Nine times directors wrote films for other people

We imagine the director on set, guiding all the moving parts to fulfil their vision for the film. It may be that they’re directing their own script, or someone else’s, but when you contemplate those accomplished filmmakers, it’s strange to think of them writing a script that’s directed by another person. With True Romance (1993) now available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from Arrow, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, we’ve compiled a list of notable instances where directors wrote films for other people.


Oliver Stone – Scarface (1983)

Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone are two visionary auteur directors that have shaped modern American cinema. Scarface is always regarded as De Palma’s film, so much so that Stone’s credit as screenwriter has become a bit of pop culture trivia, a question that’s likely to pop up in a film quiz. The exploration of crime and violence as a fateful choice is mostly absent from Stone’s directorial credits, the closest he comes to these early roots is Natural Born Killers (1994), based on a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino. Scarface has an odd feel to it, if only because of its screenwriter is lost in the shadow of its director, neither of who have made subtle films.


John Carpenter – Halloween 2 (1981)

We’ve all heard the stories of Carpenter, who under pressure to turn in a script for the sequel to his hit low budget slasher, got through those long nights of writing with the help of a pack of Budweiser. Feeling the story was concluded, Carpenter only returned to co-write the sequel with Debra Hill after a legal resolution with Compass International Pictures co-founder Irwin Yablans, over the disputed production rights of The Fog (1980). It’s a relief that Carpenter was able to escape directing the sequel, and instead move onto other films that would cement his legacy. The fate to disappoint us all fell to director Rick Rosenthal.


John Hughes – Home Alone (1990)

Looking over John Hughes’ filmography, comedy pulses through his directorial credits, but it’s easy to understand why Home Alone was one film he didn’t direct. It lacked some of the dramatic leanings of his other films, instead geared more to the comedic, with the situational less developed. Hughes had a gift for expressing the humanity of his characters, that reached beyond the screen to resonate with us, whether it be the fantasy of youthful imagination in Weird Science (1985), or embarrassment in Sixteen Candles (1984). Together, Hughes and director Chris Columbus were the perfect collaborators.


The Wachowskis – V For Vendetta (2005)

In addition to their dystopian sci-fi Matrix trilogy (1999-03), the Wachowski Brothers adapted Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s 1988 limited edition series, V for Vendetta. With their themes of control and oppression, the two worlds are eerily similar, yet they’re  visually distinct. James McTeigue took the helm, and it remains his most notable work to date. We can surmise the need for a director to be a skilled writer, or at least be a judge of good screenwriting. As impressive as V for Vendetta was visually, the director as the author of this dystopian nightmare may need to tip his hat to the film’s writers.


James Cameron – Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Not dissimilar to Oliver Stone, filmmaker James Cameron has played a significant part in shaping modern American cinema. Unlike Stone, whose screenplay in the hands of DePalma is regarded as a masterpiece, Rambo: First Blood Part II, is more likely an example of why original movies are superior to their sequels. Co-written with star Sylvester Stallone and directed by George P. Cosmatos, it was released just a year after The Terminator (1984). When Cameron would soon be taking us into space for his bombastic action sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), his adventure in Vietnam with Rambo feels a fleeting moment in his career.


Paul Schrader – Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Across three decades, the 70s-90s, Paul Schrader provided the legendary Martin Scorsese with the scripts for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, popularly regarded as two of the director’s masterpieces. Then, Bringing Out the Dead is no shabby thriller, with supernatural and spiritual overtones, although it is shamefully underrated. The argument could be made that Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are two of the best films Schrader wrote that he never directed. Putting that to one side, it’s indisputable the contribution Schrader has made to Scorsese’s legacy, with scripts that became cornerstones of his revered filmography.


Charlie Kaufman – Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002)

Not for the first time, we have a meeting of two visionary and distinct voices in modern cinema. Unique in this pairing is director Spike Jonze’s extensive music video credits, which almost position Being John Malkovich and Adaptation as diamonds, not in the rough, but where one could be excused for not expecting to find them. With Kaufman’s own quirky creative voice that has led to four distinct films as director, perhaps the interesting point to contemplate is where the line is that separates the pair? How different would Being John Malkovich and Adaptation be if Kaufman, not Jonze had directed them?


Billy Wilder – Bluebeard’s Eight Wife (1938) and Ninotchka (1939)

Wilder was known for his obsessive attitude towards the script. It’s reputed that I.A.L Diamond, Wilder’s co-screenwriter after his lengthy period working with Charles Brackett, would be on set checking that the actors didn’t change a line, or word of the script. After each take he’d signal to Wilder. The idea of Wilder writing a screenplay and handing it off to another director is a surreal thought, but he did. He co-wrote with Charles Brackett Bluebeard’s Eight Wife and Ninotchka for Ernst Lubitsch. A side-note, Wilder had a sign up in his office that read, “What would Lubitsch have done?” There was a great respect there, and we could surmise a pride Wilder took to his grave in having had the opportunity to collaborate with Lubitsch.


David Koepp – Jurassic Park (1993) and War of the Worlds (2005) – Steven Spielberg / Spider-Man (2002) – Sam Raimi / Mission: Impossible (1996) and Snake Eyes (1998) – Brian De Palma / Panic Room (2002) – David Fincher

David Koepp is rightfully regarded primarily as a screenwriter, having written for a collection of notable directors across horror, thriller and action cinema. We should not forget his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes (1999), which he wrote and directed. What remains impressive is in that same year, two modern classics were released: The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project. Koepp’s film holds its own, an accomplished piece of genre filmmaking. Aside from going on to direct Johnny Depp in Secret Window (2004), Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town (2008), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush (2012), his scripts for other heavyweight directors overshadow his directorial work.

Paul Risker

Paul Risker

Writer and expert

Paul Risker is a European (not British or English) based film critic, interviewer and editor, whose work has been published by PopMatters, Cineaste, the Quarterly Review of Film & Video, PopMatters, LWLies, FrightFest and VideoScope. He's on the advisory board of Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (MSJ), and serves as interview editor.