Friday, May 14, 2010

Robbing From The Poor (Writer)

ROBIN HOOD opens today, a year late, and with a Tomatometer rating of 44% (and falling - it was higher on Wednesday when I began this entry) - and it is not expected to unseat IRON MAN 2 as #1 film over the weekend. Oh, and they disliked it at Cannes. Oh, and the budget is rumored to be $250 million and maybe even more. Would you believe this film began with one of the hottest screenplays in town? A screenplay that *was not about* Robin Hood?

(This is not a piece of investigative journalism, it’s an opinion piece, so my facts come from other sources (mostly newspapers and entertainment websites) and I didn’t authenticate any of them. If I get something wrong, feel free to correct me...)

Probably close to 3 years ago, a hot script by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris called NOTTINGHAM went out to buyers. The script was the Robin Hood story told from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s point of view - as he used period “forensics”, like tracking and arrow trajectory, to find a terrorist who was robbing respectable members of society. Shelock Holmes in Sherwood Forest.

One of the things a screenwriter needs is an idea that is both unique and universal. There have been over a hundred movies and TV series about Robin Hood - we all know the story. We’ve seen it all before... But making the “villain” into the protagonist is something we have never seen before - the unique part of the idea. We know this can work, because of that long running musical WICKED and a bunch of other stories that flipped the POV and shown the story from an angle we have never seen before. So we have a story that is universal - Robin Hood - and add the unique element of telling it from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s point of view.

I am all about finding the unique idea, my friends Terry & Ted have their theory of “mental real estate” - the “pre-sold” universal idea that we all know about, and twisting it to make it unique. Hey, we’ve probably all taken the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride at Disneyland, or at least know about it. That is prime mental real estate. Add the magical curse to make it unique and come up with one heck of a great story and great characters and clever dialogue and make sure it’s exciting, and you have a hit. (And if it were that easy, we’d all be the hottest writers in town!) But taking a story we all know and telling it in a way we have never heard before is genius - and NOTTINGHAM didn’t stop with the great idea, it was written well, had a great star role, and an exciting read.

There was a bidding war. Everybody loved this screenplay, everybody wanted to buy it. This is what screenwriters dream about.

We all want to see our stories on screen. But most of the time, your script ends up just a sample so that you can get an assignment writing BEETHOVEN 7 or something. And that’s if you are lucky and get a gig! Sometimes it feels like we are just shoving screenplays into a black void... they just disappear, so we write a new script, and that disappears. Even if you land assignments, it’s not unusual to write for a decade - paid to write - and have nothing ever go to screen.

Okay, there is a bidding war, and Imagine Entertainment wins - that's Opie’s company - and they love the script so much they “fast track” it - they get Russell Crowe onboard to star as the Sheriff of Nottingham and set a release date. The film is going to be made and in cinemas - no protracted development process because they can’t figure out how to make the script work - everybody loves this script!

It’s ready to roll!


They needed a director that Russell Crowe likes - he’s the star, gotta make him happy - so they hired Ridley Scott. That sounds great, doesn’t it? You write a script, everybody loves it, you sell it for a bunch of money in a bidding war, and now Russell Crowe is going to star and Ridley Scott is going to direct. I’ll tell you - I would be dancing on clouds if that happened to me. So excited I could not sleep for months.

Except if everyone loves the script, the director is ranked #2... and that can not be! Film is a director’s medium, right? The director must be the most important person on the film! Hey, I’m just guessing about Ridley Scott’s motivations, I don’t really know. What I do know is that he wanted massive rewrites done to the screenplay that everybody loved.

And the script began to evolve...

Brian Helgeland was brought in to do rewrites, and he’s an Oscar winning writer. If he were brought in to rewrite one of my screenplays, I would be dancing on clouds...

Except the rewrites are kind of weird. Ridley becomes *obsessed* with archery, has always wanted to do a movie about archery, and has NOTTINGHAM rewritten to focus on archery and archers. Huh?

Two years ago, when the film was supposed to be going into production, Ridley Scott had them postpone production because “we don’t have a script, yet”. You hear directors say that in interviews fairly often - “We started making the film before there was even a screenplay!” - but you know it’s bunk. What they mean is, “There was this brilliant screenplay that everybody loved and all of the stars signed to... but I thought it needed some work so I brought in some new writers and they tore it apart and we began filming before they actually had a new draft that worked... and everything we shot was *not* that polished draft that came out of development that everybody loved... it was a sloppy first draft where some pages were written on the set as we were filming.” Though CASABLANCA was being written as they shot it, that’s kind of the exception to the rule. Usually the more time you have to work out the problems in the script, the better the script will be... and the easier it will be to shoot. You tend to spend a lot of money when you are making it up as you go along.

