A brash Hollywood executive is brainstorming ways to get around needing so many screenwriters. Finally another studio suit says wryly, “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process,” before tossing out his ironic topper: Perhaps actors and directors could similarly be scuttled.
That scene isn’t from real life, but rather from Robert Altman’s masterful dark comedy “The Player,” in which production execs played by Peter Gallagher and Tim Robbins square off over the usefulness of industry scribes.
Tinseltown loves to put versions of itself on the screen, and “The Player” is among scores of movies that spotlight a screenwriter, including such Oscar- or Golden Globe-nominated projects as “Barton Fink,” “My Favorite Year,” “The Muse” and “Trumbo,” as well as the Oscar-winning “Midnight in Paris.”
The fictional Hollywood writer’s life can be rendered as comedically light (“Late Night”) or dark (“Seven Psychopaths”), and, on occasion, a single actor has played both, such as William Holden (“Paris When It Sizzles” and “Sunset Boulevard”). And sometimes, the film genuinely illuminates how they do what they do, such as in 2020’s “Mank,” about the legendary Herman J. Mankiewicz.
As the WGA strike wages on, The Washington Post asked Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz (Herman’s grandson) to select his favorite films that prominently feature a screenwriter. Here are his picks. Pencils down, lights down.