Consider the screenwriter. It all starts with them. Even when an idea has been generated elsewhere, that idea is nothing without a screenwriter to breathe life into it. The screenwriter takes a blank page, and turns it into a story ripe for realization. They lay the foundation upon which an entire world can be created – to draw in the audience, and spin the yarn of their design.
Now, as you consider the screenwriter, who is the first that springs to mind? We undoubtedly all think of someone different, but they will almost certainly have one thing in common – a distinctive voice. I use the word ‘voice,’ not to describe the pitch of their vocals, but to encompass everything about their work that makes them stand out from the crowd – everything that ensures the instant recognition of their style, tone and dialogue. That special something that lets you know immediately that it is their work you are watching.
Perhaps there are recurring plot points, or a particular pace to the speech of the characters. Maybe they write for a regular cast of collaborators, or contain themselves within a specific genre. Whatever the modus operandi of these screenwriters, the audience knows they are in safe hands – because much as a film franchise builds upon the reassuring familiarity of a brand, so these screenwriters have created a brand of their own.
When compiling a list such as this one, two things become very clear. Firstly, the writers with the most distinctive voices tend to also be directors. While they may not write everything they direct, and vice versa, their strongest work is produced when those two skills come together. Secondly – and rather disappointingly – candidates are, in general, white men. Sadly, precious few screenwriters outside this narrow category have been afforded the opportunity to develop and express their distinctive voices. It doesn’t mean they’re not there – it just means that, for the most part, we haven’t heard them yet – and that is a most unfortunate trend in the film industry of 2014.
While we await more of those non-male, non-white voices to break through, however, let’s take a look at the most distinctive voices being heard in film today.