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Although I rarely succumb to it myself, most of us treat actors (and athletes, politicians, or otherwise famous people) like heroes when their acting really speaks to us. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t succumb to that often because I’m more concerned with who someone is (i.e., their character) than what someone is (i.e., their job description). I’m not going to adore someone who could turn out to be a real jackass, and I wouldn’t know whether the were without meeting them. However, even if I knew for a fact that an actor was a jackass, and I’d never want to meet them, I could still speak highly of their work (see, e.g., Manny Patinkin, Wizards of the Coast as an entity, Russell Crowe). That’s because, like most (if not all) of you, an actor’s work can really strike a chord and speak to me in ways the actor his/herself couldn’t necessarily have precisely anticipated. Neither the feat nor the effect should be understated.
Building a Foundation
But that’s only one side of the equation, isn’t it? While someone has to go out there and actually act the part, they can’t do that without the foundation provided by the writing. Off the top of my head, I could rattle off the names of a number of actors that should be considered “forgettable” but can’t name more than a couple of screenwriters who deserve to be household names. This is so despite how important they are, and despite how huge of an emotional impact their writing has had on me. They’re not in the forefront, so you can’t use their faces as mnemonic devices to remember their names. The only credit writers get are in, well, the credits, and no one reads those. Even if there are mid- or post-credit scenes, we just turn to our cell phones while waiting for them to cue up.
Kessel Junkie and I were lamenting over the cancellation of Mindhunter by Netflix. My attempt at consoling him fell terribly short of the mark.
Sure, we can see the actors we like in a lot of different things, but a show’s fundamental basis is its script. Once that’s gone, we lose something that’s sometimes irreplaceable.
In the music world, this problem isn’t as great because, for example, Neil Peart was not only a lyricist but also the drummer. He wore two hats analogous to both a writer and an actor. You were going to know who he was and never forget him. But there are plenty of songwriters, especially from prior generations, who never got their due, so the medium is hardly immune to this effect.
. . . And the Rest
And yes, the directors and many others are important too. There are a lot of moving parts in film-making. This isn’t about them. I can name a bunch of directors, and with all due respect, there are several other jobs that people do that anyone could do if they put their minds to it. The reason I’m focusing on the writers is because they more often combine these three elements: They’re important, have a highly specialized skill set not anyone could do even with training, and often get far less recognition from the average person than they deserve.
Let’s not forget how important the writers are.