The Oscar-nominated writer of a diverse catalogue of Hollywood hits, from Minority Report to Marley and Me, said yesterday, that in the movie business "nothing kills a career faster than an obsession with what's important".
Speaking at the Bafta and BFI Screenwriter's Lecture series last night Scott Frank remarked that "more than any other form of writing, screenwriting, for better or for worse, is collaborative."
His strength, in being able to field suggestions from studios for rewrites, and in allowing the creative process to be a collective experience influenced by a myriad of standpoints - all with different, often monetary agendas - is to start a "new draft" and filter out all the executive decisions of those around him.
"I get all this input and I think 'yes, I can do that, that's a good idea, too! No beard, lots of daylight, more vitamins. I can do all of that and still preserve my original intent!' Wrong."
He prides himself on "being the dumbest guy in the room". He says: "I wish I could be smarter. Like Christopher Hampton, or Peter Morgan or Steven Knight. Basically, everyone who writes scripts over here. But I'm not that smart, so instead I've realised, in my case, that this might actually be a good thing. Somehow, I've made a career out of, more often than not, actually being the dumbest guy in the room."
When writers take jobs, he says, it isn't about clinging onto "what's important" it's about getting a house that's big enough for your family to live on, and gambling, and sometimes losing, on ideas that sound good at the beginning but don't always work out.
"What if we have no depth? What is we just like robot movies? I mean, I guess the answer would be to write a robot movie that's emotionally honest. To try and write a really good one. But who sets out to write a bad movie? Let me tell you something. I say this from experience. The bad movies are just as hard to write as the good ones."
His diverse writing career includes an episode of hit TV show The Wonder Years in 1988; television series Fallen Angels; the screenplay for Get Shorty; and his latest movie, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is currently in pre-production and set for release in 2013. All told, he's penned nearly 40 movies.
He expressed alarm at the state of writing in Hollywood. "Your writers right now expect to be rewritten and this, to me, says everything. The average time given in a contract for a first draft is 10 weeks. I find that hilarious. I have never written anything in 10 weeks. I’m being serious, never. I don’t think I can write a title page in 10 weeks, but there it is, this presumption that above all else we want it fast."
The full transcript and a podcast of Scott Frank's lecture is available at www.bafta.org/guru