Monday, July 25, 2011

Does a writer matter?

                                  " You'll never work in this town again... 
                                         or at least until we need you."
Those were the exact words my favorite agent Frank told me once after a prodco exec told him that they would have a "sour taste" for me after I asked for money that was due me. Luckily WGA was also behind me and I did get paid. If you read my blogs you know the story.

And the Snow Leopard above, I bought that for $1000 (it's a Bateman for those who are curious) and I bought it for one reason. I saw it years ago when I was broke (a common situation I might add) and it really spoke to me in that artistic way. But not because of how good it is.

No, it was because I immediately identified with the snow leopard, that might as well have been me on that ledge with the wind-blown snow whirling around. Because that was me in the film business. Alone, cold, hungry, looking for a job and nobody to help me. And when I got some money I bought it as quickly as I could and I look at it every morning to remind me of one singular thing in this life...

Nobody cares.

Writers are arguably the most disposable in the entire film industry. Who else gets replaced on a film by anywhere from one to a dozen or more? There's an old story that goes like this; A producer gets a screenplay and his first words are, "This screenplay is amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind." The he pauses and adds: "Who can we get to rewrite it?"

Then there's the joke, "Did you hear about the Polish actress? She slept with the writer."

Why do they get replaced? There are lots of different answers but I think it all falls down to a couple of things:
The producer has a writer friend who needs a job.
The producer doesn't like the original writer.
The producer and his flunkies don't really know if it's a good script or not and the best way to "make it better" is to hire someone else. And maybe someone else after that to "punch it up". And maybe a few more writers to make it even better.
And the producer may have a secretary or assistant who wants to be a writer.

And I know at least four people who became screenwriters because of one or two of the above.

I fall in between the lines on those situations, I've rewritten a half-dozen screenplays and in each case, a full page 1 rewrite, meaning I began rewriting on page 1. At least 3 times the producer and even the continuity person wondered why the original writer's name was on it as my drafts were completely different.

That was the deal I made. They brought me in and paid me to do this work and take various credits like Creative Consultant, story editor and a few others.  Meaning I didn't get a "written by" credit. But I got to live in Europe, Mexico and Canada for several months and it was a lot of fun.

And I was rewritten once. 

By the same producer who said he had a "sour taste" for me. And it was his friend who did the rewrite.

And there's another reason why writers are replaced.

Because there's always another writer willing to step in and take over. We are whores sometimes, don't like me, get someone else, and so on.
So do we matter at all? Does anyone care about who writes what? Sometimes the screenplay does need work. Mostly it's adding bits, like better dialog and some character "stuff" as they say. Some writers are better than others in certain areas. My worst area is plot, I do lousy plots but good characters. And I write well for women's roles. Really good.

When you sell a screenplay, they love you. You get expensive lunches, joke with the producer who tells you how great the screenplay is and lets you sit at his desk at the studio when he's gone and even park in a special spot.

Until you're replaced and all of a sudden, calls to him go unreturned. It's like you don't exist.

Until they need you again.

And that does happen.

There's another story about this business, supposedly told by Peter Hyams and it goes like this;

"Being in the film business is like being married to a beautiful woman but she cheats on you and you know it. But sometimes when she dresses up and you go to dinner and you look across the table at her, you decide it's all worth it."

And I admit  to have thought that many, many times.

At least I'm not the guy who cleans up after the elephants who when asked why he does that awful job, answers; "what, and give up show business?"


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