Ants and Bears: Encouragement For Writers Living in a Filmmaker’s World

Oh… the plight of a writer, watching others take the spotlight as the audiences cheer. It’s a lonely and often underappreciated job. This is especially true in this world where attention spans are shorter while movies and tv shows become more grand. How are the writer’s words supposed to compete? 

What we forget is what it takes to make a movie. A movie is a mammoth production that involves many many people with many different jobs, skills, and responsibilities. It’s not right to compare the construction site of a movie set with the desk of a writer. Additionally, a movie can cost millions of dollars, while all a writer needs is a piece of paper and a pen. 

Nevertheless, with only words, a writer can do alone what a filmmaker will need a cast and crew of hundreds to accomplish. In that way, how can we not be impressed by the power that a writer wields? 

In Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella, there is a chapter that encourages writers to watch tv and movies in order to learn the nuances of effective on-screen dialogue that doesn’t translate to prose. At the end of the chapter, Chiarella urges writers to not feel discouraged by the magnitude of the film and television industry in a section called Ants and Bears. The following is an excerpt: 

Ants and Bears

One final word on these people: actors, directors, editors, producers, grips. Think about how they work. They are like a colony of ants. That’s how they work. Ants — limitless in their numbers, each performing a task for the benefit of the colony. Operating efficiently, with a sense of almost military precision, circling around a generally indifferent queen. Now, I admire ants greatly. But in general, ants are 

  1. everywhere
  2. hard to get rid of 
  3. important to the ecosystem.

That’s truly the case with movie people. They are everywhere and our culture tends to champion them. But remember, fiction writers and screen writers alike: You are the writer. You are the bear. You work alone. You travel great distances. Bears are messy and dangerous. Bears are scary! You see many things. They — producers and the rest — they are ants. To them, what a bear does is fairly unimportant, though they do eat a bear’s scat, so there is something to be said about their relationship. Remember! Bears are bigger, stronger and more awesome than ants (except when taken in toto). Don’t get your sense of value from what movies can do. You are a bear! One bear can do so much more than one ant. Bears rock! Ants bring home the dead bees and make sure the tunnels are wide enough. They tend to be rich ants, true. But still — ants. 

What do you think about Ants and Bears? Do you think that is an accurate comparison?

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