The Place of the Independent Screenwriter in the American Freelance Market (1909-1920): From Continuity Script to Detailed Synopsis
My presentation will focus on the contribution of independent screenwriters in the context of American cinema in the years 1909-1920, and more specifically on the place of the independent screenwriter in the script market that film companies opened up to the general public. I will be particularly interested in an important break that occurred in 1916, when the form of submissions requested by the studios changed drastically. Whereas the latter required a complete manuscript including a scenario describing each scene/shot and many technical indications – representing nothing less than the progressive development of the continuity script – the majority of manufacturers now required a detailed synopsis from independent screenwriters. This gesture marked a profound change in the relationship between studios and freelance photoplay writer, a change that can be explained by a multitude of factors related to the standardization of American film practices. Using the information contained in the scriptwriting manuals and trade papers of the time, we will try to describe how this shift from continuity script to detailed synopsis expresses the desire of the studios to redefine the function of the freelance market and the place of the independent photoplaywright in the standardized production chain of American films. Decreasing the “potential power” of the freelance screenwriter over the technical production of photoplay, as well as the scriptwriting skills required of them, this concerted choice by American filmmakers reveals the plan to retain technical decision-making power within the industry, through a new division of scriptwriting tasks and opportunities offered to freelance photoplaywrights.
Guillaume Lavoie (Université Laval)
Guillaume Lavoie is PhD candidate in film studies at Université Laval. His current research interests are the historical and narratological study of American, French and Quebec cinemas. His thesis, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), will focus on the history of American and French screenwriting manuals during the silent and early sound periods. He has published La Railroad Building Story ou le mythe du chemin de fer westernien at Éditions L’Harmattan (2018), as well as several academic articles on cinema, including a series dedicated to film adaptations of the work of Marcel Proust. He has taught film at the Department of literature, theater and cinema of Université Laval.