Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative
ISSN: 1479-0726 (Print) 1943-3107 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rmnw20
The Total Filmmaker: thinking of screenwriting,
directing and editing as one role
To cite this article: Erik Knudsen (2016) The Total Filmmaker: thinking of screenwriting, directing
and editing as one role, New Writing, 13:1, 109-129, DOI: 10.1080/14790726.2016.1142571
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14790726.2016.1142571
© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Taylor &
Published online: 29 Feb 2016.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 6539
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Citing articles: 3 View citing articles
The Total Filmmaker: thinking of screenwriting, directing and
editing as one role
Media Production, Bournemouth University, Dorset, United Kingdom
As screenwriting continues to establish itself as a discrete discipline
in academia, either in alignment with creative writing departments
or ﬁlm and media practice departments, there is a danger that such
developments may entrench a distancing of the craft from the
cinematic form itself and that such a distancing may ultimately
reinforce the screenplay’s propensity for dramaturgy and the
dramatic, rather than the sensory and experiential of the cinematic.
Closely related creative stages in telling cinematic stories include
directing and editing and this article seeks to argue, with reference
to personal screen practice, that screenwriting, directing and editing
are, in fact, three variations of the same thing. The article proposes
the notion of the Total Filmmaker who embraces all three aspects of
the cinematic storyteller.
If the ultimate aim is to create a narrative that fully utilises the
unique properties of the cinematic form in telling a story, rather
than being dominated by the theatricality of dramatically driven
classical narratives, how might one explore the relationship
between screenwriting, directing and editing? Can an integrated
approach to creating the cinematic blueprint change the way we
think of pedagogy and screenwriting?
Received 8 December 2015
Accepted 21 December 2015
creativity; pedagogy; writing;
My movie is born ﬁrst in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real
objects I use, which are killed on ﬁlm but, placed in a certain order and projected onto a
screen, come to life again like a ﬂower in water. (Bresson 1977,7)
The beginning: a changing context
The idea of the Total Filmmaker allows us to move away from the quagmire of debates
around the notion of the auteur, ﬁrst articulated by Truffaut in his essay Une certaine ten-
dance au cinéma français (Truffaut 1954) as he wrestled with where authorship sits in a col-
laborative art form ﬁrmly rooted in industrial processes and institutions. Instead, perhaps
we can look to what happened to football in the 1960s and 1970s Netherlands, where the
© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
(http://creativecommons.org/Licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT Erik Knudsen email@example.com
NEW WRITING, 2016
VOL. 13, NO. 1, 109–129
football manager, Rinus Michels, developed a highly successful theory and strategy, ﬁrst
conceived by Jack Reynolds, of ﬂexible and interchangeable outﬁeld players able to
reshape, reinvent and respond to ever changing game circumstances.
Like in the ﬁlm
industry, up until that point football had been dominated by practises, even dogmas,
and about rigid positions, which only varied when the occasional genius footballer
would pop up. The industrial model of ﬁlmmaking, exclusive and largely determined
by technological and ﬁnancial constraints, shaped divisions of labour along technological
and procedural fault lines. Our subsequent teaching and learning –as well as research –
discourses tend to reﬂect this original order to this day and in this paper I wish to ﬁrst chal-
lenge, through my own production practice and the context to those practices, the notion
of screenwriting, directing and editing being discrete disciplines and, second, to propose
the idea of the Total Filmmaker as not only a reality of independent ﬁlmmaking, but a
desirable reality in the ongoing development of quality cinema. I hope to articulate a sug-
gestion that current dominant approaches to thinking of the screenplay and screenwriting
–and consequently the teaching of screenwriting –limit the cinematic expression to a
paradigm rooted in the idea of the cause and effect of drama and conﬂict. Cinematic nar-
ratives that deviate from this paradigm, such as my own narratives which explore more
transcendent engagement with stories of the everyday, struggle with the screenplay as
being separate from directing and editing.
Industrial situations emphasise the idea of large complex teams building a product. Not
least because by spreading roles and responsibilities, particularly in the areas of screen-
writing, directing and editing, investors are spreading risk and minimising single points
of failure. In fact, few investors on large-scale projects invest in a project that has not
ﬁrst successfully established itself in another form, such as novel, play, comic, news
item or celebrity story. The producer sits across the whole process and manages the crea-
tive articulation of a story. The complexity of satisfying producers, directors and investors
often leads to large ﬁlm projects and TV series going through several screenwriters or,
indeed, writing in teams, which in turn often means genre or formulas dominate what
is produced. Usually, speciﬁc genre, supported increasingly by biometric analysis, under-
pin and frame the project with each stage of the process carefully monitored by the inves-
tors and their representatives. It is in the interest of investors to reinforce the clear stages:
idea, proof of concept, development, production, postproduction, testing and compliance,
distribution and exhibition. Each of these complex stages will have sub stages and, as we
all know, very many people are involved. Perhaps it is no surprise that with so many people
involved, and so much at stake for everyone, the status quo is reinforced and progress is
measured primarily in terms of reﬁnement.
