Thursday, February 5, 2009

When good scripts go bad - "Domino"

For most readers, probably 90% of what we read will never be produced, but you can get a helluva education from the 1 out of 10 scripts you read that do end up produced in one form or another. The reactions range from “They made that? The script sucked?” to “What happened? The script I read was so good!” I’m sure there are readers who fear for their jobs or their credibility after a script they raved about comes out as a terrible movie, but the fact is that there are always plenty of other places to point the finger.

Almost five years ago, I had the then-rare distinction of reading a really clever and engaging script for my bosses at the time. It had a complex plot, a clever non-linear structure, some funny showbiz cameos, and some really well-executed twists. In short, it was one of the most original scripts I’d seen and also one that I would have been willing to stake my reputation on. The script in question? Richard Kelly’s Domino, the story of a former model-turned-bounty-hunter, based on a true story (sort of.)

Unfortunately there was not shortage of reasons why my boss felt that the script was an inappropriate fit for us at the time, and there were factors I wasn’t expected to know about, so the company quietly passed. I spent the next year lamenting the fact that my bosses had let such a sure-fire hit movie get away. During that time, whenever someone asked me if I’d read anything good lately, I was quick to reply that Domino was one of the best scripts I’d ever seen and that it was sure to be a hit when it came out. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but in hindsight it certainly feels like I was staking all my script-reading credibility on this movie, at least as far as my rep among my friends was concerned.

So it was apt punishment for my ego when the film came out and tanked horribly. The reviews were savage. This wasn’t just a weak movie, this was a BAD movie. Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 19% Fresh rating, and it made a paltry $22 million return worldwide on a supposedly $50 million investment. (The domestic box office was a pathetic $10 million.) By pretty much any standards, this was a failure. Clearly something had gone wrong, but what?

I saw the movie on DVD and there weren’t any drastic script deviations that I could detect. How had my instincts had been so off-base? Easy. I had forgotten about one major factor – the director. This was perhaps the most over-directed, over-edited, over-stylized film I ever had the displeasure of sitting through. The story and dialogue might have been the same, but the presentation was marred by the sort of ADD/MTV editing that critics like to rip to shreds. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with every criticism lobbed at this film – but I still think the script was awesome.

It is pretty much an inevitability for any script reader that eventually a script they loved is going to be horribly miscast, thus ruining the entire film. The best thing you can hope for is that when it happens, it isn’t with a script being produced by the company you work for.
And if that does happen. Just let it go. You don’t write the movies, you don’t produce the movies, you don’t cast the movies. You are just the guy who reads them and helps the important people decide it’s worth their time to read them too.

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