Monday, May 4, 2015

The Writer-Killers

If you are just beginning as a writer, you probably may have heard of a particular species of producers that can make you crazy. Probably some of them have already worked with you. 

They are known as "writer-killers." Or "w/k"

Right now, I am working with one of them and even after all these years, find myself wanting to throw all my pages away and go to the desert for a year.


Because these people, mostly men, can do that to you.  So who are they?

They are mostly middle-management type people, who really don't have a heart for screenwriters or screenplays, but that they want to be acknowledged to have some importance in whatever you're writing.

Just last week, I received notes that I was to change an entire treatment.  My eighteen pages were to be thrown out because he decided to do it another way.


Then he gave me the changes, which basically were information about characters, in other words, something that you write as description rather than content. 

It works like this; the w/k says about one minute things about what the character is thinking or remembering the love he lost years ago, or whatever.

But it all comes down to something you can't really write. Why? Because you're writing something that can't really be written, in a screenplay you write the present moment. That's the difference between novels and screenplays.

For example; in a screenplay I write "he walks across the street". Ok? But in a novel you can write "he walks across the street -- and remembers the woman he left behind."

See the difference? You can't show "and remembers the woman he left behind." 

 So how do you portray that thought? You might use it further ahead. But you can't really show it. The only thing you can do is voice-over, but everybody hates v/o.

But the w/k thinks his idea is brilliant. And if he has some power, he can add a few more ideas that can't really be put into a screenplay as he sees it.

So why get mad?

Because they will hang onto their dumb idea enough so that you have to find a way to somehow keep them happy.

Now if you have" f...k you" money then you can walk, but most writers don't have that kind of money and need the job.

Some of you might say that the producer should have all the cards, that you do what he says.  My take is that any producer you won't let you write anything except what he wants, is a bad producer.

Fortunately, I have worked with a lot of good producers and the difference is this; they're not scared of what you will write or not write, and they trust you, which is the most important thing. And they are great people who will work with you again and again.

But here's a good example that happened to me about a w/k who lost his battle. It rarely happens but this time, I won.

I was working on a film in Europe with a producer who was a friend and who rarely bothered me with anything, except maybe a logistical change (e.g. change living room to garage). But halfway through an exec-producer entered and from the time we met, it was battle after battle.

Okay, I'm not a timid writer, and I can be a jerk sometimes. But only when I get these kinds of people. And after 35 years, I know the game.

This incident occurred when I had written an 8-page scene with the leading woman, in this case a well-known actress. I had spent a few days with her on that scene which would be her chance to do some good work.

But the next morning the entire crew got new pages! This happens when there are changes in the scenes. This time, the scene I wrote was only 2 pages. Six pages taken out.

Something I didn't write.

Well-known actress caught me in the hotel and asked why I changed the scene. It was all new to me, and I knew who did it. The exec producer. Fortunately she had the power over him and went out on set and said "We're doing Jim's pages." The lesson here was what the exec had to learn; don't take away lines from the star.

Now this was enough for any writer to hear.

But I actually had more power than the exec prod because I was also working for the head of TV at Paramount and I would talk to him via phone often. But I didn't have to do anything, as famous actress saved the day.

Unfortunately I don't have that power on this project, but it's not as big of a project either. Regardless, beware of writer-killers. You'll know them when you listen to what they want you to write.

Lesson learned? Be friends with the actors, they will save you butt when you need a friend. Actors and writers are similar in that they are mostly chosen because of their looks and their pages. 

And we're all alone most of the time in small rooms.

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