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Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part two.

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  • Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part two.

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ID:	91629I'll pick this one up with an anecdote that relates to the Coast Guard action spec I discussed last time. While that script was making the rounds I was invited to meet with a development exec at a high-profile production company that had shown interest in the piece. (To give you an idea exactly how "high-profile", as of this writing they are responsible for the top two highest-grossing movies of all time.)

    The executive liked the script, but wasn't quite ready to commit, as he did have some issues with it. He wondered if I would be interested in doing another draft based on his notes.

    I'll interject here to say that, in most cases, a screenwriter is not expected to work for a production company - particularly one of their stature - without some kind of deal in place. Most advisers will flat-out tell you: don't work without a contract, and nine times out of ten my manager would've replied, "Show me the money."

    But here's the thing: I was a writer without a track record; a nobody, being interviewed by a representative for one of the biggest somebodies in Hollywood. It was my choice to take the opportunity or leave it. In that instance, my manager agreed that this was an exception.

    About a week later I received a lengthy e-mail detailing several changes the executive wanted to see implemented. I was horrified. Most of the changes were character-related, and most wanted me to smooth out the edges that I had so carefully honed.

    For example, the script had a very strong female co-lead with whom the male lead was enamored, but who for most of the story was having a fling with the antagonist. This had to go. In a big summer action movie, the male protagonist must never play second fiddle in the romance department. The female role would be reduced to a supporting character -- yet another two-dimensional woman, only existing to be rescued by our hero.

    I composed an emotional missive to the executive, explaining that he was asking me to remove some of the most compelling character elements from the script. Fortunately, I had the foresight to send the reply to my manager first. He called me back and administered a verbal dope-slap. Opportunities like this don't grow on trees! Just shut up and make the damn changes!

    Next time you hear someone complaining about the shallow characters in summer blockbusters, kindly inform them that it's (probably) NOT THE WRITER'S FAULT! They're catering to the fantasies of the primarily young, male audience who pays for these movies.

    I spent months writing several more drafts of the script, trying to keep it interesting while basically reducing the characters to archetypes. When my manager felt we had a workable version, he forwarded it to the exec and waited with fingers crossed.

    The executive read it and passed. Apparently the spark had gone out of it. Go figure.

    This job ain't for sissies.

    Part 1 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 1
    Part 3 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 3
    Part 4 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 4
    Part 5 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 5
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