From Script to Screen: Navigating the Screenwriter and Director Relationship

Oct 18, 2023

The relationship between a screenwriter and director is an important one in the filmmaking process. The screenwriter comes up with the story script and builds on it from the first act to the third; tightening up scenes and dialogues, and formatting properly so the director can properly understand their vision.

On the other side of the coin, the director’s job is to translate the written script into a visual masterpiece. Acting as the conductor of the cinematic orchestra, the director employs the screenplay as the guiding blueprint for the entire filmmaking journey. He uses the action lines of the screenplay to direct the actors on how best to bring their characters to life. They utilize the action lines to guide actors in breathing life into their characters, collaborate with set designers to materialize the envisioned scenes, and work alongside accountants to formulate a budget for the movie’s financial strategy.

All of this starts with the screenplay – the movie’s blueprint, which makes it even more important that the screenwriter and director have a cordial working relationship.

In fostering this collaboration, it is imperative for both parties to delve into a mutual understanding of each other’s vision and approach, meticulously navigating through every nuanced detail embedded in the script. The success of this partnership hinges on the shared commitment to comprehensively grasp and align with one another’s creative perspectives.

Below are key aspects expected from the symbiotic relationship between a screenwriter and director.

Director Kunle Afolayan

Director Kunle Afolayan

1. Comprehensive Script Understanding

A prerequisite for a successful collaboration is a mutual understanding of the script. The screenwriter should naturally have an in-depth comprehension of every nuance in the script. Similarly, the director must delve into the intricacies of the script, ensuring a shared understanding. This synergy is vital to prevent misinterpretations that might hinder effective communication. It’s essential to avoid any situation where the writer perceives the director as not taking the job seriously, potentially jeopardizing the envisioned narrative.


2. Alignment on Project Goals

The screenwriter and director need to find common ground regarding the project’s goals. Agreement on the narrative’s direction and the desired emotional impact on the audience is crucial. These shared project goals serve as a compass, guiding the collaborative effort. Establishing and aligning these goals early on is instrumental in averting creative differences that might emerge during the course of the project.

Ifeanyi Barbara Chidi, screenwriter 'Diiche," "Covenant," "Crime and Justice Lagos," and many more

Ifeanyi Barbara Chidi, screenwriter “Diiche,” “Covenant,” “Crime and Justice Lagos,” and many more


3. Discuss potential changes from the beginning

Transparency is key, especially when it comes to potential changes to the script. Directors should express their opinions at the project’s outset to ensure the writer knows the envisioned alterations. This proactive approach prevents surprises and allows both parties to discuss and find common ground. It’s a collaborative process that respects each other’s creative perspectives, fostering an environment conducive to mutual understanding.


4. Avoidance of “Agree to Disagree” Mentality

The creative process demands an open mindset. Instead of adopting a mindset of “agreeing to disagree,” both the writer and director should embrace the potential for better ideas. While creative individuals may possess strong egos, it’s crucial not to let ego cloud judgment. Disagreements should be approached as opportunities for exploration, testing out ideas to see if they enhance the overall narrative.

Director Kemi Adetiba directing "King of Boys 2"

Director Kemi Adetiba on the “King of Boys 2” set

5. Able to work with other people’s ideas

Discussions about potential changes should be approached with flexibility. If one party presents a compelling argument that aligns with the integrity of the script, the other should be open to adapting. It’s a balance between protecting the core narrative and being receptive to enhancements that elevate the project. This adaptability ensures that collaborative changes contribute positively to the script’s overall quality.


6. Involvement of Screenwriters in Rehearsals and Auditions

To enhance collaboration, directors should invite screenwriters to auditions and rehearsals. During auditions, the writer can provide insights into whether the selected actors align with their envisioned characters. In rehearsals, the writer’s presence offers valuable feedback on how scenes are enacted, ensuring alignment with the writer’s vision for the story. This inclusive approach strengthens the collaborative bond between the writer and director throughout the filmmaking process.

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