Friday, February 16, 2007


I believe in good movies. There’s a tip floating around my website about the two kinds of “good” in movies - good for critics and good for the mass audience. I don’t think a movie like JACKASS was mentioned during Oscar season, but I laughed my butt off when I saw it. That’s the mass audience good.

I try to write the best mass audience films possible - though I don’t expect to ever have to wake up at 5am on that Tuesday when Oscar nominees are announced. I believe that an entertaining genre movie doesn’t have to be stupid. My favorite films are mostly genre junk that ended up becoming art with the passage of time. These were the best films in their genres, and eventually even the critics forgot that they were just mass audience movies and realized that they were just great films. I sit down to write, that’s my goal - both kinds of good. I want to write an entertaining film that also has meaning.

Lately, I’ve been having a crisis of faith. Big time.

May have mentioned this in another post... One of my favorite books was bought for the screen - first in a series, destined to be big summer tentpole movie. The #1 or #2 male star in the world signed on to play the lead. I was excited. They were still searching for a director when the film was supposed to go into production, and because this is a huge star - he had another project and this film was postponed. A friend of mine snagged a copy of the script, and over the holidays I attempted to read it. This was *the* script written for the star - tailored to him. And it sucked. The first ten pages were talking heads exposition - and then it got worse. Much of the writing stumbled around as if English was their second language - or maybe it was one of those Chinese to English translations. And the story? I knew the story from the book - and we just weren’t getting there. I couldn’t make it past page 40... and I was sticking it out because I loved the book so much! I wanted to bail out after the first couple of pages.

Now, I have no idea how these two guys got the writing job on this big summer tentpole movie - but this was terrible writing. And I’ll bet they got paid huge money - since they were doing the rewrite for the star.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only bad big money script I’ve read. Have you read STAY? I know you haven’t seen the movie - nobody did. The writing was okay, but the story made no sense at all. That was a huge money sale.

I’ve also been seeing all of these dreadful horror films that I chronicled in my Trilogy Of Terror entries - and they suck big time. Though I’ll probably do a stand-alone post on the latest, let me just say that it’s awful. It’s two kinds of bad. And, even though the film has yet to find a distrib, they are going to make 2 more (private funding). They don’t seem to care about the scripts. This is the director-driven horror film, and I think he wants to be able to control the writer after years of TV work where the writer is in control. So they seem to *purposely* look for inferior scripts. This confuses me.

Meanwhile - some of the other folks from those horror films (like the screenwriter with the PR company) are getting new projects - even though the films they made have yet to find a distrib and suck. This confuses me.

I have coffee with my producer friend (from the Hype & Glory entry) who is still plagued with people who have projects that have Billy Bob attached... in their minds.... and he’s got a dilemma. Someone has brought him a horror project with $5 million attached. (Horror films are hot.) No stars spuriously attached, but the money is real. They want him to physically produce the film - which is his job. And he’s been turning down all of these bogus projects lately - and that means he needs to get something going. Everyone has bills to pay, even producers. So he reads the script - and it is awful. He actually pulls the script from his bag and reads me couple of pages - yikes!

He reads a line of action that is one run-on sentence that is half a page long. After finishing the sentence (he had to pause to breathe every so often) I had no idea what the sentence meant. Then he read some dialogue of the “Hello, I’m John Cavandish, your younger brother, when I was five you stole my favorite toy and I have never forgiven you” type. There seemed to be lots of that. I asked him if the script was scary - maybe it’s that other kind of good. No. There were a couple of places where the characters were walking around in the dark with the monster on the loose that were *potentially* scary with a good director... but this is a first time director.

I ask about the lead character... and he laughed. You see, this script has a bunch of potential lead characters and he was at page 60 before he figured out who the lead was supposed to be and it took him until page 70 to figure out the *concept* of the script! Oh, and that guy he thought was the lead? Killed by the monster. Someone else kills the monster - someone who is introduced a page before the final battle! Anyway, the script is a mess.

Now, this producer is my friend, so the next time he talks to the $5 million man he mentions that the script seems to need a lot of work, and he knows a writer... in fact, that writer has a couple of horror scripts that can be made for $5 million and are ready to go *now*. A long pause before the $5 million man replies - this is the script he is shooting and he isn’t changing a word. He’s also the writer (my friend didn’t know this).

Now, I’m sure that all of you are wondering what my producer friend and I were wondering: how did this guy get $5 million?

Anyway - my producer friend would love to get a pay check, but he’s afraid that things are only going to get worse on this project. He joked that the lack of the bogus Billy Bob attachment probably means this guy thinks he’s going to make this movie for $5 million without a star - that he’s going to spend everything on below the line and shoot for 4 months or something.

Folks, the reason why the average Hollywood film costs $100 million by the time it reaches the screen is not because films cost a lot to make, it’s because *stars* cost a lot to hire. A star costs $25 million plus, maybe another $10 million for perks like first class travel and accommodations for family and entourage and other BS. Add some co-stars and probably half the budget or more is going to stars. That’s how movies work - even on a low budget film you will probably spend half the budget on stars. My friend is afraid this guy doesn’t want to spend anything on cast - which will make the script impossible to sell *at that budget*. Look at a film like SAW - made for $1.2 million in a dozen days at Lacy Street studios - and much of the budget went to cast.

Another big issue is that this guy is married to a bad script and *refuses* to budge. My friend suggested he get some coverage on the script, and suggested a couple of readers who regularly read for some big indie companies - the very same companies who might distribute this film. Nope - this is the script they are shooting and they aren’t going to change a word. Yikes! I think *anyone* who is going to spend $5 million on a movie ought to spend $50 for some coverage. And if they don’t like the coverage, spend another $50 to get a second opinion. And if both think the script stinks - it may actually stink. This $5 million man is so sure that his script is brilliant, he’s probably going to flush $5 million down the toilet.

