The Schreiber Theory

David Kipen lampoons the overused auteur theory in this screed that argues scribe royalty among creators. He makes a compelling case that ultimately falls short on the collaborative nature of the medium and the screenwriting process today. Yes, plays are canonized by the writer, but they aren't captured onscreen for eternity the way films are.

David Kipen lampoons the overused auteur theory in this screed that argues scribe royalty among creators. He makes a compelling case — what’s not to like about Herman Mankiewicz’s contributions to filmdom? — that ultimately falls short on the collaborative nature of the medium and the screenwriting process today. Yes, plays are canonized by the writer, not director or thesps, but they aren’t captured onscreen for eternity the way films are.

That said, Kipen, a former scribe for the San Francisco Chronicle and Variety, does poke holes in the prevailing auteur theory, which considers directors principal authors of their films, and the best directors those who assert their personalities film to film. This view, Kipen points out, fails to account for directors like John Huston, who never made the same movie twice and therefore “stands outside the pantheon as a weak auteur — it gets a little hazy here — or as no auteur at all.”

Never mind less accomplished directors who nonetheless claim possessory credit on their films.

Kipen acknowledges the collaborative nature of film throughout, and take pains to make it clear he doesn’t fully expect his manifesto on behalf of the writer (Schreiber in Yiddish) to succeed. And yet nagging questions remain: What about the camera work? How about the actors? If we’re lucky, the director marshals the filmmaking process.

In the end, he argues that the Schreiber theory shouldn’t be construed as a disavowal of this collaborative art. “Schreiberism is,” Kipen concludes somewhat disingenuously, “an attempt to rescue reviewing and scholarship from those who would have us forget just how collaborative filmmaking truly is.”

If that’s really the goal, why spend 150 pages arguing for the supremacy of the writer? Instead say what you really mean: Don’t forget the writer, please.

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