Authorship and the auteur theory
One of the most common ways that contemporary filmmakers, filmgoers, and critics think about film-as opposed to television-is via the auteur theory. Auteur is the French word for author. As this chapter will explore, the auteur theory is based on the idea that the director of a film should be considered its “author”—the one creative mind or organizing principle behind a film (or an oeuvre, another French term that refers to an artist’s entire body of work). These ideas might be easily acceded to if we think of films made by single individuals, such as many avant-garde or experimental films. However, most commercial films are made by groups of individuals who each make artistic and creative contributions to the project. Furthermore, most films already have authors in the literary sense: the men and women who write their screenplays. So why should the director be singled out and given all the credit as the sole author? Simple or basic auteur theory asserts that even though a director is working within industrial contexts with hundreds of other people, it is his or her creative vision that nevertheless leaves its mark on the final film. If a director also writes, produces, scores, edits, and/or appears in his or her film-as did or do directors like Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Sally Potter, and Spike Lee-he or she is sometimes referred to as a hyphenate auteur. It might be argued that a hyphenate auteur’s creative input increases with each job he/she performs. Yet, in today’s Hollywood, and in much historical as well as contemporary thinking about auteurism, a director is not necessarily required to fulfill multiple roles in a film’s production in order to be considered its auteur. Today, a film’s director might even be considered something of a celebrity or brand, as fans flock to see the latest Quentin Tarantino film or a movie “made by” the Coen Brothers.