Yesterday, in a forum on Done Deal Pro, I posted in a thread where the discussion had turned into theories as to why some movies that come out of Hollywood are so bad. A few aspiring writers postulated that (and I’m not only paraphrasing here, but including musings I’ve heard many times in the past) it’s at least in part due to all the hack writers floating around out there writing shit material.
I can’t stress this enough: most of the writers working professionally in Hollywood are on a scale from very solid to fucking amazing. Sure, there are some hacks, and sure, we all wonder how they got there; you’ll have that in any profession, creative or not. Hell, I’m probably one of them.
But for the most part, when you go to see a movie that just absolutely blows, you can bet good money on the fact that it didn’t start out as a piece of shit. Is this always true? Of course not. Generally? I certainly believe so.
In that, I’m already repeating myself; The Bitter Script Reader asked me to post what I’d said about the process from script to screen, and so I shall. I’ve gotten a couple nice emails/messages about it already, so hopefully that means it was helpful.
Here it is:
“Most terrible movies start off as really, really, really good scripts.
Obviously, some do not. But most do. And it’s ESSENTIAL to remember that. As a crash course, here’s what generally happens at studios with a given project:
–Writer(s) writes a great script/takes an assignment/adapts a book.
–Studio/production company buys it or has already paid writer(s) to write it.
–After everyone reads the first draft, the Studio, producers and writer(s) go into rewrites, because even great scripts can be improved. Studio execs, studio heads, studio lawyers, producers and producers’ juniors all have notes.
–Writer(s) writes a new draft. Studio Gang (all of the mentioned above) has more notes.
–Writer(s) either writes a new draft and/or a new writer(s) come on to write another draft. Those writers have notes on top of the Studio Gang’s notes, as do their agents and managers.
–If the process doesn’t stall out here, talent is attached. Talent has notes. Talent’s management, agents and lawyers have notes. These are on top of the notes of all of the above mentioned. “Talent”, in this case, concerns both directors and actors.
–The same writers write another draft, or a new writer(s) comes in, or the original writer (infrequently, but sometimes) is brought back. If talent doesn’t stick, these or new writers write another draft based on talent’s departure/the need to draw in new talent. If new talent comes in, another draft is written based on the notes of said talent, their managers, agents and lawyers. This can happen any number of times.
(NOTE: Pursuant to the above, keep in mind that, at any time, studio execs/heads and producers/PJ’s may leave the project as well. If they do, they will be replaced…triggering more notes.)
–If the process doesn’t stall here, a greenlight is issued. Another draft is written by the current writer(s) and/or a new writer(s) to get the film into production.
–If the process doesn’t stall here, the film is rewritten up to and through production by the new writer(s) and/or an even NEWER writer(s) based on the continuing notes of studio execs, studio heads, studio lawyers, producers, producers’ juniors, talent, talent’s agents, managers and lawyers (remember, this is for both the director and actors), any sponsors and/or “corporate partners” (read: the people providing the products for placement in the film), and probably a few others I’ve even forgotten.
–This is on top of all the things the writer(s) would like to accomplish with something he/she/they had originally written/rewritten.
–This does not cover ad-libbing or last-second disasters or reshoots. Or anything else I haven’t mentioned.
I want to stress this point: with a studio film, THIS IS TYPICAL. The longer you work in the industry, the more and more amazed you find yourself whenever a studio film WORKS. When you’re going through it, it seems impossible that it will all be OK. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.
But the main MAIN point is this: rarely do bad movies start off as bad scripts. Sure, there are bad professional writers out there, but honestly, they’re the exception, at least in my estimation. Generally, the best draft of a script is the second or third one before too many people try to have their input and “put their stamp” on the project. The more people you involve who are determined to have a voice so that there’s something they can point to that they did so they can keep their jobs, the more the property careens towards total disaster. Multiply this exponentially for sequels and franchises.
Why go into this diatribe? If you aspire to be a screenwriter, you need to get this idea out of your head that Hollywood is buying terrible scripts, and you’re this great writer with your nose pressed up against the glass, and you just can’t get a shot. It’s not the case. Most writers are churning out really good-to-terrific scripts that end up getting developed into the ground. And you’re not in competition with them, per se, but you have to do something really special to get the attention of the People With the Money and convince them that they’d should pay you to write instead of an established professional. Why? Because an established professional is a safer bet, and people like safe bets, because usually they help them keep their jobs. Complicating things? Even pros aren’t sure bets, and people lose their jobs all the time.
So yeah, there’s a wall, and you have to leap over it.
You know what’s never going to help? A s*** attitude. So get off your balls/ovaries, write something incredible, and get it out there in the best way you see fit. Not in LA? You’re at a disadvantage, and you’re going to have to work harder. Rules of the game; I didn’t set them, I just know they exist. If you have a problem with ANY of the above, give up. This is not for you and your talents will be more valuable elsewhere.
End rant. Again, I hope this has been helpful, even if protracted and brusque. I simply don’t think it serves anyone well to candy-coat what we’re all up against. That said, there are many of us trolling about who want to help you break in if you’ve got the talent. Hell, if you take a job from us, we might even buy you a congratulatory beer.
Now stop whining and go write something awesome. If you want to use the Black List, do so. If you don’t, don’t. Write something awesome and, eventually, you won’t have to worry about it.”