If a screenwriter gets a film produced, will he or she get to see a rough cut of the film at its earliest stage?

–Geoff
Nova Scotia

That mostly depends on the writer’s relationship with the director and producer(s). If the screenwriter has been an active collaborator throughout the process, then definitely. If the relationship hasn’t been as close, it’s more likely the writer won’t see the first few rough cuts of the film.

And that’s a mistake. The writer should absolutely be included in the editing process. While the rest of the team has been bogged down in weeks or months of production hell, the writer generally has fresh eyes to all of the material shot. He’s not sick of the actors, the locations, and the scenes which took all night to shoot. Instead, he remembers the movie everyone was trying to make six months ago.

By WGA policy, any writer who works on a given film is supposed to have the opportunity to screen a cut of the film early enough in the editing process that any notes or suggestions he may have can be incorporated. For a long time, this rule was never enforced. Over the past few years, however, the studios have gotten better about making sure these screenings happen — although they often occur too late to be productive. For instance, I’ve sat in writer screenings where the film was already color-timed. No matter what I wanted to suggest, the movie was already locked.

Recently, there’s been a push to invite the writer to the first test-screening, assuming the screening happens in the Los Angeles area. It’s certainly a good idea, since huge decisions are often made based on the results of these screenings, and the screenwriter may be needed to implement them.

The movies I’m proudest of are the ones in which I was able to take a significant role in post-production, whether that was sitting down next to the Avid or talking through specifics with the director. I don’t always get everything changed the way I’d like, but I do feel the films are better for the input.