In this kind of process, the screenplay is an industrial blueprint. It is used to sell, per-
suade, and provide information for budgeting, casting, production design, performance
and so on. It is worth reminding ourselves that we are usually talking about a single docu-
ment performing all these roles: the screenplay. For the screenplay to satisfy this complex
array of demands, it has evolved a particularly sparse set of conventions to achieve the
challenging objectives of, on the one hand, giving us enough detail to imagine a ﬁlm,
while on the other hand, not giving too much detail that might infringe on the work of
others, such as the director, production designer, cinematographer and editor. Given all
these demands and challenges, the standard screenplay format and its conventions
(especially in the Anglo Saxon cinema) have proved particularly resilient. These
110 E. KNUDSEN
conventions have not changed much over many decades. However, the recent democra-
tisation of ﬁlmmaking and distribution brought about by the digital revolution, and the
need to take advantage of this democratisation in order to encourage diversity and inno-
vation, necessitates an examination of how we consider and teach screenwriting. Two par-
ticular problems come to mind. First, the problem of limited imagination and the
screenplay. Second, the related problem of the dominance of genre deﬁned screenplays
and the dramaturgy of classical narratives.
Surely, as the screenwriter commences the writing of a screenplay, the imagery of the
ﬁlm plays out in the writer’s minds eye. The ﬁlm lives in the imagination, excites and moves
the creator to write a shorthand version down on paper. As Bresson suggests (Bresson
1977, 7), the ﬁlm ‘dies’. Perhaps the wise Islamic mystics had this in mind when decreeing
that to represent Allah as an image be forbidden as it would reduce the living presence of
God to something it was not. Or perhaps, like in quantum theories of Max Planck
, our measurements and understanding of sub atomic particles are dependent
on the instruments we use to observe them. In both cases, the strong suggestion is that
the intangible object of observation is deﬁned by the limits of our tools and our imagin-
ation. One could say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The decision makers evaluating and advising on a screenplay will consequently see what
their imagination conjures up. It will be shaped by their experience and their understanding
of ﬁlm language. That new vision of the screenplay will then be shaped by the careful selec-
tion of director, cinematographer, editor and so on, and what eventually ends up on the
screen may or may not live up to the original vision of the screenwriter. On larger scale pro-
jects where risks are high, the imagination that shapes the screenplay through the hiring
and ﬁring of screenwriters, appointments of script editors and the intervention of producers,
will be focused on the shape of past successes, the easy identiﬁcation of genre and sales
pitches and, particularly relevant to this discussion, the form of the cinematic narrative.
With these priorities in mind, the standard screenplay format and practice focuses
attention on action and dialogue. In fact, the word ‘play’suggests the link to the role of
the play in performance and the classical narrative ﬁlm is often referred to as a perform-
ance, suggesting the focus on the dramaturgy of the performers. This leads to what
Bresson calls ‘photographed theatre’(Bresson 1977, 37). While screenwriters might do
their best to subtly hint at the visuals (including the audio visual presence of the screen
characters), the sounds, the mise-en-scéne and the montage, the main expectations of a
screenwriter revolve around issues of narrative structure, character actions, character dialo-
gue, character motivations and character arcs. A relatively limited palette of tools related to
character psychology and motivation and their subsequent story arcs dominate most how-
to books on screenwriting. Even attempts at deviating from the dominant paradigm, often
utilising the mythological studies of Joseph Campbell (2012), such as Amnon Buchbinder’s
The Way Of The Screenwriter (2005) and Christopher Vogler’sThe Writer’s Journey (1998),
keep returning to the core elements that make the dominant classical screenplay work:
character, plot, action, psychological cause and effect and self assertive narrative structure.
Yet the way in which cinematic narratives engage audiences in story involves many
more components, particularly where narratives deviate from, or challenge, the classical
approaches. The faces, the postures, the minute details of gesture and looks, the eyes,
the sounds, the colours, the compositions, the mise-en-scéne, the juxtapositions, the
rhythms, the textures …all these combinations of formal elements are in fact the
NEW WRITING 111
components that make the cinematic medium its own unique form.
Where a cinematic
storyteller –initially the screenwriter –seeks to enhance the role of these formal elements
as a driving force of the narrative (thereby, in my opinion, striving towards the form’s
strengths), they often start to have problems with the established forms of the screenplay
as a means of articulating their vision. Perhaps this is also as a consequence of a lack of the
requisite understanding of the cinematic form’s potential.
Throughout the history of ﬁlm, audio-visually driven ﬁlmmakers have struggled with the
screenplay. Famously, of course, Jean-Luc Godard shot Breathless (France, 1960) without
much of a script and on many other of his ﬁlms often worked from a treatment or outline.
Aki Kaurismäki shot Calamari Union (Finland 1985) with only a one-page ﬂow diagram.
my own experience, I shot my ﬁlm, Brannigan’sMarch(UK, 2004) on the basis of a short treat-
ment, writing speciﬁc dialogue scenes the evening before shooting that scene. Yet despite
my own experiments, I keep returning to the trusted format of the standard screenplay.
For those of us who want to move away from the dominant classical narrative
approaches, with its emphases on the self assertive, the dramatic, conﬂict, cause and
effect, externalised action, the mutable and the psychologically explicable, how can the
screenplay and its conventions be evolved to allow for a different approach? How can
the screenplay, and its practices, help those of us who want to tell stories utilising the parti-
cipatory in us, the undramatic, stillness, coincidence, inner lives, the mutable and the mys-
tical? Importantly, how can the teaching of screenwriting be evolved to allow the
screenwriter to access and use modes of storytelling that engage the more transcendent
feelings in us by creatively deploying the unique formal qualities of the cinematic medium?
