Thursday, April 12, 2012

Writers - they always want to change things

Last week I had an interesting meeting about a potential job a director friend of mine had in mind for me.  It was a screenplay written by a model from Europe who had raised a small amount of money and was anxious to make it.

My first reaction was obviously somewhat apprehensive, as in model/screenwriter? Can models do something else besides wear clothes? And I'm talking about both men and women.

A note first, on modelling. It started, naturally, in France, sometime around the Belle Opaque era which started in the late 1800's and signified a "beautiful time" that lasted until World War 1. With it came new inventions, telephones, electricity and, for the first time, clothing design for the average person.

French designers decided that they needed women for their designs and with one particular quality. They didn't want the model to attract more attention than the clothes they wore. In other words they used tall, thin women upon whom they could "drape" their clothes and whose bodies were not particularly shapely. Thus the tall, thin, flat-chested models were created and set the standard for every designer in the world.

Back to screenwriting. This model was of that mold, tall, thin, pretty in that catalog sort of way and she had written a screenplay about the "beautiful people", titled Jet Set. And my friend asked if I would do a rewrite because he felt the screenplay wasn't very good.

I knew it would be one of those under-the-table quickie jobs, wherein I would be a ghostwriter and not take any credit, just a couple of bucks. I've done this before with some success. 

I got the screenplay and it was, in few words, awful. Full of cliche scenes from a dozen movies with no real character or plot. It's theme seemed to be "don't hate us because we're beautiful".

My friend kept after me as he said he knew it was bad, but it was a job too. So I asked to meet her.

Marianne (as I'll call her), was full of energy and ideas, she was convinced that the movie should be made as written. In fact, her and her friends read the screenplay out loud to each other and it worked just fine. Whenever someone tells me it's just fine, it signals a warning to leave.

I had made 2 pages of notes on her script and she said she agreed with some, but not with others because, in her heart, she knew this was a winner. And I knew the best thing was for me to get out of there.

I have read a lot of bad scripts over the last 22 years in L.A. which included UCLA students and professionals. I've written bad scripts too. My first screenplay was really bad. 

But there was another aspect that bothered me. Her screenplay was, at this point, unmakeable for a bunch of reasons. It was too short, a movie has to be at least 75 minutes to qualify as a feature. Hers would have been far short of that.

And with less than half a million dollars, she had jetplanes, trips to Italy, car chases and much more. All pretty much impossible on her budget. And then when I suggested she needed to re-work the story she said those immortal words...

"Writers, they always want to change things".

I wasn't really mad, I just wanted to get out because it was clear she wasn't going to listen to anybody. She said that I could be on set with her and whenever her English wasn't proper I would write dialog for her.

I said she could get a secretary for that. And cheaper than me.

It became a stand-off, on one hand I liked her youthful enthusiasm, where everything was possible, but on the other, she was not experienced in filmmaking and some of her ideas were dangerously troubling.

And that was the fact that she was spending her own money for this adventure and if it failed, I wouldn't want to be part of the reason for it. I could have maybe helped her out on some things but I know from past history, that this kind of scenario would end in arguments.

Because writers do change things, hopefully for the better and I really didn't think it was wise of her not to listen to people who have been through it before. I didn't want to be part of the problem as every detail became more and more impossible.

We left it with her saying she'd do another rewrite, as I'm still busy editing the Walsh trailer and writing my own screenplay but I don't think I'll be writing her adventures in modeling story. I'm too  honest for that.



  1. "I knew it would be one of those under-the-table quickie jobs, wherein I would be a ghostwriter and not take any credit, just a couple of bucks. I've done this before with some success. "

    You know that's scabbing, right?

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  3. Sorry to disappoint, I did a lot of non-union work when I came to LA in 1990, I wasn't in WGA until 2000. Nice to know you still care so much that you're concerned.