Sunday, June 22, 2014

Top 10 Directors Who Never Wrote a Film

It always fascinates me to learn that a director with dozens of films under their belt never actually wrote (or co-wrote) a produced screenplay. But such is the case for the 10 brilliant filmmakers below, who, with minor exceptions, have never been credited for penning a feature-length script. Hope you enjoy my picks, feel free to share yours as well.

10. F.W. Murnau
Notable films: Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1926), Sunrise (1927)

Murnau received a “Told by” credit for his final film, Tabu, but aside from that, the man responsible for some of the earliest cinematic masterpieces never drafted a screenplay.

9. Michael Curtiz (post-1922)
Notable films: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Casablanca (1943)

Curtiz does have one credited screenplay to his name, for Sodom und Gomorrha (1922), which he co-wrote with Ladislaus Vajda. But five Oscar nominations (with one win) and 119 (!) directing credits later, and not a single Curtiz-penned script to be found.

8. Ridley Scott
Notable films: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Thelma and Louise (1991)

Ridley Scott, a man with one of the most vast and varied contemporary filmographies around, has never written a produced feature film. Same goes for his brother Tony, in fact. May he rest in peace.

7. Clint Eastwood
Notable films: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Clint Eastwood has helmed 33 films in 43 years, and has never taken a screenwriting credit on any of them. Even more interesting: seldom has he worked with the same screenwriter more than once. You gotta give it to old Clint, always making room for fresh talent.

6. Howard Hawks (post-1930)
Notable films: Scarface (1932), The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959)

Howard Hawks often pitched his own story ideas to studio execs, in hopes of turning them into films, which explains why he has so many story credits and uncredited screenplay gigs. But after 1930, the man who made classics in so many different genres never took credit for writing a film.

5. Otto Preminger
Notable films: Laura (1944), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Master of noir, Otto Preminger, has 42 directing credits on IMDb, but not a single writing credit. That’s a man who knew a damn fine script when he saw one.

4. William Wyler
Notable films: Wuthering Heights (1939), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Ben-Hur (1959)

William Wyler directed some of the most iconic films in cinema history. He was nominated for Best Director 12 times (netting three wins), and is not credited with writing a single word of his films. Quite astonishing, really.

3. Mike Nichols
Notable films: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate (1967), Closer (2004)

Mike Nichols has a co-teleplay credit for the HBO film, Wit (shared with film’s star, Emma Thompson), but other than that, he apparently didn’t have a hand in drafting the scripts for his films, a few of which are some of the finest screenplays ever written.

2. David Fincher
Notable films: Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), Zodiac (2007)

I’m placing David Fincher so high on this list for one reason: When you turn on a David Fincher film, you know within six seconds that you’re watching a David Fincher film. They have a look and style to them that is unquestionably Fincherian. And I’m stunned that he hasn’t been responsible for a single word for any of them.

1. Alfred Hitchcock (post-1931)
Notable films: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of many things, great ideas being one. He would famously cook up an idea for a film, pitch it to a studio, and then hire a screenwriter to crank out a script. And although he wasn’t credited as a screenwriter for any of the films he made after 1931, every Hitchcock film has the signature stamp of the master of suspense.

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46 comments:

  1. Wow, such an unexpected subject. It's an interesting subject, for sure, but still surprising. Your list is solid, Alex. Your first choices (Hitchock and Fincher) are mine too. I'd add Steve McQueen on that list.

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    1. Thanks man! Glad you dig the list. But just an FYI, McQueen co-wrote both Hunger and Shame ;)

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    2. Shit man, you're totally right. For some reason I remembered only Abi Morgan in "Shame" and I had no idea he'd co-written "Hunger". My mistake. Nice list, again.

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    3. Nah man, it's all good. And I do remember he and 12 Years a Slave writer, John Ridley, getting into a bit of a spat over the writing credit for that film, which I thought was interesting.

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    4. Oh yeah, I also remember the reported feud between them this year over "12 Years A Slave" screenplay. But somehow didn't know at all McQueen had contributed in that way to the writing of "Hunger" and had forgotten at all he co-wrote "Shame" with Morgan. By the way, after doing a little bit of research, I was impressed by the fact that they aren't indeed many high profile directors, with dozens of films under their belt, as you've said so eloquently, that never wrote a film. So I guess your work in order to make this post was really, really hard. Jacques Tourneur and Robert Redford could be some good additions to this list, don't you think? And Tom Hooper, apart from writing a TV short he shot back in 1992, hasn't actually drafted a screenplay for a full-length film, despite his relatively short film work.