Fortuitously, the digital revolution, and the subsequent democratisation of the means
of production and distribution, has come to our aid and, like the Guttenburg Press did for
the written word in the Middle Ages, liberated us –at least potentially. For their 2014 ﬁlm
festival, The Sundance Institute received over 4000 feature ﬁlm entries (for 120 screenings)
and over 8500 short ﬁlm entries (for 65 screenings.
In the UK, the British Film Institute ﬁrst
started counting feature ﬁlms under £500,000 budgets and not distributed by members of
the Film Distributors Association in 2011/12 and discovered an additional 350 feature ﬁlms
that normally would not have been counted. We should pay particular attention to the
explosion of ﬁlmmaking in the developing world. We already know that Bollywood and
Nollywood are the two largest ﬁlm industries in the world in terms of number of ﬁlms pro-
duced. Small countries like Ghana (population 25 million) now produce in excess of 1000
commercially distributed feature ﬁlms a year. Visits to YouTube and Vimeo will further evi-
dence the explosion in independent ﬁlmmaking. Like in literature or music, the distinc-
tions between whether someone has a ‘job in the industry’or a formal ‘commission’are
becoming somewhat irrelevant. New types of companies are emerging to engage with
this proliferation: from online broadcasters such as Netﬂix (netﬂix.com accessed 10 October
2015) and Amazon Prime (amazon.com accessed 10 October 2015), to aggregator services
like Under The Milky Way (us.underthemilkyway.com accessed 10 October 2015), to new
opportunities and business models such as Amazon’sStudio(studios.amazon.com accessed
10 October 2015) service or MoviePitching (moviepitcher.com accessed 10 October 2015) ser-
vices for screenwriters.
The idea that in this burgeoning narrative moving image sector, traditional practices in
which the screenwriter, director, editor, cinematographer or sound recordist, and others,
have clearly delineated roles and responsibilities is well on the way to being undermined.
112 E. KNUDSEN
The terminologies, the roles and responsibilities, as well as the procedures and processes of
the ﬁlm set, are now more difﬁcult to deﬁne and teach as they dissipate into ﬂuid and inter-
changing networks, collaborations and interdisciplinarities. While the history of ﬁlm is lit-
tered with examples of multitasking ﬁlmmakers,
this idea of the multitasking media
professional, including multitasking, or Total Filmmaker, is perhaps more common now
than ever. Technology and the democratisation that results from it have created a market
place where costs of production and distribution have plummeted. Just like music and pub-
lishing before it, the moving image industry is increasingly made up of contributions from
creative and entrepreneurial artists and crafts people whose sole source of income does not
come from having a protected job within a largely closed industrial system. These artists and
crafts people support themselves through a complex woven pattern of activities and form a
growing independent sector which, in effect, trains people who enter the industrial main-
stream, identiﬁes and supplies the talent and provides the research and innovation that
helps refresh and renew the industrial core of the sector.
This growing hinterland of independent production is allowing the Total Filmmaker to
emerge more prominently than previously. Necessity is the mother of all invention, so the
saying goes, and in this spirit necessity, in the form of cost effectiveness, creative necessity,
practical and logistical necessity and, for many, the necessity to rebel against the system, is
driving the development of ﬁlm practices, including creative and narrative practices. We
often see in the evolving independent generation –both young and older –people who,
interchangeably (either on the same project or from project to project) write, direct, edit,
shoot, production design and so on. This is certainly the case with short ﬁlms
many independent feature ﬁlms, too.
What impact does this have on screenwriting and
the teaching of screenwriting? When we think of the pedagogy of screenwriting, therefore,
do we not also need to take account of this changing context? Both in terms of engaging
with the narrative form, and in terms of engaging with practices,
can the screenwriter
actually separate themselves out into their own discrete discipline?
The middle: practicing total ﬁlmmaking
By looking very brieﬂy at a couple of examples from writer-directors and then moving on
to look at my own practice in my ﬁlm, The Raven On The Jetty (UK 2015), I hope to expand
on this idea of the Total Filmmaker and its potential impact on screenwriting. Robert
Bresson and Francis Ford Coppola provide contrasting ways in which writer-directors
have written and worked with screenplays, subsequently directing what they have
written. Indeed, the very way their screenplays have been written reﬂects contrasting
working methods and attitudes to the cinematic form; for example, in their contrasting
approaches to the screen performer. Where Bresson worked with the ideas of models per-
forming precise, repetitive actions whose very minimalism allows us to enter into the inde-
ﬁnable almost spiritual qualities of characters, Coppola worked very much within the
performative tradition in which external expression in face and actions reveals psychologi-
cal understandings of characters and their motivations.
Bresson’sL’Argent (France 1983) is perhaps the ultimate expression of his cinematic phil-
His disciplined minimalism, perhaps better described as visual piety; his precise
approach to movement; his studious observation of details of body parts, such as hands
and feet (the main vehicles of our physical actions); his evocative capturing of looks and
NEW WRITING 113
looking; his insistent rejection of performance; the rigorous complementarity of picture and
sound; they are all formal qualities that are critical to the telling of his stories. The inimitable
audio visual unity of the ﬁlm leads the emotional and feeling engagement with the themes
of the ﬁlm. They are inextricably imbedded in the form itself and not just in the dramatur-
gical performance of the actor/characters as captured by camera and sound recorder.
