My wife and I were watching the Oscars last night. (We had recorded it Sunday night.) And I got to thinking about the similarities and differences between making movies and writing books. First of all, there are plenty of prizes awarded for each art form. www.bookprizeinfo.com lists thirty-three prizes for books, and I’m sure this is not a complete list, as there are prizes awarded at regional and local book fairs – not to mention academic prizes. While a brief Internet search failed to find a comprehensive list of prizes for films, it is clear that the Academy Awards – while perhaps the most prestigious – are far from the only awards for cinema.
There are various categories of awards for both films and books. What do these awards seek to recognise? It seems to me that the intention is to recognise excellence in the category. And what would excellence be? Well, excellence is certainly a bit subjective, but it would probably include such factors as advancing the state of the art, or the impact (intellectual and/or emotional) on the viewer/reader, popularity, contribution to culture, etc.
One major difference between the art of writing and the art of creating cinema is that the latter is, of necessity a team effort. One has only to watch the long list of people whose names appear as the credits scroll down the screen at the end of a film to appreciate this. This is not to say that a successful writer does not also work as part of a team. He or she will have an editor, a publisher, and a publicist (perhaps all in one person). While the writer cannot work alone, s/he is the one essential player in the literary arts. After all, a writer can write a book and publish it on the Internet with the help of no one else. As a consequence, there are awards for many of the specialist roles in the creation of a film: beyond actors, actresses, supporting and leading, there are directors, producers, writers, music composers, sound technicians, cinematographers, etc. While in writing, only the book – rarely the writer, editor, or publisher – wins the award.
The creative arts (cinema, literature, art, music, dance) all seek to please their audience, but they do this through different senses. Art and literature through the eyes, although some sculpture begs to be touched, and these two art forms are usually the product of a single person (artist or writer). Cinema and dance are taken in through the eyes and ears; music through the ears, and, in the case of a performance, through the eyes, as well. And these three arts are generally a team effort. Moreover, the production of music, dance and particularly films are expensive undertakings, while the major expense in the production of art or literature is (only) the artist’s time.
How do I feel about all of this? Well, I have no problem with the solitary nature of writing, or that its cost is largely my time. What I wish for – from time to time – is a professional editor who is a friend and honest critic and who understands me, my strengths and weaknesses.