Two years ago, when Scott postponed production, Patrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times wrote a blog entry about the problems this caused: Nottingham Stalls.

(I actually began this blog entry two years ago... but only that link remains from the original piece.)

The big problem was that the film would not make its release date, and this was supposed to be the big film for the season. The tentpole. Remove the studio’s big tentpole and the whole thing collapses! On top of that, there was a potential SAG strike, plus escalating costs to stop that runaway train of filming and then restart it later. All of this because Ridley Scott wanted a new draft that focused on archery, and he is the director, and the director is always right.


Except here is the problem - what if the director is wrong?

We currently have a system where that isn’t even considered. The fear is that once a director is “let go” (fired) from a project, they will not be able to find another director and the project will fall apart. And that has happened enough times to be a legitimate fear. If you fire Ridley Scott, you need to replace him with a director that Russell Crowe approves of - that’s some other big name director who may be booked for the next 2 years. But how is that any different than waiting on Ridley Scott for 2 years? And we have seen some new, young (cheap) directors who have done amazing work and everyone wants to work with them... maybe you could convince Russell Crowe that this new guy is worth sticking around to work with?

Look at Christopher Nolan - before MEMENTO he was nobody, and afterwards he was directing an Al Pacino movie... and then the new BATMAN movie. Doug Liman makes GO and gets THE BOURNE IDENTITY... and after he’s “let go” they hire Paul Greengrass, who made a couple of low budget shaky-cam art house films before that. There are always these hot new directors that everybody loves because they are creative and interesting - if Imagine had fired Ridley Scott when he removed their tentpole movie and replaced him with whoever was the hot new director 2 years ago, could they have kept Crowe? Maybe.

Problem is - producers and studios are of the mindset that the director is the power when *they* are the power.

If a director becomes a problem - no matter how big they are, even Spielberg - get the ef rid of them. Fire their butts. Send them to the unemployment line. There are new directors with new ideas every month - and they cost less and may be easier to reason with (because they don’t think they are the 300 pound gorilla). You know what? If enough people fire Ridley Scott because he took away their tentpole or ruined their script or spent twice what was budgeted, I’ll bet Mr. Scott would consider becoming more cooperative.


Brain Helgeland is stuck doing press for this film and cheerleading for it. But he was also in that tough spot of being the writer trying to make the 300 pound gorilla's strange ideas into a screenplay that could be made into a movie. I've had those crazy notes where what you want to do is say, "Are you out of your effing mind?" but instead, your job is to make the note work. Okay, there may be some discussion first, but the director is always right, and if you refuse to execute the crazy note you will be "let go" and they bring in some other writer who will. This is not an easy job and I'm sure Hegeland did the best he could with what he was given.

So, Ridley Scott wanted to change the NOTTINGHAM script which featured period forensics to a script about archers and archery...

Then he came up with a brilliant idea! What if the Sheriff Of Nottingham and Robin Hood were the *same person*! Kind of like FIGHT CLUB. He’d be chasing himself for the whole damned movie! And there were some drafts of the screenplay written like that, until someone (maybe Helgeland) must have hinted that it might be a little silly.

And draft after draft, they script changed - evolved - twisted - becoming something completely different. The way the most expensive meal you have ever eaten turns into something else when it goes through the digestive process.

Eventually, they ended up with a script about Robin Hood - the same story we have seen a hundred times before (according to imdb there are 111 movies about Robin Hood, first one made in 1912). Nothing unique about it. Just a rehash of someone else’s hash. Oh, they say it’s gritty. But the Costner version was gritty for its time - remember? He wore leather instead of tights and there was more realistic violence and Sherwood Forest was muddy and... well, it was gritty. We’ve had that version. And all of the versions feature archery - even the Disney cartoon. So what Ridley Scott did was take a script that was both unique and universal and remove the unique aspect so that it’s bland. They keep trying to find some hook to the story in the trailers and adverts, and can’t find anything. It’s Robin Hood... again. They’ve settled on star and director and GLADIATOR... but I think the bad reviews are making the GLADIATOR comparisons a tough sell.

