A few days ago we had an interesting debate about the effectiveness of the Hollywood development process, sparked by this post.
A poster named Lesqueletterouge argued that my post of that day, contradicted an argument usually expressed with regard to that subject:
So we get it both ways huh? I can't remember if you've ever posted something to this effect on this site but I can't count how many times I've heard the excuse that "a script may go through many changes from page to screen" as a rebuttal to the claim that Hollywood buys a lot of terrible scripts.
But it seems to me that you're agreeing with the claim that Hollywood buys a lot of terrible scripts: "But honestly, most of the time when development seems to make a film worse, it's because the script was built on an untenable premise to begin with."
I replied below that, but as it might have escaped the notice of some, I decided to do what Ken Levine often does and "promote" a comment:
I think there's a fallacy in trying to find an absolute answer here. Yes, there are times when a brilliant script is compromised due to budget, director's vision, post-production, and test marketing. You can start with a daring script and end up with something less than. But sometimes you win with the compromised film and sometimes you don't.
Take Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The writers have been very open about how the process was that director Michael Bay told them the action scenes he wanted to shoot and left it up to them to string those pieces together. so from a writing standpoint, you end up with a square peg in a round hole in places, compounded by the fact the writers' strike left little time for rewriting. But the film had a release date and that meant it had to meet a start date.
Most like me would argue that the film that resulted was a terrible assault on the eyes... but it made a shitload of money. So is it a terrible movie or a huge success? Each one is true... from a certain point of view. And if we do concede that it was a failure, whom do you blame, the writer, the director, the execs who set the start date, the development people who either didn't care or demanded extra robots so they could sell toys?
Let's look at the ending of Se7en. Spoiler: Gwyneth's head ends up in a box at the end, and Brad Pitt shoots Kevin Spacey dead. Producer Arnold Kopelson hated, HATED this ending. He thought they had a nice genre thriller that was going to be ruined by the major downer of an ending. These days, it's hard to imagine that film without that ending, and Director Fincher stuck to his guns.
But what if we'd gotten the happy ending? The Silence of the Lambs ending where the hero saves the girl and captures the person they've been hunting all the film? It could have been a powerful emotional release for the audience, one that left audiences charged up to watch the film again and repeat the thrill-ride.
Could it have worked? I don't know. Maybe the feel-good ending would have felt so false that audiences would have rejected it like a bad organ. Or it could have done 50% more in box office.
And here's the rub - we'll never know. I think that the downer ending feels true to what Fincher wrote... but then I can't say for sure what my reaction would have been to a new ending had I not known the original one. But had they done a feel-good ending that worked, we might be praising the process as finding a more crowd-friendly ending than the original intent.
Then look at Fatal Attraction - its original ending was darker, with Glenn Close committing suicide and framing Michael Douglas for her murder. It tested poorly and the new ending had Anne Archer "kill the bitch." Result: Box office hit. Audiences cheered.
Would it have been a better movie with the suicide? Or did the studio/producers/whomever have the right idea in changing the ending?
The original question assumes that there's a villain in the process and that that same part of the process is ALWAYS the villain. All I'm saying is, that's not always the case. Each film has its own circumstances. Sometimes the writer is the asshole, sometimes it's the director, sometimes it's the producer, sometimes it's the studio and sometimes it's the actor.
At one point or another EVERYONE gets their turn to be the heavy.
Does Hollywood buy some scripts that aren't perfect? Sure, it happens.
Does Hollywood buy flawed scripts and find a way to make them work? Sure, as well.
Does Hollywood buy brilliant scripts and fail to deliver on that promise? It's bound to happen.
Does Hollywood buy brilliant scripts and produce even better films from them? Yes.
So to cry "Fuck Development" or "Fuck the writers" across the board is way oversimplifying it.