Directors lay claim to creative control

The millennia-old rivalry between writers and directors flared up again last month when international organizations representing both sides issued contradictory statements about who does what on film and TV sets.

The millennia-old rivalry between writers and directors flared up again last month when international organizations representing both sides issued contradictory statements about who does what on film and TV sets.

In late September, the International Association of English Speaking Directors came out of their annual meeting in Ireland waving their newly minted Dublin Declaration, a non-binding set of rules and agreements in principle that, among other things, asserts that helmers are ‘the primary creator[s]‘ of any given audiovisual work.

‘The director has the responsibility for inspiring a team of creative collaborators from pre-production through to final print,’ it reads.

This ruffled the feathers of writers, and the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds responded just two weeks later, after their big annual meeting in Canada, with the Toronto Declaration, countering that shows are ‘the result of a collaborative process that starts with the screenplay.’

‘The Dublin Declaration denigrates screenwriters the world over,’ said Peter White, president of the Writers Guild of Canada, in a statement. ‘To deny that the screenwriter is the primary creator of a film or television program flies in the face of reality.’ The IWAG has called on the directors to ‘clarify’ their declaration with regard to collaborative issues and the role of the writer.

Critics have also pointed out that directors generally have far less creative influence on TV shows than on films, contrary to the IAESD document.

Arden Ryshpan, director’s affairs manager at the Directors Guild of Canada, says the Dublin statement was not meant to offend writers – it was penned so that directors working in different countries could have an agreed-upon standard of what are fair working conditions. Many countries, Ireland for one, do not enjoy the same conditions as those in Canada or the U.S., she says.

‘Our colleagues in other countries look to Canada to provide leadership,’ says Ryshpan.