Oh, and about those bad reviews - several that I have read single out the big problem with the film as the script, and then name the writers - including Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris and in some reviews giving Oscar winning screenwriter Helgeland a break and *focusing* on them (because they do not have Oscars, so it must be their fault). I have yet to read a review that mentions the original screenplay... but have read a couple that said Scott and Crowe get bogged down by this terrible script.

You know that dream come true of having your script sell and get fast tracked and star Russell Crowe and be directed by Ridley Scott?


I’ve had many films that do not resemble my screenplays at all - and some like CROOKED where they changed the concept. The stupid idea in that film was not mine. The stupid story was not mine. The stupid characters were not mine. Nothing in that film was mine. Yet, I get sole credit for the screenplay! None of the changes were written material, just stuff the director and star came up with on the set. So, I was the only actual writer on the film... that is nothing at all like my screenplay. What am I gonna do? Run around town and tell them that wasn't my script?

The worst part of this is that the NOTTINGHAM screenplay that everybody loved and caused that big bidding war? We will never get a chance to see that movie. Never. You see, that script became ROBIN HOOD. That script has been “made” - just made into something else and then filmed. The writers have lost the chance to see their work on screen... forever!

On TREACHEROUS, I was invited to the screening by the producers (ITC) who apologized to me in advance, and I laughed outloud once when a line I actually wrote came out of a character’s mouth. The whole film was completely different (again - not even my idea survived) and it was funny to watch this story that I had nothing to do with and then suddenly have a character say something I actually wrote. It’s surreal. And I’m sure Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris were sitting in the cheap seats at the premiere - no red carpet for them I’ll bet - and when something they actually wrote happened, they got a good laugh out of it. You have to laugh to keep your sanity sometimes. And when your script, your baby, gets mangled like this, if you can’t laugh you are in trouble. The only other thing left to do is cry.


I am not anti-director, nor am I against a director’s input. I have had some great input from directors that improved the screenplay. I have also had the other kind of input... um, more of that. But film is a collaborative medium, a team sport, and I just want to be a team player. But when one of the players on the team is doing things wrong, I expect the coach to step in and tell him or her to knock it off. And if that player keeps screwing up, it might be a good idea to bench them and bring in another player. Right now we have a system where the director is always right, even when he’s wrong. That’s not a good system!

How many directors did THE WIZARD OF OZ have? How many directors did GONE WITH THE WIND have?

My theory is that the screenplay and screenwriters are part of that team. We do not tell the DP what lens to use, we do not tell the gaffer what light to use, we do not tell the actor how to read their line - we just write the script. That is our job. We are in charge of the script part of the movie, and other people on the team are in charge of other parts of the film. We work together.

For better or worse, a screenplay goes through development and is supposed to come out of that process the absolute best that screenplay could ever be. And if the producer decides that it is ready to be filmed, and attaches the stars and director to it, and the studio (or whoever is financing it) puts up the money - that is the screenplay that should be filmed. It should be locked. Once that screenplay is the best it can be - the whole thing is locked and the star can’t just decide he wants to wear his lucky leather jacket in the film (happened to me), so the character has to be changed to someone who would wear a leather jacket... and the director can’t just throw in a bunch of BS to put his stamp on it. I think part of the “director’s stamp” thing is that many directors have no idea what they are doing and can not use their visual style / directorial style to “put their stamp on it” so they mess with the story (the writer’s job). Fridays are usually about Hitchcock films - even with the experiments, you can tell a Hitchcock film from directing style from a handful of shots. No need to know what the story is. Same thing with Nick Roeg. Same thing with Don Siegel. Same with Orson Welles. Same with Kubrick. Same with Kurosawa (check them out at the Egyptian Theater NOW!). Same with Bergman - even though his stories are often very different, his directing style is his own. It’s when you have a director who doesn’t know how to do his job that he starts messing with yours.

So, we have this screenplay that everyone thinks is the very best it can be, and we lock it. What happens if the director comes up with a great idea? Or the star? Well, like anything that is locked, someone has the key - the producer. The *default mode* for the screenplay is *LOCKED* (which is the opposite of how it is now). So when the director comes up with an awful idea, the producer just says, “I’m sorry the screenplay is locked. We are only going to unlock it for an exceptional change.” And if the director gets snooty about that, fire his butt. Bring in the kid. But, I think if locked is the default mode for a screenplay it stops being personal - because all scripts are locked. The producer makes the decision to unlock it. If the director comes back with another idea that is brilliant, the producer pulls out that key and we make it a better screenplay. I think that is what we all want - as a writer that is what I want. The best screenplay possible.

