Earlier today, 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
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.
"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
--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
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
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."