I just finished reading an article by a Hollywood exec in Scr(i)pt mag (a publication that I happen to cherish, by the way), an article that, at its core, says: “We at the top of the food-chain love you writers, but only so long as you all understand that you work for us, writing our material, based on our concepts, and that you will never, ever, write another page of original material – at least, not that you are getting paid for – not so long as you are living here and working in [our] industry. So long as we understand this, we’ll all get along just fine. After all, we all know that the era of the spec script purchase is long dead. So… here you go; here’s my latest brainchild: it’s tentatively titled Freddie and the Predator vs. Percy Jackson and Jar-Jar Binks. My assistant will give you the paragraph I wrote up about it on my ‘berry last night while I was having a dump. It’s great!; you’re great!; we’re gonna make a great movie! See you at the premiere! Oh, and don’t forget to hand in your creative license before you go.”
This guy says, in so many words, that studios just simply will not be interested in anything that doesn’t have a videogame/toy/comic-book/sequel franchise built right the fuck in. That, and a star or star director had better be attached or you can just kiss your exalted dreams of paying off your Prius and your student loan in the same week good bye. And, to be fair, several articles and screenwriting lectures that I have recently come across have touted the same questionable message: “Paint by the numbers, connect the dots, dispense with your creativity (except where it pertains to the creation of a cool toy), and you might have a shot at writing fleshing-out one of the ideas that our crack team of franchisement attorneys comes up with.”
[The irony (another pesky value soon to be dispensed with; must smooth out all of those unpleasant bumps that interfere with our carefully-chosen mediocre test-audiences’ mindless enjoyment of our summer releases), the irony of this whole Timid New World mind-set is this: if a writer flesher-outer is to even be considered by a studio for the soul-sucking, yet highly lucrative, task of taking one of these vaunted concepts from on-the-toilet-idea to franchise-able screenplay, then said scribe had better have written at least three good solid readable spec scripts. Moreover, said scripts had better be at least on a par with, say, The King’s Speech, or Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right, or no keys to the Beige Kingdom for you! Pop-quiz: which one of those made any money? Which one of those was a spec? And, which one of those was an Oscar nom or winner? Hmmmm? Oh, and thanks to wikipedia, here’s a list of the Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture winners from all of the Oscars to date:
(In case it needs underscoring, I don’t see one that is a late-night-dump written-on-my-‘berry concept. Just sayin’.)]
What I’m thinking it boils down to?: hubris. Hubris, and fear. Hubris, fear, and job-security in Corporate America. After all, being able to claim at either bonus time or on Cut-Backs Day, “Hey, I’m the guy who wrote Freddie and the Predator vs. Percy Jackson and Jar-Jar Binks on my Blackberry,” has gotta give these guys a little extra Teflon power, right?
William Goldman. Know him? If you’re in the industry, and you don’t… well, shame on you. Look him up. Two words: Princess. Bride. Two more words: Marathon. Man. That and the highly illuminating and instructive “Adventures In The Screen Trade”, an absolute must-have for anyone with an interest with the machinations of the biz. Anyway, I digress, greatly, as all I had intended to do by invoking the spirit of The Great Goldman was this: in his aforementioned tome he – as regards all things studio and executive and, even, creative – states: “No one knows anything.” I’m sure you’ve heard this before. He may have been the first to put it on the page in this context, but it has been repeated and re-repeated by every screenwriter and screenwriting coach in North America a hundred times a day since.
Let’s put it this way: with Goldman’s words fixed solidly in your head (in mine, they are the sub-headline of this rant), absorb the following: the exec who wrote the article that I paraphrase off the top? The movies that he co-conceived and nurtured from ‘berry to screen? Knight And Day and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Among other glistening examples of Hollywood fecal matter gold. To be fair, a couple of the projects he executive produced were eminently watchable (Radio and Anger Management), but, to give you some idea of exactly what the mindset of this fellow is, when I clicked on his imdb page, at the very top was a piece of trivia: “Garner was the first to present Michael Bay the idea of making Pearl Harbor while he was a production executive at Disney.” Oooookay. Thanks. ‘Nuf said.
So, what have we learned? Who the fuck knows, but I enjoyed writing this little rant, and that’s what matters: write what you love, write what you know, love what you write. What I take from this, what I’ve always felt/thought about Hollywood and their Creative Machine is: write it yourself, film it yourself. Your first few projects may not make $188M on opening weekend, but at least you can be proud of them. And, if they do make a buck, you can build on that, get more money for your next project, and pretty soon you’ll be John Sayles. Never heard of him? Shame on you. Here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000626/