Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interview with COLLEGE and DEMOTED Screenwriter Dan Callahan: PART IV – More Rewrites

Part I – The Writing Process
Part II – Getting an Agent and Selling the Script
Part III – Notes, Rewriting, Casting and SUPERBAD

Bitter Script Reader: Taking out the subplot of Kevin (Drake Bell) constantly bumping into his ex during the college weekend is another huge change. That’s probably fifteen pages of scenes that now have to be replaced with something new.

Dan Callahan: It’s funny because I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall and said we’d done all that in the original draft of College. If I’d known Forgetting Sarah Marshall was going to be such a hit I’d have fought harder for all of that stuff to stay in the script because in the original draft his ex-girlfriend is there with the new boyfriend, who goes to school there. And to me, it amps up the stakes of what’s going on…. He’s just like, “Can this get any worse?” To me it gives a lot more depth to what he’s going through and what he’s trying to overcome in the course of a weekend. Everything that can go wrong, happens and at some point he’s gotta come through it and learn from it.

BSR: And in the original script there’s no subplot about the high school kids lying to the college girls about being in college themselves.

DC: In the script they know. That was a note because they felt the college girls wouldn’t hang out with this guys. Our point was that these girls are freshmen, so there’s not much difference in age there. Literally a year apart in age. It’s not that big a leap.

BSR: And it sets up where the audience knows that when the main character tells a lie, you know he’s gonna get caught at the worst possible time. The girl is going to shut him out, and then he’s going to have to do some grand apology. And we’ve seen that before. And I thought it was neat in the first draft that you completely avoided the issue.

DC: Our attitude was like “Fuck it. That’s the way most people would go with it.” And that’s the note we got that we had to go with, but originally they were just honest about it.

BSR: They know from the start in your first draft.

DC: It’s more about them blowing off the girls and the girls getting mad… That’s another one of those big moments that got taken out and because of that you lose a lot of the heart. Him getting over the girlfriend and then going back to high school and saying "I’m over you…" that’s a nice moment to have. And it’s sold more in the original draft.

BSR: And the girlfriend is much more of a presence in your first draft.

DC: She’s got some funny moments…. There also is that sort of patheticness where he’s not over her. He kind of does want to get back together with her. Her being there makes it even worse, but at the end of the day he realizes it’s not the best thing for him… this girl wasn’t right for him. It took a really crazy, shitty weekend for him to realize that, but he did. As opposed into the movie, it becomes him trying to prove his ex-girlfriend wrong. “I’ll show her I’m not who she thinks I am.” I preferred him taking the weekend – I felt it was more original – taking a weekend to get over this girl, and he does.

BSR: So many of these changes ended affecting the second act. And in taking that out, all the stuff you got hit for in the reviews had to be added. There was a recurring theme in the reviews that attacked the movie as sadistic or homophobic. There was one review that said the filmmakers seemed to need to work through some kind of repressed homosexuality, and I read the draft with interest and can say that none of that stuff is in there. The whole bit where they have to do body shots off the hairy guy – none of that shit’s in there!

DC: The gay frat house was never in there. That was one of the producer’s ideas. That they thought would be funny…. There might have been a little subtext with Bearcat… Yeah, so, those are notes you get… and that’s where producers or whoever comes in and thinks they have a funnier idea than you and they tell you to go write it and you don’t have a choice.

There’s nothing wrong with actors coming in and improving. Particularly guys who are comedians because they might come up with something funnier than what you did. But I think it’s important to get what’s on the page so you’ve got those different versions… Certain lines are written for a specific reason. There are a lot of changes, as you saw, from our original draft. That first draft that we went out with was always my favorite, I think it’s the best version. And a lot of stuff that got taken out was stuff that I really miss when I watch the movie.

And the other thing that happens is in these writing sessions you’ve got a lot of people’s opinions and the script often becomes a mishmash of people’s opinions. And as the drafts go on it becomes a Frankenstein of all these versions. We went through two directors, so you’ve got notes from the first director that might still be in the script and then you bring on a new director and they’ve got their own notes. Then the guys from State Street who were set to produce ended up pulling out because of differences they had with the producers at Element so now you’ve got so many people coming and going. And you’ve got a draft with so many opinions in there that it really is a struggle to keep it fluid. It’s never quite what it was before… and that’s the hardest part.

But what are you gonna do? You don’t want to get fired. You want to get paid.

BSR: And if you won’t do it they’ll just bring in somebody else.

DC: And it would just slow down the process more. You know that if you stay and get the notes done, you’re a step closer to getting the movie made. If they fire you, they have to go to other agencies, pitch other writers, meet with other writers, hire another writer. You just put the project behind weeks, or months, which only increases the chances of it not getting made.

BSR: So if you want to get paid….

DC: Take the notes. Argue for what we can argue for… and do them as quickly as possible so we can just keep going, keep going, keep going. That’s all your goal is. When I’m some writer who makes a million dollars a script, then I can go tell someone to go fuck themselves. But I’m not. You do what you have to do to keep your job. We wanted to be the last writers on the project. And we were.

Tomorrow: Reaction to the final film, and new projects.

Part V – Release and Reaction

1 comment:

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