGIK), Iskusstvo Kino, 1990. Translated by Jan Bielawski.

I cannot imagine making a film based on a screenplay I didn't write. A director who makes a film entirely based on somebody else's screenplay necessarily becomes an illustrator [...].

I'll try to explain in more detail what I mean by screenplay and by the term "screenwriter" itself. There are "professional screenwriters" but in my opinion there is really no such thing. Those people should either be writers with good understanding of cinema or become directors themselves (showing the ability to organise the literary material on their own). Because, as I've already mentioned, there is no such literary genre as screenplay.

Now we are faced with a dilemma. Let us say a director, while preparing a screenplay, decides to write down in the form of events and episodes only what he imagined as concrete bits of time to be fixed on film. Taken as a work of literature such a screenplay would be disjoint, inaccessible, and utterly incomprehensible, not only to a casual reader but to anybody involved in further work on the film.

If on the other hand the screenwriter chooses to express his original idea in a literary form as a writer would, his work is no longer a screenplay. It becomes a work of literature like, say, some story filling up seventy typewritten pages. If the screenwriter is also preparing a shooting script he may as well walk up to the camera and shoot the film himself as nobody except him has the vision of the work and no director will be able to do a better job than he [...].

So given a very good and "cinematic" screenplay another director assigned to it would have nothing to do. And if a screenplay is presented in the form of a work of literature the director will be forced to start everything anew.

Whenever a director begins working on a screenplay it invariably begins to change, no matter how deep or detailed the screenplay is. The director will never produce a film which is an exact, literal translation, a mirror image of the screenplay. There will always occur certain deformations. That's why cooperation between a director and a screenwriter turns as a rule into a battle and a search for compromises. It is not impossible to make good films this way even if during the preparatory work the original ideas break down and the director and the screenwriter build a new conception based on the old "ruins."

Nevertheless, the most natural variant in film making would be when the ideas do not have to break down and deform but instead develop organically as in the case where the director writes the screenplay himself, or another variant — the author of the screenplay decided to make the film himself [...].

In short, I think the only good screenwriter for a director is a good writer.  end block

back navigation
[ Top ] [ Links ] [ Bibliography ] [ Documentaries ] [ Graphics ] [ Photos ] [ Diaries/Memoirs ] [ Topics ] [ News ] [ Home ]