How Does a Good Script Become a Bad Film?

I haven’t read enough film scripts. One I have read is the screenplay for Trumbo, written by John McNamara. I read it before having watched the film, and it moved me: to feel sadness, joy, and pride for the characters, and to shed actual tears. I’m no expert, but I would call that good writing.

Right after reading the script, I watched the film, directed by Jay Roach and starring Bryan Cranston. I was disappointed. The film was nearly lifeless. The moments I expected to be emotionally important were … not. The whole film was just kind of dull, and I would have been upset if I had paid to see it in a theater. (Evidently, not many people did.)

How does that happen? The film was cast with excellent actors who are firmly established as being capable of delivering great performances. So why didn’t they?

I can only assume it was a failure of direction. Jay Roach directed the “Austin Powers” films, which I liked, and the “Meet the Parents/Fockers” films, which I never saw. Those were comedies, and certainly directing a drama is not like directing a comedy. The only other film I’ve heard of is Bombshell, and that only because of its political relevance, and I haven’t seen it.

What else could it be? Editing? Probably not. Hostility on the set?

How does bad directing manifest itself? A director could give no direction and no feedback at all. Is this what would result? Could a director give harmful direction? (“Your performance just gave me chills. You better tone it down.”) Did the director develop a bad relationship with all of the actors?

Ultimately, I will never know, since I wasn’t on the set. The best I can hope for is to learn from bad films I have seen being made.