Why? Why is the world so unfair? Why do these crappy writers get work when people like you and I are not? Why?

My crisis of faith really kicked in with that new film that doesn’t have my name on it.

There is a UK writer who will get the credit, and who actually did some rewrite work on the script. Because the original script was about an Air Force test pilot and the star doesn’t match that description, new scenes that introduce the star as an ex-CIA agent were written, along with the scenes that get him into the story. This UK writer has written the star’s last few films - which I have not seen. But I look him up on IMDB, and danged if he doesn’t have 3 gigs writing sequels to studio films... plus the next couple of films for the star. Now, these sequels are DVD originals - but they are studio films. Man, I want those jobs!

Then a strange thing happened... the first few reviews of this film without my name start to pop up on IMDB and other sites. These are reviews from the star’s fans. His core group. And the reviews all say the same thing - this film is much better than the star’s recent films (written by the UK dude) - and they all cite the *script* and the *story*. In fact, the reviews trash the UK writer’s past scripts and praise this one... even though most of these reviews have no idea that anyone else was involved in the writing of this script. They are all praising this UK writer for finally getting it right.

And that makes me laugh and gives me renewed faith.

You may find that strange, but this is proof that the QUALITY OF THE SCRIPT means something. These people - the star’s loyal fans - who have no idea that I had anything to do with this script, think the writing is superior. Complete civilians who have no idea about the entertaining good, let alone the quality good, an easily see distinction between writing they like and writing they do not like. The audience really is paying attention to the quality of the script - even if they don’t know it.

To add to the fun - these reviews trash part of the script.... the opening scenes. The stuff the UK guy wrote!

That makes me feel good. They can even see the difference between good writing and bad writing *within the same script* - and even pinpoint when the bad writing stops and the good writing begins. . This means that good writing actually matters. The audience for a dopey direct to video action film actually cares about the writing and can tell good writing from bad writing from one scene to the next.

The target audience for this dopey action film thinks *my* writing is superior.

Don’t get me wrong - this film is not getting great reviews. I’m not even claiming that my writing is great... just that people who had no idea that I was involved have mentioned that it’s better than the previous stuff. They noticed the difference.

Many producers I have worked with in the past don’t care all that much about the scripts. They may want “good scripts” - but only because it means they can get those stars to sign to their project (sometimes even for less than their quote). But I think over the years they care less-and-less about script quality - if they can get John Travolta to star in BATTLEFIELD EARTH, who cares if the script sucks? They have a big star! The big star will attract the audience. So if you buy some piece of crap script and buy the stars, you are also buying a hit. Well, we’ve seen films with big stars flop because the story sucked. Sure, sometimes a NORBET comes along that is probably not a very good movie but stars Eddy Murphy and may have enough laughs to become a hit - that’s the other kind of good tipping the scales. And there are stars, like Murphy, who can make inferior material enjoyable. But folks, I think this is proof that even the audience for a dumb action movie cares about the quality of the writing.

Anyway - I’m claiming this as a victory for good writing. My faith is renewed.

Recently, Summer Redstone (who owns the half of Hollywood that Rupert Murdock doesn’t own) said in an interview: “We are paying the talent (actors) too much. Because it is not the talent that makes the movie, it is the script. The play's the thing, as someone once said. And if you have a great script, the talent rushes to appear in it and not at too heavy a price.”

Obviously the producers of big budget films know that all of the Tom Cruises in the world can’t make a bad script good.

Now, if we could get those producers of the studio DVD sequels to care more about the quality of the writing than... well, whatever reasons they have for buying crappy scripts. For those DVD “stars” the script is even more important - and even the audience for those films seems to know this. When you are spending $5 million on the DVD star (as these guys did) why not just spend the time to find a good script? It would even benefit the stars of these films to go out of their way to find better scripts... or just leave the writing to the writers. It’s their face up there on screen. Time for the producers to wake up and smell the coffee - scripts matter.

- Bill


Enzio Pesta said...

Man, you sure do like to write. I'd be dead and reduced to sun-bleached bones if I attempted this.

Anyway, I have an idea for a movie that takes place in real time in a public toilet. Ok, not all of it, some of it takes place in the public area just in front of the Lady's/Men's room doors so there's some interaction betweem the sexes and maybe I'll throw in a little girl-on-girl action to spice it up.

The main plot has to do with a terrorist time bomb that's going to go off in...well, 90 minutes.

Think it will fly?

Leslie Bates said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leslie Bates said...

Damned if I know. I'm at the bottom of page 39 of my "something awful happens to little boy who grows up and kicks ass" script.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

What a scary world it is now that I know there are people out there writing without a net!

wcmartell said...

Annette should always be around when writing. Unfortunately Warren would not loan her to me.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

Welcome to my world. I just had that conversation with another well known producer.

Lou said...

Hey Bill, So nothing has changed in Hollywood since the dawn of time. Amazing. No, not really. I'm not surprised. It's one of the reasons I switched to novel writing.

Hollywood will never change. Good writing will never get the credit it deserves. Sad, but true.

I do enjoy your blog, though. I check in now and then to see what's new. And I keep my fingers crossed for you.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting, thought-provoking blog. Hollywood is intransgient - like the Middle East.

It just requires the movie star to step back, they are not worth 25 million.

I'm convinced that movie stars do not sell the movies, it's the story, people go to theaters to see good pictures.


MaryAn Batchellor said...

She was brilliant in Running in With Scissors

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