But how do we know that Ridley’s idea that the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood being the same person chasing himself like a dog chasing his tail wouldn’t have ended up a brilliant movie? Well, maybe it would be... but I think an important part of my job as a screenwriter and a producer’s job as a producer is to be able to see down that road to see if it works. When I look down the road, the best case scenario I can see is some wacky bow & arrow version of FIGHT CLUB, and FIGHT CLUB was a movie that flopped so hard it almost took down a studio. That’s a hard sell when you’re looking for the studio to put up the money to make the movie. Also, though FIGHT CLUB did it right and is a great movie, having the hero and villain be the same person is one of those new screenwriter ideas that just doesn’t work 98% of the time. The odds say it would have been much worse that the script that everybody loved.

Though none of us is Miss Cleo, we can usually look at past performance and get a good idea whether something will work or not. Sure, there are flukes - and maybe this idea of Ridley’s is one that would work. In that case, I’d say you write that up as a new and different screenplay, and then return the rights of NOTTINGHAM back to the writers and let them keep the money you paid them - as your penalty for switching horses in the middle of the stream. The producer is responsible. And you know what? Probably wouldn’t cost them a penny more than they way it transpired, because once you hire Brian Helgeland to start from scratch with a brand new idea, you have to pay him - the credits for ROBIN HOOD give Helgeland a "Story By" along with the original writers. In fact, it might actually *save* you money - because part of giving back the script means the original writers do not get a piece of that production bonus, and if you make your deal with Helgeland right...

The downside is that that script that everybody loved will be picked up by somebody else, and the Nottingham-chases-his-own-tail version will be in direct competition with the screenplay that everyone loved. See how that would make a producer actually consider the changes?

(The original writers might also consider sticking around - because maybe the changes did make it better.)

And even though we are not Miss Cleo, we can look at the results: NOTTINGHAM - both unique and universal vs. ROBIN HOOD - not unique at all. So there is some objective criteria that would make the changes to the screenplay everybody loved look like a bad bet in the first place.

Hey, what happens if a producer does unlock the script for a bunch of stupid ideas? Well, he probably isn’t a producer for long, right? There are several producers who probably need to be escorted to the Los Angeles city limits and told not to come back any time soon. (I mentioned in a messageboard post a couple of weeks ago that lawsuit that Sean Connery had against a “producer” who didn’t produce anything - he had a development deal with a studio and *only* developed scripts... no intention of ever making them into films. That way, he could never make a flop, and keep getting his development deals. Only problem was, one script had Connery attached to star... and it just never seemed to be getting any closer to getting made. I think we could stand to lose guys like that.)

At the end of the day it’s all about being responsible for the product you create. Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris had to be responsible for the product they created, or no one would have loved it and no one would have bought it. Writing a spec script is a big gamble where the odds are against you - such a small percentage of spec scripts sell that it seems crazy to write one. Except unlike buying a lotto ticket, the reason a spec script becomes one of those one in a million winners is something *we control* - the writing. Sure, there’s a timing factor, too - but if you have written a great script it’s going to stand so far above all of those crappy ones that your odds are suddenly much better. We control the odds. We are responsible for writing the best possible screenplay... or it doesn’t sell to anyone in the first place.

Once it has sold, it is the producer’s responsibility to make sure the best possible movie from that screenplay ends up on screen. And if that means firing Ridley Scott, that’s what you have to do. By the way, the producer on ROBIN HOOD is Brian Grazer, who is a smart guy and a good producer - but like every other producer, stuck in a business where directors are right even if they are wrong. That’s the thing that has to change. It’s not Grazer’s fault, nor his odd hair’s fault - he’s just trying to get films made. And Ridley Scott is not the villain, either - he's just doing what directors have become used to doing - being always right. It's not Helgeland's fault - he's the guy caught in the middle trying to make bad notes work. And it's not Opie's fault - though I know that sucker is up to something. The *system* is broken, and ROBIN HOOD is a perfect example of that. If producers used this as a call to arms, they might be able to get the business back on course and not turn that screenplay that everybody loves into a film with a 44% Tomatometer rating.

Tonight I’m staying home and watching the Errol Flynn version.

- Bill

Blog Sampler - some other cool entries.

Fridays With Hitchcock entries.

Today's Blog Entry.


