Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Should studios inform the original writers when they prep a remake?

Sunday, Deadline posted a story about how screenwriter James Toback was rather upset to find out secondhand that Paramount was planning a remake of The Gambler. Toback was the writer of the original version, which he considers one of his more personal films. Chief among Toback's complaints was the fact that the studio didn't even offer the courtesy of letting him know about the remake before announcing it to the world via Deadline.

Legally, Paramount was under no obligation to do so. They bought the script. They own the property. In a legal sense, Toback has no claim to the material any longer so there's no reason they would have had to tell him - but would it at least have been the moral thing to do.

This isn't the first such case of this happening. Wes Craven was rather blunt last year when discussing the fact that he wasn't consulted about the remake of what is arguably the film most associated with him - A Nightmare on Elm Street. He not only directed the original film, but he wrote the script and created the character of Freddy Krueger. Considering the studio had been looking to jump-start the franchise, you'd think they'd have at least courted him in an effort to secure his blessing, yet all indications from Craven are that they didn't. But again, they didn't have to.

And of course, the people who hold the rights to the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been trying for a few years now to get their reboot off the ground - without the involvement of creator Joss Whedon. This again strikes me as a botched move, as not getting Whedon's blessing runs the risk of alienating his loyal fan base.

But what do you think? No laws are being broken here, so it's not as if the studios or producers owe the original creators anything in a legal sense. If you were in the studio's shoes, would you have given the original writers a courtesy call? If you were one of those original writers, would it bug you to find this stuff out from a third party, or do you think you'd accept that this is how the business works.


  1. It's a mixed bag. Legally, there's no requirement... and consulting the original writer would be doing "the right thing..." but that's also probably a "right thing" that would either cost the studio money or open them up to lawsuits of an even different sort. It might be best to separate from the situation entirely, on their end, even if it's not nice.

    On that note - if anyone can uncover this, it's you - there was a big to-do with ABC's V pilot where original V creator/author Kenneth Johnson sued for a credit and ended up being getting a writing credit (not just "created by") on the pilot. Do you have any idea what went down there? (I also THINK - but can't confirm - that Jeph Loeb had a credit on MTV's Teen Wolf pilot in the same way, but I can't recall for sure)

  2. As an aspiring screenwriter it would bug me and I get that legally its not required, but something cool to get into a writer's contract would be that if a remake ever happens, bring the original writer on board, if even in just a consulting role.

    (I get that there is really nothing in it for producers or studios for a clause like that to be present in a contract, but you could see what kind of deal your agent can pull off)

    (Also I don't think getting the original writer involved in a reboot would be on the cards - the definition of "reboot" would be important - as that suggests that the producers or studios were not satisfied with the original version).

  3. I dunno about politeness and all, but maybe if they called for a consultation the writers could have helped make the end product less terrible. Or, convinced them to try something else.
    That or try to take it as a compliment that what you wrote was good enough to be made twice.

    Remaking a film to do something you couldn't before (effects, production, etc.) is one thing. But remaking something just for the sake of re-releasing it makes me sad. How about you take that budget and use it to remaster and re-market the original? I suppose that's a rant for another day.

  4. I suppose the studios' reasoning is to avoid having to make contact with a writer only to say "Hi, we're remaking your script - but we don't want you involved in any way!" You can see how that might be awkward.

    But as a writer, I think we'd all prefer the courtesy of some contact, rather than finding out in the trade papers. We're all civilised human beings - surely there should be a way to handle this kind of situation politely?

  5. Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right. Yet another way writers get screwed.

  6. Teddy,

    I'm curious as to how you think Toback got screwed.

    Insulted, I get. But screwed? The guy's gonna get a moderately fat check out of this, and he didn't have to raise a finger to get it.

    Unless, of course, the producers go to the original source material: Dostoevsky's novella, in which case he's SOL.

  7. Getting screwed doesn't always involve money. There are other ways you can put value on your career and work. Toback's situation just perpetuates the idea that writers are pretty much worthless in the eyes of the studios.

  8. I can't say I agree with you Teddy. If you want your product to remain unchanged and pure, you don't sell it.
    However, when you're rebooting something that has been popular, getting the original writer in can be a way of trying to show the new audience that you're being respectful to the source material. I guess like getting a popular producers tick of approval.