Bresson is, essentially, making a cinematic performance rather than capturing a human per-
formance. Knowing his intentions, he adapted the screenplay accordingly:
114 E. KNUDSEN
This detailed shot by shot screenplay, full of camera instructions and detailed descriptions
of character movement in relation to the frame, is a far cry from how we tend to teach screen-
writing. It would be easy to dismiss this approach as a director’s shooting script –which it
indeed is –but it is a reﬂection of how Bresson’s formalistic philosophy and approach is
guiding how he writes his screenplay. The line between director, writer and, indeed, editor
is somewhat blurred. The writer in him, the director in him and the editor in him need to
work together to conceive the form as the narrative only works in its holistic context. It is
difﬁcult to read this screenplay and get any sense of the power of the ﬁnal ﬁlm, largely
because the dramaturgy of conﬂicting characters is not what is really driving this narrative.
From L’Argent (Bresson, France 1983)
From L’Argent (Bresson, France 1983)
NEW WRITING 115
From L’Argent (Bresson, France 1983)
One could perhaps imagine how an investor, a producer, or a script editor with little
knowledge of Bresson’s visual style, approach and philosophy, would fail to understand
the holistic cinematic potential of this narrative. Rather than emphasising the dramaturgi-
cal conﬂicts, character arcs and so on, that we have come to expect jumping from the
pages of a screenplay, Bresson has focused on giving us as many of the directorial and
editing components as he can reasonably provide on paper.
Contrast this with Francis Ford Coppola’s approach to writing the screenplay, which is
clearly steeped in the dramaturgy of the classical Hollywood tradition. His screenplay for
his acclaimed ﬁlm The Conversation (1973) illustrates how the screenplay has been
reduced to simply describing the basic setting, actions and, importantly, the dialogue.
Where Bresson has minimal dialogue as a narrative driver, Coppola’s narrative depends
a lot on what is said (and, contrapuntally, what is not said):
INT. THE ROOM. NIGHT.
The bathroom door opens. Harry steps out, staring at her.
Why are you singing that?
Why that song?
What’s the matter Harry?
Someone else was singing that song
116 E. KNUDSEN
Now I’m jealous. Who is she?
I don’t know her …I…it’s
You never told me where you work
Different places. Different jobs.
I’m a musician. A freelance
Do you live alone Harry?
Why are you asking me questions all
of a sudden?
It’s your birthday …I want to
know about you.
Yes, I live alone, but I don’t want
to answer any more questions.
He moves to the kitchenette; we can feel that he doesn’t want to stay here
Your rent is due this week.
She doesn’t answer.
Here we see the classic example of how the screenplay is reduced to the bare drama-
turgy of character dialogue and very very basic actions. Nowhere is there even a hint of the
formal cinematic elements, nor, importantly for this discussion, the complex behavioural
actions undertaken by the characters in this scene.
From The Conversation (Coppola 1973)
NEW WRITING 117
From The Conversation (Coppola 1973)
From The Conversation (Coppola 1973)
The complex conﬂict that exists between Harry and Amy, in which he seeks to have sex
with her, and she seeks to ﬁnd out more about the real man, is visually played out in
their physical interactions. His constant attempts to kiss her; her constant attempts to
avoid the kissing, in part through eating a biscuit. The screenplay suggests the conﬂict
on one level, but that intimate physical interaction is not explicitly suggested in the screen-
While Bresson’sﬁnal ﬁlm does deviate very subtly from the screenplay, there is an
attempt to describe as much of the detail as possible. In contrast, Coppola’s screenplay
leaves out almost all the visual and behavioural detail, which clearly reﬂects the way
that he works with his performers in creating the ﬁnal scene.
118 E. KNUDSEN
A screenplay has to be like a haiku. It has to be very concise and very clear, minimal. When you
go to make it as a ﬁlm, you have the suggestions of the actors, which are going to be available
to you, right? You’re going to listen to the actors because they have great ideas (Interview with
Francis Ford Coppola. Accessed May 8, 2015. http://99u.com/articles/6973/Francis-Ford-Coppola-
The knowledge and experience of working with actors enables Coppola to fashion a
minimalist screenplay that he knows will come to life through a collaborative process
with actor, cinematographer, editor and so on. The screenplay seems almost to focus
entirely on dialogue. In contrast, Bresson’sﬁlm existed in his mind’s eye, complete,
almost, and the process of writing the screenplay was to capture as much of that as
possible. In both cases, the life force of the ﬁlm exists away from the page and forms
itself only when all of the formal elements of the work ﬁnally come together.
In my own recent ﬁlm, The Raven On The Jetty (UK 2015), the formal elements played the
most important aspects of telling the story, not least because the main character, Thomas,
only speaks once. One example of this was the relationship between space, location, time
and character. I was seeking to create narrative spaces into which the viewer places their
own life experience in order to complete the narrative. Rather than projecting narrative
information to move the audience, I was seeking to work with the negative spaces that
sought to invite the viewer in, to engage their participatory feelings, rather than their
self assertive emotions.
This was an experiential narrative strategy that often involved
long lingering shots, abandoned spaces in the composition, the sensation of the sound
scape and the trance-like rhythm of the editing. This, of course, presents challenges for
the screenplay. The only time Thomas speaks in the ﬁlm is during a ﬁve-minute long
shot in which he is completely on his own:
47. EXT. DECIDUOUS WOODS. MORNING.
THOMAS seems so small, surrounded by tall and substantial deciduous
trees. Parts of the undergrowth are thick and roots and branches have
to be negotiated. There is nothing but the woods to be seen and no paths
and there is a lingering mist.