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Okay, Who Started It? - the guy who throws the first punch is the villain... even if he's a priest.
Dinner: Tortas - a burrito bigger than my head.
Bicycle: Short, due to laundry.
Pages: Instead of doing something productive, I wrote these 16 pages.


Justin James said...

Thanks for such an informative look on how a great script can get pounded down to pablum.

Emily Blake said...

Preach it, brother.

This is why I still mourn what Hancock was supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, Bill. I'm going to share this as much as possible because you make so many good points. What a shame that Nottingham will never get made.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is I wish I was going to Santa Fe. I attended the conference last year - which was amazing, but being from Australia, it takes a bit to get there.

I agree with everything you say.

The process is collaborative but all too often, certain team players seem to miss the point of what brought them together: STORY.

When the director or actor or whomever feels a need to change the script in order to "put their stamp" on it, then they are no longer serving the story or the characters, but themselves.

As for the coaches who don't bench the players that screw up... I guess it all amounts to one thing: Fear.

I feel for Reiff and Voris.

Thanks Bill. Most enlightening.

Raven said...

Excellent points. Now if only someone would take heed and change things...

I would've paid to see Nottingham. There's not a chance in hell I'll pay to see Robin Hood.

mrswing said...

Ridley Scott is the 'genius' who decided along the way that Blade Runner was about a replicant hunting other replicants - even though this wasn't in the source material, the script, or, for once, in the mind of the lead actor.

The solution is pretty simple, really: the rules of television should be transplanted to movie making. No director in US television gets to change the script (even when it ought to be, at times). With often stunningly good results.

aggiebrett said...





Scott the Reader said...

In theory, can't they still make Nottingham? If the original script was virtually unused, couldn't Imagine just go and make it?

Of course, now that they've hobbled the Robin Hood mental real estate for a while, that might me harder.

Shawna said...

Bravo, Bill. This should be read far and wide. I shall do my part to try to make that happen.

Anonymous said...

What everybody else said -- fantastic post, Bill.

wcmartell said...

Yes - Imagine could make NOTTINGHAM... but would they? As time goes on, the original screenplay fades from memory and the filmed version is what survives. And if ROBIN HOOD flops or doesn't make much money, difficult to get someone interested in "remaking it" - even if what you are using is the unused screenplay. No one is trying to get DEAD DROP made - another hot script that got mangled and became a compltely different film... that flopped.

DJ Chamberlain said...

Great post!

I actually have a copy of the script NOTTINGHAM and was meant to read it a long time ago. I've only just found it and plan to read it today.

I feel for Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, however if the script was that well received I don't think what Scott did to it will effect them to badly among those in the industry. Yes, they will be considered hacks by critics or the general audience who don't know the back story but the powers the be will still hire them to work. Would you agree?

David Chamberlain
PS happy to share the script.

wcmartell said...

Thank you, I also have a copy of the script buried somewhere.

The original writers will still have a career - but I know from experience it hurts to have your script mangled and never seen on screen. Of course, it might have hurt me less with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchet in the leads. Getting something on screen is not easy, and when the baby is born and it's a mutant, that's not a pleasant experience.

Ryan Rasmussen said...

Great post, Bill. So, I saw the film last night, feeling somewhat "obligated" as I'm a fan of all the discernible elements -- genre, director, stars. I hadn't followed the project's history too closely.

It was . . . okay. Fun to watch Cate, Russell, and Max work together as well as the usual wonderful production design by Arthur Max. But, for all the reasons you point out, the script was the real failing.

Thanks for your insider's view on how all this talent can add up to something less than good.

Unknown said...

I don’t understand this sentence you wrote:

“if Imagine had fired Ridley Scott when he removed their tentpole movie”

can someone correct this grammar?

wcmartell said...

"if Imagine had fired Ridley Scott when he removed their tentpole movie and replaced him with whoever was the hot new director 2 years ago, could they have kept Crowe?"

I don't see the problem. Runs on a bit.

yyyyyyyyy said...

By Baby Bones

Excellent post. What is the legal status of ideas passed over during production and development? It seems that the Sheriff is Robin version is still up for grabs, since it was the forensics version that sold and is copyrighted.

