Friday, February 11, 2011

A Follow up to the Development post

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.


  1. I am somewhat surprised to discover that David Fincher wrote Seven. I always thought it was Andrew Kevin Walker...?

  2. Yeah, Fincher didn't write Se7en, it was Andrew Kevin Walker, his breakthru script.

    And actually, there's an interesting story regarding the ending ... when the script was bought, the studio had Walker rewrite the ending ... many times. They finally got it to a more traditional Hollywood ending, which meant a big shootout in a church or something, saving the day.

    And when contacted Fincher and sent him the script, they accidentally sent him the WRONG DRAFT ... they sent him a draft with her head in the box.

    And Fincher called them and said, really, you're gonna let me make a movie like this?

    He loved the originally ending and fought for it ... but even that might not have been enough (because people forget that all he had to his credit at the time, beyond some award winning commercials, was a failed Alien movie) to keep the ending for the studio, but Fincher got Brad Pitt excited for it, too ... Pitt and Fincher fought for that ending, and it ends the way it does because of those two.

    It's a great story, I got it out of Waxman's REBELS ON THE BACKLOT, a great read.

    I think some stories play better as tragedies, and SE7EN is a tragedy and that ending is better for it and its themes. Silence of the Lambs is a lot of things, but it's not a tragedy, so it's better that Starling saves the girl (in a way, Lambs is a tale of redemption) at the end.

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  4. Also worth noting that in the original Groundhog Day ending, Andie MacDowell wakes up the day after Groundhog Day and while Phil is celebrating having finally made the transition. Andie suddenly blows up and kills Phil after having woken up next to him for the 10,000th day in a row.

  5. Funny that you also bring up Michael Bay, because he fucked up what was a brilliant sci-fi script in "The Island", and made it Michael Bay crap-fest. Had they shot the original script, it would have been compared to "Blade Runner" (another script that had an infamous and hellacious development process). But nope...

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  7. Haha, my comment warranted a whole post? I think you took what I wrote the wrong way but that's probably my fault for how I worded it.

    What mostly struck me as funny was this part "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."

    because you said "most" which is in opposition to so many comments I've heard saying it's not the writers fault.

    Really it's everyone's fault but most of all it's the development's fault because like you said:

    "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"

    or putting it another way development likes to by crap scripts and make them crappier.

    But like I said it's everyone's fault but really every writer is gonna write the best script they can write and if a bunch of shitty scripts from shitty writers get picked up then you end up with a bunch of shitty movies.

    Anyways a lotta people passing the blame for shitty movies and nobody taking responsibility.

    Like for example this bull about Kurtzman and Orci and how it's not there fault Transformers 2 was a total crap fest it was the writer's strike. Really what random audience member couldn't of gone through that movie with a permanent marker and made that movie twice as good?(which still wouldn't be all that good)

    Did Michael Bay tell them that they had to bring in a whole new uberboss who nobody had ever mentioned up to the point where the robots randomly fly to Mars to go him wake up?

    Did Michael Bay tell them that Optimus Prime needed to be robo Jesus?

    Did Michael Bay tell them that the movie needed to open with the hero of the movie Optimus Prime hunting down every last one of his enemies and murdering them in cold blood?

    (Dirty Harry Prime to wounded Decipticon he's about to give a summary execution to: "any last words???)

    Did Michael Bay tell them they needed a ridiculously long subplot with Labeouf and a random college hussy ultimately culminating into one stupid "oh no that hot girl I picked up last night is gonna rape me to death me with her robo-tentacles" gag?

    Anyways rant over.

  8. One last bit about the excuses: I think when you're taking home a seven figure salary you should be above making petty excuses. Sure the job is hard but you're getting paid like it's hard stop crying about it.

  9. You know, it's not as if Kurtzman and Orci took out ads in the trades to talk about how inhumanely they were treated on the film, nor did they write blog posts dedicated to the whole behind-the-scenes deal. They were asked questions in interviews and they responded truthfully. People have questioned the process, so they gave an answer.

    Their explanation hardly constitutes "crying about it." They were asked the difference between working with Bay and working with Abrams and were asked about how TF2 was developed.

    Does making a seven-figure salary mean that one forfeits the right to defend themselves or clarify misinformation?

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  11. I went a little far with the cry about it line. Actually I think it's mostly other people doing the crying and defending for these people behind these big budget crap fasts while all of them are laughing all the way to the bank.

    But wherever Kurtzman and Orci brought up their lame ass excuses MY point is that is that I don't think they are being truthful.

    How did they not have time to fix some of those glaring problems in the script even in production itself? And if it was so bad working with Michael Bay why did they make three movies with him? I'm saying if they're the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood how could they have enough clout to at least suggest to Bay that they take out even half the bullshit in the screenplay that they themselves wrote?