Billy Wilder, a superb writer/director was once asked if he thought a director should be able to write. His answer was: “No, he should be able to read.” The question always arises: why do writers want to direct? As a writer who also became a director ten years ago I can tell you the answer. And it’s not the answer you expect.
Most people think it’s to protect your material. That’s a factor certainly but especially in television the show runner is king. The director is his bitch. David Chase doesn’t have to direct every SOPRANOS episode to carry out his vision. David E. Kelley never even goes down to the stage. In features it’s obviously different. There it’s the director’s show and the writer is lucky if he gets a drive-on at the gate. But studios rarely hire writers to be first time directors unless they’re big successes and if they are big successes chances are their material wasn’t ruined. And the independent route is expensive and very risky. Directors have to be turning your period piece love stories into sci fi slasher pictures to make you want to mortgage your house.
No, the real reason writers want to direct is this: directing is easier. Sure there are long hours, a million stupid questions (who gives a fuck what color the floss is? It’s floss!!), difficult actresses, and Faye Dunaway. But your job is to make something that already exists work. That’s a whole lot easier than creating something out of nothing. I wish I knew who said it but supposedly a writer who was sick of always hearing about the “Capra Touch” set 120 blank pages in front of him and said, “Here. Put the Capra Touch on this.”
Directors also have cinematographers to make them look good, special effects guys, second unit directors, Industrial Light & Magic, editors, Judi Densch. But writers just have that blank screen.
Writing is lonely, directing is social. Writing is wishing, directing is making. Writing is losing your credit in arbitration, directing is taking credit for everything.
And yet, in my heart of hearts, I know I’m a writer. It’s my first love, it’s who I am. And if I ever needed further proof, Cedar-Sinai screwed up and billed the DGA health fund as my primary instead of the WGA and I’ve been on the phone trying to straighten this fucking thing out for two months.