Although you make it sound like Fight Club, which would be pretty awful, I can imagine this version being the sheriff covertly fighting for what's right. The first turning point would that the Sheriff realizes he's on the wrong side (By turning sides, he saves Maid Marion, becomes the covert leader of the thieves, and gives birth to the legend of Robin Hood). Then the main event would be Maid Marion and some of the Merry Men being caught by the King's Guard and sent to be executed in a gruesome medieval way. The dilemma would be his attempting to save them by turning himself in or honoring their sacrifice and fighting for what's they believed in.
The overall goal could be fairly particular at first. Maybe the sheriff just wants to set right a wrong that he had caused. The it becomes a national issue: sedition and revolution.
I think that version is reasonable but it may not score any marks for originality.

RJ said...

this was awesome.

The whole reason I want to be a producer is so I can stop movies like Robin Hood ever happening.

wcmartell said...

Everything comissioned by the studio is owned by the studio.

And they have really good lawyers.

Anonymous said...

Another writer and another studio can still make Nottingham. The myth is in public domain so anyone can take a stab at it. That angle is still not explored

mrswing said...

That's right, but could the original writers get away with it? Since it's their idea and they pulled it off, they should be the ones getting a shot at the title... Perhaps they should use a front man and then reveal the whole truth once the movie is a success and covered in Academy Award nominations.

samuel.x.killer said...

went to the movie last night, read the first draft of the script this morning (available at

funny how you mention laughing at the one unchanged line - there was one phrase on p. 56 that made it into the film (albeit spoken by another character) but i chuckled when i saw it. amazing what sticks through all the rewrites

i understand why they made the changes. the climactic battle at the end of the film is arguably more cinematic than the one in the script, though the original felt much more real and was more tense. as gritty as the movie is, the screenplay is a little more so. the story liberties in the film were more rewriting the legend than the script's revision of it which make the latter much more fresh than the former.

after watching the movie, i couldn't help but think that of all ripley's films, this one seems most apt for a sequel. perhaps the original script could be reworked in a way as robin hood 2. however, i think it's highly unlikely any other version of "nottingham" will be made.

Martin_B said...

The pre-Helgeland first draft by Reiff and Voris is available on Mypdfscripts. [4.2 MB]

Schofizzy said...

Great write-up. Solid work, but the big thing you missed is, Scott's "Robin Hood" isn't what we've already seen. It's a prequel to the legend of Robin Hood. Russell Crowe is Robin Longstride for the entire movie.

That said, I totally agree with your qualms. Nottingham sounded real cool. But the fact is Scott and Helgeland ended up with a well done prequel.

But hey that's just my two cents.

Anne Lund said...

Mr. M.: Complete sympathy here with the drastic things that can happen to a writer's concept and script during the tortuous process of getting "it" (whatever mutation it turns out to be) finally filmed. I too very much liked the might-have-been "Nottingham" and wish it had been made.

But it wasn't. That said, sir, did you actually see this "Robin Hood" before writing this blog? Because it is NOT, in fact, "the same story we have seen a hundred times before." "Unique" is a tricky word, but I would argue that this "R.H." is at least quite different in that it's a "what if? maybe?" origin story, and certainly not "a rehash of someone else's hash," if by "hash" you mean the umpteen tellings of the Robin Hood legend that have come before. You may disagree, bemoan or hate what Ridley & Co. has come up with, but this "Robin Hood" is by no means a "same old, same old."

Another thing: I believe that if "Nottingham" had to go, for whatever the reasons (including the title), this, our new "Robin Hood" should have been given a different title, one that made it a little clearer that it ISN'T yet another "Robin Hood and his Merry Men frolic in Sherwood Forest" story. (And maybe then all the die-hard Errol Flynners wouldn't be rending their emerald green garments in such distress.)

What I did this weekend was to shake off as much of the nay-saying and negativity about this movie as I could, and see it. I enjoyed it thoroughly as an action/adventure story that was well acted (given the script!) and excellently filmed. And just think: maybe we WILL see "Nottingham" (or a rewrite thereof!) one day.

ssas said...

For archery being the focus, there wasn't anything like enough. I'm a buff and there was really hardly any, not close anyway, just flocks of arrows shot off a cliff. Fish in a barrel. Boooring.

And I see you showed the BBC version of Robin Hood, which was well-written, funny, endearing, and adventuresome. It wasn't very gritty, but my kids liked to watch it and we did too, so it has all that going for it.

The script absolutely sucked, it had no conflict (Robin waltzes in and basically gets whatever he wants - the freakin' characters even mention it - CLUE writers!)

But I had fun with it. I expected little and I got exactly that. I would have LOVED to have seen Crowe as the Sheriff, though!

Unknown said...