He is slowly venturing forward through the woods. He looks around him,
nervously. Once or twice he will stop to listen, uncertainly, or a twig
will break, causing him to jump or stop. Up ahead, he can hear large
wing ﬂaps and the cry of a couple of Ravens. He seems to be following
Suddenly, he stops. Up ahead, he can see a Raven on the ground. It seems to
be pecking away at something. Occasionally, the Raven will pause to look
As Thomas gets closer, he hesitates. The Raven, too, pauses its pecking
at something on the ground. There is a standoff; Thomas is a little reti-
cent to move forward and the Raven is reluctant to give up what is clearly
Thomas decides to be brave. He takes a few cautious steps forward and
eventually the Raven ﬂies off. Once it has ﬂown off, Thomas moves
forward to see what the Raven was pecking away at.
NEW WRITING 119
Leaning over the spot, he is horriﬁed at what he sees and has to step back
for a moment: a dead and severely mauled carcass of a Budgie. He leans
forward, cautiously, to have a closer look.
Hearing the cry of a Raven above, Thomas suddenly picks up a nearby stick
and hurls it angrily in the direction of the Raven’s cry. He then returns
to looking at the dead and mutilated carcass of the Budgie. He kneels down
next to it.
After a few moments of studying it, he gets an idea. He rummages nearby
for a stick and starts digging a hole in the ground next to the Budgie.
After a considerable scraping effort, a hole appears. Using the stick,
Thomas scoops the carcass of the Budgie into the hole, then uses the
same stick to scoop the earth across the Budgie, burying it. He smooths
out the earth to make it look as nice as possible, then throws the stick
He ﬁnds another, thinner, stick nearby and sticks that on the grave as an
ornament. He looks at his handy work for a moment or two. He then folds his
hands and closes his eyes, tight:
Our Father, who lives in Heaven, eh …
(Hesitates) Our Father, who lives in
Heaven, eh …Give me …Give us …
(Hesitates) Our Father, who lives in
Thomas gives up and opens his eyes and looks at the little grave and stick
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
120 E. KNUDSEN
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
NEW WRITING 121
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
From The Raven On The Jetty (Erik Knudsen, UK 2015)
122 E. KNUDSEN
The subtlety and detail of looks, actions, gestures, hesitations, the subtlety of the sound,
the pregnancy of the empty spaces vacated, the shifting natural light phenomena at for-
tuitous moments –all go into the creation of the scene. Yet most of the screenplay is dedi-
cated to describing the dramaturgical components, of which there are few, and one could
perhaps be forgiven for thinking that this is a poor screenplay.
Nevertheless, as a screen-
writer, I attempted to include as much as is possible without turning into a novelist.
Is it a coincidence that so much literature is the source for the screenplays that even-
tually appear on our screens? Could it be that those making decisions can ‘see’the ﬁlm
when reading literature and that they need that assurance,
that reference point that
allows them to imagine the ﬁlm? These same decision makers also want to know who
the director is going to be, the cinematographer, the editor, the designer, from whose pre-
vious works they will start to build a picture of the ﬁnal ﬁlm. In these instances the
NEW WRITING 123
screenplay becomes dominated by concerns of character (as deﬁned through basic
actions, reactions, decisions and dialogue) and narrative structure. Because I am also
going to direct and edit, I am able to ﬁll the gaps and write the screenplay in such a
way as to recognise the importance of all the other cinematic components that go into
making a ﬁlm. The end result may be that I end up with a screenplay that the reader
does not get, does not understand or does not see because their own experience of
screenplays is based on the values of a particular paradigm.
During the making of The Raven On The Jetty (Knudsen 2015),
the screenplay was used
sparingly. Actors saw the screenplay once, as part of the process of them agreeing to take
part in the ﬁlm, and then never saw it again. The screenplay was then used by the crew for
planning purposes, but once storyboards had been created, the screenplay was rarely
The storyboards formed the basis of all the notes for shooting and the basis on which
the ﬁrst assembly cut was shaped. The screenplay in that sense marks a certain part of a
journey; a stage where narrative structure and dramaturgical structure were paramount.
Like Bresson’s way of working, the ﬁlm was in my mind’s eye, though, as with Coppola,
it would be shaped, reﬁned and developed by my interactions with the creative contribu-
My writing of the screenplay, however, was guided by the director and editor in me.
Additionally, the use of sound was very important at the screenplay stage; certain charac-
ter information and narrative information was conveyed speciﬁcally through the tensions
and interactions between picture and sound.
For example, certain sound effects, tex-
tures and rhythms that I knew would be important in conveying character feeling and
decisions were incorporated into the writing of the screenplay. Decisions about what
we see and what we don’t see; what scenes are necessary and in which order; what
needs to be said and what could be conveyed through sound or looks; all these consider-
ations were inﬂuenced by my understanding of how I wanted to incorporate aural and
visual components in the ﬁlm. Even the very narrative structure was guided by this inter-
play between the writer, director and editor in me.
Consequently, the writing of the behaviour of my characters and what they say was
hugely inﬂuenced by my directorial and editing intentions. One example was that my
directorial intention to use eyes and eye lines in particular ways inﬂuenced my decisions
about how I would develop scenes, actions and dialogue.