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    5. Tourneur and Redford both nearly made the cut. Out of the Past is my all-time favorite noir film, but I do feel that Preminger consistently had more impact on the genre. I enjoy a number of Redford's film, but he just lost out here. Hooper only has four features to his name, and I wasn't really considering people with such small filmographies (that, and his films don't really do it for me :/ ). Still though, all solid picks.

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  2. This is an incredible list. It must have taken a ton of research to figure out who has or hasn't penned a script. I can't even begin to tell you who I might also consider. Great job.

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    1. Thanks buddy! Yeah, this was one of those lists that could never really be definitive, because there was so much research involved. So thanks a lot for saying that!

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  3. That is interesting. It certainly brings the validity of the "Auteur Theory" into question, especially since I happen to know most of these guys. Then again, I half-expect myself to have the opposite scenario, to have a few great screenplays and little to no directorial credits.

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    1. The Auteur Theory is really quite interesting. I love watching a director in an interview when they are referred to as an auteur. They usually get uncomfortable and/or have no idea what it means. This list just proves how collaborative film has to be in order to work.

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  4. That is an excellent list but.... where's Hal Ashby? He never wrote any of his films either yet all of his great films in the 1970s were written by other writers such as Robert Towne (The Last Detail and Shampoo), Colin Higgins (Harold & Maude), and Waldo Salt (Coming Home. Yet, you know that those films are Ashby based on those themes and what he was trying to say.

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    1. Ohh Ashby is a great choice. I knew this list wouldn't be a definitive one, because there are just too many directors to look up. So, I figured a few would fall through the cracks, and the great Hal Ashby is one. Love his films. What's your favorite Ashby film? I think I'd go with The Last Detail.

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    2. Right now, it's Harold & Maude as I'm going to see Shampoo next month to complete Ashby's work in the 1970s. Here is my list of the films of Hal Ashby that I've seen so far.

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    3. Great stuff. I love Ashby, but he did kind of fall off in the '80s there a bit. And I've actually never seen Shampoo either.

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  5. This is an impressive, very well written list once again Alex. Your lists are always so informative and exhaustive. I love that you put David Fincher so high up and of course Alfred Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood are no-brainers. I would probably also consider including Robert Redford too. Mainly for Ordinary People and Quiz Show.

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    1. Thanks Angela, I really appreciate that! Redford made my short list, but just barely failed to make the final cut. I'm a fan of many of his films, especially the two you listed.

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  6. Fantastic list! Extremely well written piece on a subject that isn't often discussed. I love it when a talented director has the ability to pick scripts which they know are good, and are able to bring it to the screen in a brilliant way. My favourite is definitely Hitchcock, what a master he was.

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    1. Thanks so much! Hitchcock really was genius at bringing scripts to life. And although he had a hand in the creation of all of them, it's so remarkable that he never demanded a writing credit.

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  7. You continue to amaze me friend! Awesome idea for a list, and I completely agree with your 1 and 2 for the very reason you mention...you KNOW their films because of the director and their style...they are THEIR films, so the fact that they haven't penned them proves their strength as directors.

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    1. Thanks man! Exactly, the fact that Finch and Hitch didn't write their scripts really speaks to their overall directing craft. Very well put.

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    2. Well, you inspired me Alex!
      http://afistfuloffilms.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-hitchcock-top-ten.html

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  8. Wow, great list! I had no idea some of these directors have never actually written anything. That's so surprising for someone like Fincher who has such a signature style. I learn so much more about movies on this blog.

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    1. Aww thanks Brittani, what a nice thing to say! I'm glad this list was informative for you - I actually learned quite a lot researching it myself!

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  9. I was gonna suggest that It's arguable if Kubrick really wrote a script but I guess Fear and Desire was written by him. Even so, this is a pretty neat list, blows my mind that a director like Preminger never wrote despite his having such a masterful handle on storytelling. It was neat to see Fincher on here, he took such a weird road to get to where he is today. Good list man.

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    1. Thanks buddy, glad you dig it. I'm curious, were you considering not counting Kubrick because he adapted all of his films from stories? Most all of his films are very different from the books themselves. Stephen King still thinks The Shining is the worst adaptation of any of his novels, which is bonkers. But I guess that's topic for another post. Ha.

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    2. I was more alluding to signs pointing to Kubrick's screenwriting collaborators taking on a lot of the duties that way and Kubrick almost adapting the adaptation in how he compiled scripts and then shot them. His method made...no sense. That's our Stanley!

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    3. Ahh gotcha. Yes, a very odd process indeed. And I know at some point during A Clockwork Orange, he literally stopped looking at the script and shot based off of what was in the book.

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  10. Fincherian is my new favourite word. Great list. Your top 3 is perfect.

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    1. Ha, thanks. One could say that word is bitchin'. That Top 3... what a fine company of men.