I would watch the sh*t out of Nottingham.

Unknown said...

Wonderful piece.
Like you I don't understand why they just didn't start afresh with a new Robin Hood idea. Why trample on someone's work like that? It's actually cheaper not to...
Reminds me of the Demi Moore film Striptease - which is based on a hilarious Carl Hiaasen novel. All the novel's humour and brilliance was taken out in adapting it into a script - and the two bore almost no resemblance to each other. There can't be a single person in the world who would like both the novel and the film. Not only was this truly wrong on an artistic and moral level, but it can't have made any commercial sense either.

Unknown said...

Amazing stuff. I've now linked to your blog from my review of Robin Hood for Film4, which I wrote before I'd read your post here. I actually didn't mind Robin Hood as it eventually emerged, but boy, does it seem like Nottingham would have been better.

Vinny said...

Could not disagree more. Robin Hood is Ridley's most important film since Blade Runner. Funny, it's getting the same type of reaction. There are a few poorly joined parts here, but I'm sure he'll fix 'em for the DVD. His more ambitious films usually take a few cuts to get just right. Time will vindicate this film. But it's kind of nice to have a great film that everyone isn't jumping on a bandwagon for. Keep your Costner crap ha ha! I'll take this any day. Probably the best big-screen Robin since the last of the Hammer Robin Hoods.

Unknown said...

Interestingly enough, I think the original script had a bit of a political bent to it ... a figure of authority investigating a "terrorist" that history has actually glorified into a folk hero. It really is a shame we'll never get to see this movie.

Third World Girl said...

And the price tag for "turning the most expensive meal you have ever eaten into something else"?

6.7 million is what they ended up spending on the script.

SilverGreyFilms said...

Thank you so much for that expressive account. I can't agree with you more, particularly on the butcher process, irrespective of the collaborative aspects.
Often miffed by this reasoning behind becoming attracted to a great script and turning it into a sow's ear of a film, I would appreciate an insight as to what to do?
My own reasoning would be to do it oneself, though huge amounts of money is required and the fund providers would thus bring the whole silly process into full circle, I would wager.
Also I am sure a few attempts to create a studio (maybe like United Artists) or an independent group of filmmakers that don't like the system have ended up in similar circumstances to what they were fighting against.
There must be a practical way, with like-minded people, with expertise in respective roles available to bring a "just" fairness to the script and scriptwriter so the story everyone gets excited about actually gets made. Yes?

adrian mckinty said...

Excellent post.

How you contain your anger is beyond me. You must do yoga or something.

Merlin Chappuis said...

Hey guys,

In its first weekend, it already made half of its budget up, and is the number two movie in the country. So obviously something clicked that the uptight, rich, and Robin Hood (the ideal) hating critics and reviewers missed.

Everyone said that, although the IDEA of "Nottingham" was a good one, it ended up playing out as "CSI: Nottingham," and Russell himself said that it was found to be just boring, which is why it was altered to its present format, which is by far better.

People seem to miss the fundamental thing about Robin Hood these days. People compare him to Al Qaeda and terrorism, but he's not like that at all. It has become popular these days to bash heroes, and strip anything with an ideal down to something you wish to call frivolous and useless.

As for the movie itself, I thought it was well done, and everyone I've talked to has agreed. Reviewers don't even seem to bother seeing the movie before writing reviews on it, or if they do see it, they have pre-conceived ideas and notions, and are no longer looking for the message or idea that the movie is trying to get across.

And I end my part here with this: You cannot compare the classic, Errol Flynn, "Robin Hood" with Scott's, because they're two DIFFERENT interpretations, and two DIFFERENT stories, which just happen to use the same characters.

Thank you for your time reading this.

Unknown said...


I tremendously enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for this fantastic article!

MARK11 said...

Agree with a lot of this, Bill.
But I'm old school about certain things.

1) Film is the director's medium.
You need 1 vision. You need it. It's chaos
otherwise. I wouldn't have gone into this
as a director like Ridley did...or as the producers
did, but...

2) Writers take their paychecks.
They cash them.
And then they trash everything.

3) I worked heavy construction, putting myself
through undergrad and then grad film school, and
crewed on indie films -- while I wrote at night,
early in the morning and many, many weekends.

It's hard for me to hear the same complaints
again from screenwriters about the hellish world
of Hollywood screenwriting.

No one put a gun to the original writers' heads.

