Inside view: why does Hollywood skimp on the script?

Feature 24 May 2012 - 00:42

Dan Turner argues that the screenplay is the one thing that Hollywood really shouldn't cut corners on...

Sometimes I wonder if Hollywood suffers from partial amnesia? Two of the biggest blockbusters this year, The Avengers and The Hunger Games, have something in common, scripts that were fully developed by skilled scriptwriters and honed until they were ready to go before cameras.

Now we read that Lionsgate is rushing The Hunger Games sequel - Catching Fire - into production as it already has a release date set.

The script isn’t ready and it's ordering hasty re-writes.

Instead of pausing to get the script right, and have the proper amount of pre-production, the studio is pushing to get the film turned around as fast as possible. This will also have serious repercussions on the post-production schedule, with the visual effects in particular having to be rushed to meet the release date.

JJ Abrams took a stand last year, by declaring that he wouldn’t have the Star Trek sequel production be dictated by a release date and would only sign on as director when he was happy with a script. Paramount relented and delayed the release date to accommodate Abrams.

Sadly, this is the exception to a very foolish rule.

Because movies, especially big budget blockbusters, are seen more as spikes on a balance sheet, the release date more often is rigid simply because a movie studio cant afford to have a poor fiscal year in this current financial climate.

In the case of Catching Fire, the only logical reason behind Lionsgate’s decision to rush a sequel, to the monster hit the first movie turned out to be, is that they think its teen audience will grow tired of the franchise, a school of thought Summit applied to the Twilight series. Add in the spectre of actor availability and Lionsgate is prepared to throw millions of dollars after a rushed production at the expense of a great movie.  

Its a risk. Because if Catching Fire disappoints its core audience, Lionsgate may have trouble with the third installment.

Hollywood seemingly places very little emphasis on the script.  Its amnesia about great scripts making great movies is omnipresent in movie history.

Movie history is littered with famous examples of productions with unfinished scripts. What is more difficult to understand is that it costs money to fix the problems created by an undeveloped or unfinished script. Surely the money men must understand that?

Famous examples include Alien 3, Pirates Of the Caribbean 3, Tomorrow Never Dies and the notorious Last Action Hero. A script with so many rewrites that it lost all coherence and ended up with whole scenes being improvised, with the production going over-budget and post-production being reduced to a ridiculous two weeks!

More recently, Men In Black 3 went into production with not even half a script finished. Production took a two month hiatus whilst the script was finished (the official line was due to tax issues - which since turned out to be erroneous). When production resumed, scenes from the already filmed first act of the film had to be re-filmed due to changes in the latter part of the script that changed the overall time-travel story.

The film went over $200m in budget apparently, and one can imagine a lot of nervous people in the high chairs at Sony next week.

Even director Barry Sonnenfeld says ““We knew starting the movie that we didn’t have a finished second or third act. Was it responsible? The answer is, if this movie does as well as I think it will, it was genius. If it’s a total failure, then it was a really stupid idea.”

Effects supremo Rick Baker is less diplomatic “It was a crazy production. We had a writer actually on the soundstage writing the words moments before the guys had to say them. I don’t think that’s any way to make a movie."

Scripts are not just the foundations for any film, they are the bricks and mortar and the most single most important element.

Without a script, a movie is nothing.

There’s a scene in Robert Altman’s The Player where movie executives speculate that writers could be replaced by simply taking newspaper headlines and easily creating movies that way. 

It sums up how Hollywood often contemptuously treats the whole writing process, and it doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

You can find Dan on Twitter, here. His new film, The Man Inside, is released in cinemas later this year.

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One of the best pieces I've read on Hollywood's lack of regard for the screenplay....and why I won't bother seeing MIB 3.

Does that mean JJ Abrams was happy with the script for Star Trek? Doesn't leave much hope for the sequel then!

 'if this movie does as well as I think it will, it was genius'
That line right there just about sums it up really desnt it. Essentially he's saying 'if it clocks dollars, who cares?'
Well, WE care Mr Sonnenfeld, WE care.
Still, easy to pretend you did a good job when you're kicking back on a yacht right?

I think it comes down to money - a lot of for a better word 'suits' behind the scenes have their eye on huge box office opening on a key point on the release schedule with the intention of getting a massive hit of cash, no matter what the quality of the product. Invest 100 million, get 120 back by the second week of release...job done 20 million in the bank bonuses all round a tick in the 'sucess' box and its this mentality that leads to no-script issue its a money making scheme with no passion, love or interest in the product. Take Clash of the Titans and the recent sequel, both were poor films you would never want to sit through again, they are essentially poor films and really just a video game in movie form. While the majority of us would endlessly sit through the original with its magical Harryhause glory and terrifying Medusa scene the studio doesnt care - we as an audience dont really matter, its what goes through the till the first weekend that matters. If you take out the passion, love for film and the audience it just comes down to the economics of cold hard cash, elements such as fans, repeat business and a potential blu-ray purchase are taken into consideration but are not the major factors but rather we need to pay our investors back asap and make some money. This method then leads onto numerous duds that are panned, disliked by audiences or critics and after a few months are never spoken of again but it doesnt matter as it made the money back and a bit more and really thats the bitter truth that most companies are in it to make a profit not to appease us - its sad but true

scripts are just considered optional and writing isn't considered a required skill.  given how much money really stupid movies make as long as they have some brand name stars, fx, a hook or a franchise, who can really say they are wrong, from a business standpoint?  if we don't care, why should they?  we, whoever we is, say we care, but the studios are making record money, despite a tanked economy. 

