Book Review: Writing for the Cut, by Greg Loftin

The creative process is always mysterious. Writing is tremendously difficult, as any novelist worth their salt will tell you. Screenwriting, while technically writing, is its own beast. Screenwriting encompasses all the sweat and pain that writing involves, with the added bonus that you’re just putting together a blueprint that is going to be potentially torn apart and rejigged by a director. The joke goes that in television, the writer fires the director, and in film the director fires the director. (Although no one wants to get fired, really.)

Writing for the Cut: back to basics

So how do writers avoid being fired? How does a screenwriter ensure that their blueprint is the best it can be, and is something that a director can milk and not rewrite? Greg Loftin’s new book, Writing for the Cut, offers a simple, yet thought-provoking answer.

“Writing for the cut” is the essential piece of advice that the author wants to impart to screenwriters. It means that a screenwriter should not just be thinking about visuals, about dialogue and subtext, about structure: a screenwriter should really think about the essence of what they are doing, and that is Cinema.

Greg Loftin looks at what the initiators of the filmmaking process, the writers, can learn from the people who finish it, the editors. Editing is what makes cinema more than the capture of scenes: the juxtaposition of moving images is what turns a movie into a story, and a story into art. The editor plays with juxtapositions of moments, people, shots, and sculpts in time, to use Tarkovsky’s phrase. Greg Loftin argues that beyond the elements that any writer has to think about (structure, character, dialogue, text and subtext, etc…) a screenwriter needs to think about the art form that they are dealing in, and not just leave that task to the director.

It might seem presumptuous to advise screenwriters, precious creatures, to collaborate with people other than their directors or producers. But what Loftin argues in his book is very rarely reminded to screenwriters: writers are the first of many co-creators of a film, they give the direction of a project, and write for a very specific art form, the essence of which lies in the cut.

Writing for the Cut is the distillation of Loftin’s doctoral research, during which he gained the insight of such established figures as Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather), Mick Audsley (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Murder on the Orient Express), or Paul Machliss (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Baby Driver). It is a wonder that he put together a book that is so succinct and to the point.

Loftin’s approach is both holistic and focused about the filmmaking process. His central argument that screenwriters are not writers like any others and need to think about the art form that is cinema as an integral part of their process is rare enough to be thought-provoking, and the practical advice that is given throughout the book makes this opus utterly indispensable to anyone eager to make a truly cinematic screenplay.

Writing for the Cut, by Greg Loftin is available from Michael Weise Productions on 1st June 2019.
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