As did my use of what I term
pregnant spaces; the lingering spaces vacated by a character can powerfully convey
feeling and emotions and in such cases it allowed me to move away from seeking sugges-
tive performances or gestures from my characters.
All these considerations have been part of the ongoing shaping of my attitude to
screenwriting and its role in developing and fostering cinematic expression. In the case
of cinematic expression that moves away from the dominance of the drama as the foun-
dation for the telling of the story, the screenplay as a format becomes problematic. This is
an issue, because all the major institutions tend to rely on this format as the most appro-
priate way of expressing and evaluating a cinematic intention. For the Total Filmmaker
working in an environment where traditional structures and processes are being reshaped,
and where creative and entrepreneurial independence drives new sectors within a plura-
lising industry, the screenplay written by a person removed from the rest of the production
process may gradually become a thing of the past. After all, the screenwriter, the director,
and the editor are all engaged in the same thing: telling a story cinematically.
124 E. KNUDSEN
What are the possible implications for this kind of thinking on how we might teach, or
encourage the learning of, screenwriting?
The end: teaching for change
Even if it is the intention of someone to concentrate on writing screenplays, I would still be
inclined to approach their education in screenwriting on the basis of the Total Filmmaker.
The more the screenwriter can conﬁdently incorporate the considerations of the director
and editor (indeed, the sound designer, too) in shaping the screenplay, the more likely the
writer will be able to shape the screenplay in such a way that it utilises as much of the
formal cinematic elements as possible. My assessment has always been that what dis-
tinguishes cinema from TV drama is that the TV drama uses the camera to primarily
capture performances of actors, where these performances are actually the main drivers
of the narrative expression; whereas the cinematic ﬁlm uses all the components –
visuals, sounds, rhythms, textures, editing, etc. –to make a new performance which
doesn’t exist outside of itself. It is a question of leaning one way or the other.
play, as it is currently predominantly used, lends itself as particularly suited to the drama.
We are tending to reinforce the propensity towards drama, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon
ﬁlm tradition, in the way that we teach screenwriting and use the paradigm of this form of
screenwriting as the way in which we evaluate the potential quality of a ﬁlm. And, as Von
Trier suggests, a ﬁlm must be alive:
The problem is that a director who turns to a writer comes with an idea for something that has
more or less of a heart. And one thing is certain: that when it has been through this very quick
dramaturgical treatment there is no longer a heart. Then it is extremely superﬁcial. (Lars von
Trier qtd. in Schepelern 2005, 28)
How do we therefore start to encourage the cinematic screenwriter –the writer who
understands how to infuse all of the cinematic components into a screenplay? I have
suggested that it is already happening outside of academia, but within academia we
are often reinforcing tradition and structures that mitigate against the idea of the Total
Filmmaker, who may or may not decide to focus on screenwriting. From departmental
structures, separate screenwriting programmes, to programmes and teaching divided
according to traditional working practices, our ﬁlm education may actually work against
the idea that it is possible for each participant involved in making a ﬁlm to have a deep
rooted understanding of all aspects of how a ﬁlm tells a story.
At Bournemouth University, I have had the privilege of contributing to the develop-
ment of a new ﬁlm programme, led by James Fair:
The Film programme aims to produce graduates who engage in the world with interest,
insight, intellectual curiosity and ethical awareness. These attributes will allow them to work
as creative, collaborative, ﬂexible and conﬁdent practitioners in order to contribute to and
shape the present and future international ﬁlm industries. (From BA [Hons] Film Programme
Speciﬁcation Form, James Fair for Bournemouth University)
There is no mention in the aims, or objectives, about students being screenwriters,
directors, editors, cinematographers and so on. Three key strands –ﬁrst, history and
language of ﬁlm; second, storytelling; and third creative entrepreneurship –underpin
the journey of the student through the programme and gradually these strands ﬁnd
NEW WRITING 125
the form of particular practices, such as screenwriting. Theory and practice are not separ-
ated out into separate modules, but are integrated so that applied theory and practice are
inseparable within each module. Every module, therefore, incorporates both practice and
applied theory. The programme has its roots in the cinematic traditions and sits alongside
existing programmes in Media Production, Television Production and Scriptwriting. In a
sense, the Film programme is responding to the explosion in independent ﬁlm across
the world and recognises that what was once essentially a closed industry for the few is
now a fully democratised expressive form spawning new industries, practices and insti-
tutions. Irrespective of these changes and developments, I believe it necessary for the
screenwriter, director and editor to fully engage and integrate in order to make full use
of what the medium has to offer.
Traditionally, screenwriting programmes focus on writing. Some even sit within creative
writing departments. From time to time, many programmes bring in some production
components and collaborative opportunities to expose the screenwriters to the broader
practice of ﬁlm production. Nevertheless, writers are often seen as separate, somehow
belonging to a different area altogether, and for the cinematic ﬁlm, this can only be pro-
blematic. The screenwriter, director and editor should be thought of as one role; one role
that may be carried out in practice by three different people collaborating. If separated out
into different people, each person nevertheless needs to fully understand what aspects of
that single role that the others are involved with and how that impacts on the speciﬁc
tasks they have in hand. Our teaching and learning of screenwriting should ideally
reﬂect this, as I believe it will enhance our ability to create ﬁlms that fully utilise the
strengths of the cinematic medium to tell stories that engage us in diverse ways.