I stay home from most of the blockbusters.  mostly when I have gone to one, it was a good bet and paid off with a good movie that was well written and made sense.  Often, those movies, I see more than once at theatre and end up purchasing a disc when it comes out.  I'd like to go to the theatre more, but it is just too disappointing and frustrating when you see a film and you can see that it could have been so much better.  and poor writing, and just plain careless writing are usually the culprits.

maybe if they were all uniformly bad I would become desensitized and just see all the bad movies in the theatre.  maybe that is the business model in place--ship out a product that is uniform, quality doesn't matter as much as customer expectation.  it works for mcdonalds.  they have a disgusting product and make boatloads of money.  why shouldn't the movie people feel the same way?  the collective we keep giving them all our movie dollars regardless of the quality of the movie.

I certainly couldn't agree more with this article! Avengers is a perfect example of how a film is only as good as the script behind it. There's a difference between appreciating a film's visual effects or its production design and truly loving a film. That difference, at least to me, is the script.

I fear  Iron man 3 is going to be hurt by The Avengers.  The Avengers did unbelievable ! so Marvel increases the budget from 140 million to 200 million of course when Iron man 3 doesn't do as well as The avengers at the box office Marvel will see it as a bad sign.   Its hard to keep the same excitement as a movie series continues. People want more something bigger and better.  Iron Man 2 was a good movie but people slam it because after Iron Man they want something bigger better... well now marvel has put more fuel on the fire instead of saying "lets make sure that the story is as good as it can be" they say "If we throw more money in we'll get more money out" Truth is a 140 million dollar Iron Man is going to do just as well as the 200 million dollar Iron Man 3.  Green Lantern cost 200 million to make The Avengers cost 220 million to make. The cost equals quality arguement would have us believe the two movies were about equal in enjoyment value.

I didn't know that Last Action Hero was rushed. I actually think it is a very underated film. It makes you wonder how it could have turned out if they hadn't rushed it.

 i always liked Last Action Hero, and thought it very playfully ribbed the action genre of the eighties.  I think people forget that it was a comedy and it that it was aimed at a family audience.

Dear hollywood,

It's the story, stupid.

Get that right and it doesn't matter who stars in it because a good story always sells. Whoever heard of half the cast in Star Wars until it's release?

But that's hollywood for ya...making the same mistake over and over again

You know, movie execs are starting to give the term "learning-disabled" a bad name.

The spectacle in Blockbuster has always been more important to studio than actual coherent story telling. It's like inflation and interest rate, inversely correlated.

Directors like Christopher Nolan, JJ Abbrams and Ridley Scott are the very few directors that the studio executives would give some leeway, purely based on their past success. So why are you be surprise that studios are more interested in released dates planning around their financial reporting year than actual quality of the movie.

While is very sad and depressing to think that movies making are not treated with respect by the studios, the money men. Don't you think may be it is silly to think creativities is high on the list in Blockbuster production?

Money spent on scripts do not grantees quality and directors don't always respect the scripts either. When there are so much money involve its never simple. 

Ahh, the infamous script. I've been working on a Superman movie script for 20 years now and have every hope that it will be a blockbuster one day. Maybe in another 20 years when my computer can make the film for me itself, without all those silly wasteful production crew. More importantly, no executives.

Never been fussed about the 'star' power in the a movie, it's always about the story! Agree with Den_Izen, get the story right and you'll always get the bums on seats!

Catching Fire, they may JUST get away with, as it should be largely based on the book. I hope this happens, as the books and the first film were both fantastic. However, I compleatly agree with the artical on most points. To many times have I walked out of a cinema, with the knowlage that a film could have been so much better if only the script had been written properly. 

Especially as much of the budget increase is likely to go on CGI or 3D rather than story development. Although, it must be said that Kevin Feige does seem to have his head on straight regarding this franchise, so maybe it will be okay.

While I get the the age thing for shooting sequels like Catching Fire, and I understand that the studios need to make $Xmillion profit/yr to continue, I just don't get having a release date before you've got a director/script/crew lined up. It's (apparently) the entire reason Gary Ross declined the sequel and who can blame him?

I get that Hollywood only cares about the money, but Avengers has shown that good writing will put MORE bums on seats and is worth the investment. Although I bet that's being credited to everything but the writing, cos you don't want those writers getting too.uppity and thinking they deserve better pay.

Yup, agree with you both.

 big stars mess with scripts too.  insisting on changes despite many actors having minds like rotting fruit

Very true. Thank you for saying it.

Essentially, he's just boiling it down to a gamble.

He's gambling on the fact that just because the film has Will Smith, Aliens and FX then it will make money regardless of what goes into the script.  It may indeed open well but in order to live beyond the first week when word of mouth gets out a solid script is one of the factors that will enhance the chance of that happening.

Unfortunately, the magic of those movies that do fluke it in these circumstances justify the hollywood suits to continue in the same vein.  Patience isn't a virtue of these execs.

Isn't that the way it has always been in TinselTown - with writers over the years complaining they were persona non grata on the sets of their own flicks? I remember in college long ago, Rod Serling, (Visiting Professor) complaining that Night Gallery never lived up to its full potential because, unlike The Twilight Zone, he did not creatively control the series. His input was limited to his scripts and intro's. 

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