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  11. It's funny how directors and even actors always get more credit and recognition than writers. I wonder why that is? I guess directors are more popular because of auteur theory, and actors for obvious reasons. But I find it odd that writers are so unpopular. I myself barely know any (beyond those who direct their own work, I know Charlie Kaufman, Paul Schrader, Joel Ezterhas, Paddy Chayefsky, and I just realized that Schrader is a directer now, and Kaufman directed Synecdoche, New York). Oh well. Great list as alway, Alex!

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    1. Thanks man! That is a great, great question. And I have no idea what the answer could be. Maybe because scripts are often touched by so many different hands, especially on bigger movies. But the lack of recognition for screenwriters is baffling. I mean shit, it all starts with the script, after all.

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  12. Well-researched list! That surprises me those great directors didn't write screenplays. I actually thought Eastwood wrote one of two of those films he directed. It does make you wonder if they HAD penned the movie,would the films have been better or worse.

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    1. Thanks Chris! Your final thought is a great point. I too wonder that sometimes. I'd love it if a few of the men above penned a script. Who wouldn't want to know what a David Fincher script looks like?

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  13. This is an interesting topic you wrote about. It's cool to see a director make a story come alive that they didn't write especially since the movie is their interpretation of the script.

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    1. I think it's very interesting as well. I just love how none of them took credit for the scripts, even though they had massive impacts on the material.

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  14. Another brilliant idea for a top 10 Alex. And a fascinating one given the great creative minds that didn't write their own material. But I suppose it goes to show the talent needed to write a film and the challenges that go along with that. Without belittling the work of this talented bunch, you have to give extra credit to those that manage to do both writing and directing well. That said, it can be a major flaw, especially when directors aren't willing to cut their own material - Tarantino is the best example in Death Proof which could have done with 20 minutes being cut. I also think Kevin Smith sometimes isn't willing to cut his own material. When I director works with someone else's screenplay you get that disconnect from page to screen which, certainly in Hitchcock's case, is an absolute necessity.

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    1. Thanks Dan! What a great comment here. I couldn't agree more on your points. I so respect writer/directors, but some of them do need to learn the benefit of tightening. And, at the same time, I wholly respect directors who find a script and make it their own. Many pros and cons to both sides, really.

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  15. Such a great insight! I didn't know Fincher never wrote a script for his film, that's quite a shock. Also goes with Hitchcock. Great post as always!

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    1. Thanks Andina! Crazy about Fincher and Hitchcock, isn't it? Such master filmmakers, I'm stunned they've never taken credit for a script.

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  16. Great list. When I first got into Clint Eastwood, I knew he directed, starred, produced and sometimes even composed the music, so I just assumed he wrote. I think Clint (you'll surely have heard the legend that instead of "cut" he says "that's enough of that shit") probably doesn't have much time for frivolous pursuits like writing. No doubt he tends to pick scripts that suit his sensibilities though, so there are commonalities throughout his body of work - such as rape, I remember you highlighting once on this blog. Which is...weird. And I love Hitchcock as much as anybody, but I get the sense he didn't have a *whole lot* of respect for writers.

    My pick for a non-writing director would be Ken Loach - the man despises the auteur theory! From interviews I've gathered that although he himself says can't write to save his life, he thinks that a lot of people can write who you'd never expect. That's why his film about railway workers (The Navigators) was written by a railway worker, his film about manual labourers (Riff-Raff) was written by a former manual labourer, and his film about the civil war in Nicaragua (Carla's Song) was written by Paul Laverty, who was a human rights lawyer there for three years. Laverty's written almost all of Loach's films since then (1996) so there's a decent reason for a director not to write - they find a writer who's so much on the same wavelength as them that they don't need to! Can't fault them for using film as a collaborative medium.

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    1. Thanks Jack. Couldn't agree more about your thoughts on Clint and Hitch. Concerning the sexual abuse in Clint's films... I actually wrote an essay that I was going to post last week, asking readers why they thought that was such a common theme in Clint's work. But then I ditched it. Felt salacious and forced, a pretty good way to describe many such acts in Clint's films as well.

      Loach is a great call. He, like Werner Herzog, really does despise the auteur theory, which is actually kind of refreshing.

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  17. Love this idea! Great picks, and who can argue with your #1? Given that Hitchcock worked on the scripts with the screenwriters, it's surprising he never took a credit. I'm sure other directors have done that.

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    1. Thanks man! It's always surprised me that Hitch never took a credit, because yeah, directors to that all the time, even when it isn't exactly warranted.

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  18. So many comments and no one mentions Sam Mendes. He is a solid director. American Beauty is perfect. I. Love. It. It's probably in the first five of 1999 for me. And Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, Away We Go and Skyfall are pretty good. I enjoy them.

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    1. Mendes is a great call. I like all of this films so much.

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