Postscript: open sources
Once the ﬁlm exists, the screenplay is no more. Everyone knows that when shooting is over,
screenplays generally end up in studio waste-baskets. (Carrière 1994, 26)
In the article, The Aesthetic Independence of the Screenplay, Koivumäki raises the intri-
guing question of whether the screenplay could one day take on an independence in
the same way that a stage play has an independent life beyond its original performance
(2010, 26). It is an interesting thought that could change the way we think of screenwriting.
It wouldn’t negate the need for a screenwriter to be fully immersed in the language of ﬁlm,
but could change the status of the screenwriter and their role in the production process.
The digital era is throwing up challenges to the traditional view of copyright andthe birth of
such notions as Creative Commons (Accessed October 23, 2015. http://creativecommons.
org) does open up the potential prospect of more open licensing of screenplays. It
would need a change of mentality about notions of exclusivity, particularly given every-
one’s concern about how to make a living in a world where everything is abundant and
increasingly free. However, we already see signs of the breakdown of exclusivity in ﬁlm
distribution strategies and Amazon Studios’open access approach to script development
is one example of the breaking down of the traditional notion that a screenplay has to be a
closely guarded secret before it is made. Could this be the beginning of a change of status
and attitude towards the screenplay? Could one imagine a screenwriter making their
screenplay open source in the way that Tesla, with their battery inventions, and Toyota,
with their hydrogen technology inventions, make their patents open source?
126 E. KNUDSEN
1. Both managed the Ajax football team and Michels also managed the Dutch national football
team in the 1970s.
2. See, for example, Planck (2015).
3. See, for example, Murdoch (1989).
4. Knudsen (2005) in which I question the then UK Film Council’s approach to developing screen
5. There are many examples of narrative ﬁlms in which the dramaturgy driven performer is a very
minor part of how the story is told: from Michael Snow’s Wavelength (Canada 1967) to Mojtaba
Mirtahmasb’sThis is Not a Film (Iran 2011).
6. See Jill Murphy’s discussion of this (2012).
7. See Raija Talvio’s (2014) discussion of this experience from the perspective of someone directly
8. The 2014 Sundance Institute rejection letters proudly announced these facts as part of their
9. When presenting a keynote speech at the Legon Film Event in Accra, Ghana, in 2013, I shared a
panel with Kwah Ansah, one of the grandees of Ghanaian ﬁlm, educated in Europe and America.
He expressed dismay at how the new Ghanaian ﬁlm entrepreneurs had not been trained prop-
erly and cited their use of the term ‘passport shot’instead of ‘close up’as an example of a decay
in the ﬁlm sector. However, it’s too late; these ‘uneducated’ﬁlm entrepreneurs are the new
industry and, in Ghana, they have completely overturned the old order.
10. Whether Chaplin also composing music, or Dreyer doing his own production design, or Cronen-
berg and Tarkovsky doing their own shooting, not to speak of the many director-editors and
writer-directors. Indeed, there are also many examples of the Total Filmmaker, such as the
Turkish ﬁlmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who write, shoot, produce, direct and edit their own work.
11. See the work of the ﬁlm company, Calavera Café Productions at http://www.calaveracafe.com/
index.html or the work of Mark Duggan at http://www.markdugganﬁlms.com.
12. One of the ﬁnest examples of this is the work of Turkish ﬁlmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan: http://
13. It is tempting to use the word professional; however, this term is increasingly meaningless in the
context of contemporary ﬁlm and media practices. If that word were used in the context of
music, literature or photography, for example, it would be considered somewhat old fashioned
or embarrassing and awkward.
14. And he was recognised that year with a Palm D’Or from Cannes.
15. This English translation of Bresson’s original screenplay for L’Argent is courtesy of Roger Critten-
den from the National Film and Television School, Beaconsﬁeld, who shared a copy of a gift he
received directly from Robert Bresson.
16. I have often used this scene as an exercise for student directors. Almost all the students fail to
create any physical interaction between the characters and end up having a static dialogue
between the characters. They are then amazed to see what Coppola and the actors have
17. See (Knudsen)
18. I have a friend in script development with a leading UK institution with whom I have had a
number of discussions about the qualities of screenplays. Using their deﬁnitions, my screenplay
would not be considered a strong screenplay, yet they were moved to tears by the ﬁlm.
19. Quite apart from the assurance that the story has already been tested in the market place.
20. The making of The Raven On The Jetty (Knudsen 2015) was documented in a series of 30 Video
Blogs, from concept to ﬁnal preview screening, which can be seen at theravenonthejetty.com.
21. From The Raven On The Jetty Production Scrapbook for the Film and DVD (Knudsen 2015). This is
the same scene referred to in the screenplay sample and the screen grab samples.
22. As a writer, director and editor, I use a group of half a dozen or so advisors. These are advisors
that are not part of the ﬁlm, but who have a range of experiences of ﬁlm producing, directing
and editing. In one or two cases, they are not involved in ﬁlm production at all. These advisors
NEW WRITING 127
are people whose opinions I value and they advise me at the screenplay stage and editing stage,
helping me to add an element of detachment.
23. In order to fully think out the implications of sound on my characters and their actions, I dis-
cussed ideas with my sound designer during the writing of the screenplay.
