I know what your thinking.
How are these two things not synonymous. And yet, in SO many cases, films end up being quasi-stories at best, featuring excellent cinematography, sound, and etc., but too much activity and not nearly enough action.
Yes, a screenplay is merely a literary basis for an audio/visual experience, but, if the story that the screenplay is based on doesn't make people say "I really want to see that movie," - you are missing something.
A weak cast can kill a film. Weak direction can kill a film. Low production value can kill a film. Poor cinematography can even kill a film. But if the story is not there, then you have nothing. Nothing.
And when you have "nothing," all hope is lost. No amount of magical filmmaking alchemy can save you, sorry to say. It's not somehow just going to magically come together on shoot days and in the editing process if it's not already on the page.
Trust me on this, I've personally seen a dozen or so Indie efforts fail because of execution of a film based on a weak script. I'm talking about money and time and much effort wasted over many years on feature length films that completely failed at what they were meant for - film festival inclusion.
I've seen many beginner writer/directors hold to the paranoia that if they let people read their masterpiece screenplay, someone will steal their ideas. Nobody wants to steal your snappy banter and I can pretty much guarantee you, your story has been told before, so don't get uptight about letting people peer into the chest of priceless Krugerrands that is your script.
If someone steals your script and they manage to make a shitload of money, which is a long shot, you can sue them. So, there IS that.
I believe that many beginner filmmakers are so enamored of the filmmaking process that they overlook the most crucial aspect of all and forge ahead into production. Don't get me wrong, I love the process of shooting scenes and editing. But when you edit scenes together and find out once and for all that the stuff is just not all that compelling (time and time again), it changes your perspective completely. This has happened to me, so take my word for it - concentrate on crafting an amazing script.
Filmmakers spend hours and hours agonizing over what equipment to use and what technique to employ while the script never gets re-written. While the script never gets multiple table reads. While the script never gets critical feedback from multiple sources.
Nobody will care how sharp or well lit your footage is if the story has no direction and nothing particularly compelling happens. Nobody will care how much time and effort you put into your film because ALL they see is what's on the screen. Your friends and relatives will watch it (once) and will be polite about it, but in the end all you have on your hands is an ugly baby.
An ugly baby may be beautiful to you, but to the world, it's awkward and something they'd rather not have to deal with.
©2012 Chris Santucci