Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Franken-script

A recent Hollywood Reporter article (discussed by John August and Craig Mazin in this week's Scriptnotes) explores the trend of double-hiring writers for big movies:

Executives and agents say double hirings are on the rise partly because of the demands of the tentpole era. Dates for movies often are set while projects still are in development, creating urgency to move fast. And with reboots and reimaginings, studios sometimes ask for multiple takes before jigsawing the scripts together.
If you want the Cliff Notes version of what's wrong with Hollywood, circa 2014, there it is in a nice little package. You'd think that the business of screwing up big movies would be fully perfected by now, and yet there Hollywood goes finding newer and more complex ways to do it.

Honestly, I wish screenwriting really worked the way many executives seem to think it does; it'd be a hell of a lot easier. I've got one script that I've worked on on and off for years, during which time it's gone through about six distinct versions (four full drafts and two additional treatments). One version was funnier; another was more emotional; the most recent one was bigger in scope. The one in between had a really fun opening sequence but not much else.

Wouldn't it be great if I could just Frankenstein all those drafts together and end up with a script that has humor, emotion, big action and a killer opening? Yes. Yes it would. I'm sure it would actually sell, instead of only getting me a few general meetings with people who didn't want to buy it (or help me sell it). Unfortunately, that's not how it works. I can't stitch those drafts seamlessly together because each one is a different version -- a different take -- on the same basic story, and each of those versions has an organic set of characters whose behaviors drive that specific plot. Therefore, if I combined my favorite parts from each of those scripts, I would end up with wildly inconsistent characters and a senseless plot.

Which, I guess, is a fair description of a lot of tentpole movies these days.

Here's one of the in-development examples the article cites:

Warner Bros. hired writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer to each pen separate scripts for Tarzan, now in preproduction with Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie starring. The studio preferred Cozad's action and structure elements and Brewer's characterization, so it fused both drafts. (Cozad now is working with director David Yates to finalize the film.)
Again: The idea that "action and structure" and "characterization" are such separate concepts that a different writer can handle each one and the whole thing can fit together like Tetris pieces? It's ridiculous. Action and structure are both functions of character, and "characterization" is exemplified by what a character does, which is also known as "action." If you try to force one specific version of a character down a path that isn't organic to him or her, you're most likely going to end up with a shitty script. (And I know this because I've done it over and over.)

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