24. See (Knudsen 2014).
25. In the extreme, a cinematic ﬁlm can tell a story without characters, while the drama cannot.
26. When Head of the Editing Department at Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television in Cuba
between 2001 and 2008, I designed the programme in such a way that students would have
workshops led by directors, screenwriters, sound designers and music composers, in addition
to their more traditional editing workshops, in order to immerse them in the total language
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contribution
Erik Knudsen is a ﬁlmmaker and Professor of Visual and Digital Culture at Bournemouth University’s
Media School in the UK. Formerly Professor of Film Practice at the University of Salford, Manchester,
UK, where he was for a period of time Head of the School of Media, Music and Performance, he has
also acted as the University of Salford’s Director of Graduate Studies. Earlier roles at the University of
Salford included programme leading the MA in Fiction Film Production, the MA in Television Docu-
mentary Production and the MA in Wildlife Documentary Production.
He is also visiting professor, and the former Head of the Editing Department, at the Escuela Interna-
cional de Cine y Television in Cuba and at Multimedia University, Malaysia. He is chair of the Editorial
Board of the Journal of Media Practice and a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s
Peer Review College and chairs the board of Trustees at Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax, UK. He
publishes widely on ﬁlm practice, including Creative Documentary: Theory and Practice. He is currently
leading the Story Lab International Research Network, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities
As a ﬁlmmaker his ﬁlms include: The Raven On The Jetty (88 min. ﬁction, 2015), The Silent Accomplice
(84 min. ﬁction, 2011), Vainilla Chip (17 min. Documentary, 2009), Veil (for Horse & Bamboo Theatre
Company’s touring show, 2008), Heart of Gold (40 min. documentary, 2006), Sea of Madness (86 min.
ﬁction, 2006), Brannigan’s March (99 min. ﬁction, 2004), Bed of Flowers (50 min. documentary, 2001),
Signs of Life (70 min. ﬁction, 1999), Reunion (50 min. documentary, 1995), One Day Tafo (70 min.
Amazon Prime: amazon.com. Accessed October 10, 2015.
Amazon Studios: studios.amazon.com. Accessed October 10, 2015.
Bresson, R. 1977.Notes On Cinematography. New York: Urizen.
Bresson, R. 1983.(Film) L’Argent. Eos Films, France.
Buchbinder, A. 2005.The Way Of The Screenwriter. Toronto: Announce Press.
Calavera Café Productions. Accessed October 11, 2015. http://www.calaveracafe.com/index.html.
Campbell, J. 2012.The Hero With A Thousand Faces. New York: New World Publishing.
Carrière, J.-C. 1994.The Secret Language of Film. Translated by Jeremy Leggatt. New York: Pantheon
Coppola, F. F. 1973.(Film) The Conversation. Paramount Pictures, USA.
Coppola, F. F. 2015. Interview with Francis Ford Coppola. Accessed May 8, 2015. http://99u.com/
128 E. KNUDSEN
Creative Commons. Accessed October 23, 2015. http://creativecommons.org
Godard, J.-L. 1960.(Film) Breathless. Les Films Imperia, France.
Kaurismäki, A. 1985.(Film) Calamari Union. Villealfa Filmproduction Oy, Finland.
Knudsen, E. “Zen and the Art of Film Narrative.”Journal of Screenwriting 1 (2): 343–356.
Knudsen, E. 2004.(Film) Brannigan’s March. One Day Films Limited, United Kingdom.
Knudsen, E. 2005.“Eye of the Beholder.”Journal of Media Practice 5 (3): 181–186.
Knudsen, E. 2014.“Eyes and Narrative Perspective On Story: A Practice Led Exploration of the Use of
Eyes and Eye-lines in Fiction Film.”Journal of Media Practice 15 (1): 3–20.
Knudsen, E. 2015.(Film) The Raven On The Jetty. One Day Films Limited, UK.
Knudsen, E. 2015.The Raven On The Jetty Production Scrapbook and DVD of the Film. Todmorden, UK:
One Day Films.
Koivumäki, M.-R. 2010.“The Aesthetic Independence of the Screenplay.”Journal of Screenwriting 2 (1):
Mark Duggan Films. Accessed October 11, 2015. http://www.markdugganﬁlms.com.
Mirtahmasb, M. 2011.(Film) This is Not a Film. Jafar Panahi Film Productions, Iran.
Movie Pitcher: moviepitcher.com. Accessed October 10, 2015.
Murdoch, D. R. 1989.Niels Bohr’s Philosophy of Physics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Murphy, J. 2012.‘To see a script’: Jean-Luc Godard’s re-envisioning of screenwriting in Netﬂix: netﬂix.
com. Accessed October 10, 2015.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: http://www.nuribilgeceylan.com.Accessed October 11, 2015.
Planck, M. 2015.The Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory. Forgotten Books, London.
Schepelern, P. 2005.Drillepinden, EKKO, 28 (June/July), pp. 20–26.
Snow, M. 1967.(Film) Wavelength. Canyon Cinema, Canada.
Talvio, R. 2014.“Screenwriting Without Typing –the Case of Calamari Union.”Journal of Screenwriting
5 (1): 85–100.
Truffaut, F. 1954.“Une certaine tendance au cinéma français.”Cahiers du cinéma 31 (31): J.
Under The Milky Way: us.underthemilkyway.com. Accessed October 10, 2015.
Vogler, C. 1998.The Writer’s Journey. California: Michael Weise Productions, Los Angeles.
NEW WRITING 129