Why Do We Blame Directors For Screenwriter’s Mistakes?

A look back at Batman v Superman.

There is a strange phenomenon involving critics of the cinematic community over movies that are lauded or derided. For reasons that will be discussed later, the outcome of a movie is placed squarely on the shoulders of one particular person and none other: the director.

But why is that? Why is it that the director always takes the blame?

I’m not trying to say that filmgoers or cinephiles have to look up every single person that worked on the production of a movie and call them out when they make a mistake. What I am saying is that it’s a good idea to look at a movie from a big picture perspective when trying to figure out who is to blame for a movie’s success or failure.

The fact is that many filmgoers enjoy learning about the faces behind the camera of the films they enjoy, and that is a very good thing.

We want to know the artists behind the art.

It helps us feel connected to the art that hopefully elevates our lives. The downside to that of course is that it’s easy to pin blame on the figurehead of a movie: the director.

But what is a director’s job exactly? While a director fills many roles in a film’s production, for the sake of argument I’m going to say just this: a director’s job is to elevate a story into something better than it was at its inception.

Or rather, a director’s role is to enhance a screenplay writer’s work, not detract from it.

For example, Batman v Superman could and should have been one of the defining superhero movies of our generation, but instead it is highly regarded as one of the worst. BvS is one of those strange movies for me personally because there are themes, ideas and sequences in the movie that I absolutely love and think worked very well. But of course I would be remiss if I didn’t objectively acknowledge the many faults that haunt the movie like a biblical plague.

When the movie was released, there was a tornado of criticism hurled at the film’s director, Zack Snyder, on a scale that I had never seen before. It could have been called Hurricane Snyder. Every storytelling problem was rested at Snyder’s feet. If you listened to the goings on of the internet, it seemed that Snyder was solely responsible for the failure of BvS, almost as if he was a cinematic Atlas, bearing the weight of filmgoer’s expectations.

But the big picture question we need to ask ourselves is this: was Zack Snyder given a bad screenplay, or did he fail to elevate the material?

Or in other words, was BvS the director’s fault, or the writer’s?

While Snyder did an okay job thematically at portraying the material he was given to work with, I can’t help but think how much better the movie could have been in the hands of a more capable director.

But that train of thought brings us to an interesting dilemma. Had a more capable director taken over, would it have made a difference in the end?

The answer is…yes and no.

Let’s start with the reason why Zack Snyder is to blame for BvS. While Snyder’s hand to hand action sequences involving Batman were nearly perfect, the rest of the movie lacked a cohesion that bogged the story down.

It comes down to this, Snyder didn’t have a good vision of what BvS should have been. Let me point out one little thing that Snyder could have done to elevate the film but didn’t.

It’s a given that almost everyone makes fun of the Martha scene. While I actually liked the idea behind the Martha sequence, I do acknowledge that Snyder didn’t do a good job of showing us what Batman was feeling when he was poised to kill Superman. This in turn led to confusion about what the purpose of the scene was all about in the first place.

But if Snyder had changed one little detail, it could have almost fixed the scene entirely.

After learning that Superman’s earthly Mother shared the same name with his own Mother, Batman experiences a flashback where he remembers the night his parents were murdered with his father uttering the name, “Martha.”

Okay, but what did the names have to do with each other in Bruce Wayne’s mind? To actually show what was going on, Snyder could have altered the flashback to show that he — Batman himself — was the one who shot his mother and father, not the thug on the street. It would have been a vison-like sequence that would have made it clear that Batman finally understood that he was becoming the very thing that he had fought against his whole life.

He had literally become a murderous monster.

What this simple alteration could have done is visually show Batman’s mental state as he was poised to murder Superman.

As it is, we’re simply left to guess as to why Batman had a sudden — and jarring — change of heart. As the director, Snyder could have looked at the screenplay and said, “I can fix that,” but he didn’t. There are lots of moments like that in the film where Snyder failed to realize the full potential of the screenplay he was given, flawed as it was.

Speaking of which…

As I mentioned earlier, even if BvS had acquired a different director, what difference would it have truly made?

Was Snyder responsible for the flaws in the screenplay? Absolutely not, and the writers, David Goyer and Chris Terrio, need to take responsibility for that. Had they produced a better script, it would have given Snyder a better story to springboard off of.

From the writer’s side, there needed to be clashes of ideology between the characters, not muscle. Oddly, the best parts of combined superhero movies are almost never the action sequences, it’s the character interactions. The Avengers succeeded not because of its budget or scale, it worked because Joss Whedon — the writer and director — understood the characters and their associated motivations. This depth of understanding led to hilarious and intense arguments that made the movie above all else memorable.

In BvS, there was hardly any character interaction between Batman and Superman before they were coming to blows. This lack of understanding shows just how flawed the writer’s thought process was when it came to Batman v Superman.

So having said all that, was Zack Snyder solely responsible for BvS? Maybe, but not for the reasons that many level against him. He was responsible because he failed to elevate the story he was trying to tell. But that doesn’t change the fact that he could have potentially told a good Batman and Superman story had he been given the chance.

My aim isn’t to come to a definite conclusion with this piece. I originally intended be a lot more general with what I was going to write about, but I found myself focusing on Batman v Superman which seemed to be the perfect example of what I was trying to get at. I’m simply trying to get moviegoers — including myself — to think about films more deeply and look at them from a larger perspective.

It’s easy to blame a director for everything that goes wrong in a movie, but directors sometimes get put between a rock and a hard place with no good solutions. Conversely there are other times when directors artistically fail to elevate a screenplay, and that is when a director fails.

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