And I'm sure they cashed their paychecks.
They don't like how their script was redone?
Guess what?
Take that same paycheck...and bankroll
your own movie.
Yeah, make your own film.
Get your own vision up there, where you
have absolute control.

You've done that, haven't you Bill?


wcmartell said...

I'm *really* old school. Film as a director's medium is recent history - the auteur theory. For most of the history of film before that, film was a producer's medium... and most producers were screenwriters who had been promoted like Jerry Wald (etc). The great old films like CASABLANCA come from a producer-centric business model, where directors were changed in the middle of a film and often films had multiple directors with only one credited. This whole director-is-god thing is a new thing - and look what it has brought us? Time to really go old school.

And the writers cashed their checks for NOTTINGHAM, not the film they made. When I cash my check, it is foir the best possible film from my screenplay - not the worst. Quality comes before my ego.

Brian McD said...

This a great post.

I once wrote a comic book for Dark Horse Comics. When I turned it in and the editor told me that it wasn’t exactly what he had in mind and that he was going to make a few changes.

When the book came out it had my name on it as the writer and there was not word written by me in the entire book. Really, not one word.

People hated the book. It did suck. Later that year I ran into the editor at the San Diego Comicon and he said, “boy that book really turned out bad”. As if no one was to blame.

But there was my name on the book as big as life credited as the writer. I got the idea that there should be such a thing as a “butchered by” credit. If changes that the writer didn’t like were made the writer could make the producer (or in comics the editor) take a “butchered by” credit.

That way people wouldn’t blame the entirely for the bad product. I’m not the first person to say it, but it does suck that when a film fails the writer is blamed, but when it works the director gets the credit. What’s up with that?

But with the “butchered by” credit people would think twice about their notes. They would only give notes they really thought would help the end product.

It’s just a fantasy, but it would be cool to see that credit pop up on the title crawl after you’ve just seen a bad film.

Brian McD said...

I’m with you on this auteur theory thing – that is a newish idea that took off.

It reminds me of when Frank Capra gave an interview where he kept talking about the “Capra touch”. He never mentioned his writer Robert Riskin. Riskin got made and sent Capra bunch of blank pages with a note that said, “Put the Capra touch on this!”

What people forget is that directing is an interpretive art. A director interprets the piece through his/her sensibility. But that does not mean inventing things to feed their ego.

It’s like being a conductor. A conductor conducting a Mozart piece does not change the spirit of the piece. Every instrument, player and the conductor are all serving the piece not their egos.

The writing is the foundation on which everything else is built.

Yes, film is a collaborative medium, but I can’t help but notice that people only say that when they want the writer to give in. No one ever says to a director that film is a collaborative medium. The only person who is every told this is the person who started with a blank piece of paper.

And as for film being collaborative I have thought about this a great deal and it seems to me it is no more collaborative than a stage play. You have almost all the same crew people. You have lighting, sound design, actors, set designers, costume designers (sometimes choreography) and a director. But a playwright’s work is sacrosanct.

Playwrights will work with people and will even take notes, but it is not a requirement.
The idea of collaborate isn’t used to bully the writer.

David Mamet says that they always say to the writer, “Film is collaborative medium. But the part they don’t say is, film is a collaborative medium – bend over.

Dry_Ice said...

Well said, brother.
I think one thing they should do is ban movies being labeled as 'An *Insert Director* Film', which suggests that the director created everything to do with the film, even the script, and that they are the only person of any significance who worked on it.
In any other business, it'd be illegal.

A play is not allowed to be changed, not one word, without permission from the playwright. This should be the same for films.
I've tried to collaborate several times with directors who think they can write. They make me sick. As you say, us writers don't tell them how to direct, so they have no right to meddle with our scripts.

Screenplayed Out said...

On the subject of producers, there are three types:

Type one: Loves movies, grew up watching them, would pay to be a producer. Creative and talented. Only goes to the Hollywood parties to talk about movies. Type one producers are very rare.

Type two: Loves the deal, lives for it, would pay to make them. You get 3 am calls from Type Twos, because they want to go over the deal again. Knows to stay out of the way of the creative people. Only goes to the parties to make deals. Type twos aren't common.

Type three: Doesn't know movies, doesn't even like them, doesn't give a damn about film, only in it for the perceived glamor and prestige. Goes to every party in town -- throws a lot of them -- just to see and be seen and gossip. If something more glamorous came along, they'd be out of movies in the blink of an eye. Type three producer is almost every producer you'll ever meet.

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