Screenwriting : Today's Wish and Creative Tip by Laurie Ashbourne

Laurie Ashbourne

Today's Wish and Creative Tip

LET'S GET A MOVE ON. I was having drinks with a couple of director friends of mine not long ago, and we were commiserating about some projects that were close but never made it over the final hurdle to the big screen. Both of these guys are really down to earth and could just as easily be taken for auto mechanics than directors. One of them always leaves me with a memorable line. He’s fiddle player from Tennessee, who did a stint at clown college before finding his way into special effects and then the director’s chair. He’s got a lot of recognizable films under his belt, but this night over drinks, we weighed some projects on the horizon before us and he stated the obvious in his low-key twang, “more movies get developed than ever get made.” And he did it with a smile, a laugh and a sip. He was referencing the handful of projects he moved across the globe for only to have them shelved for various reasons but offered it with the subtext of, let’s be realistic. Mind you this is a guy who used to keep fresh moonshine in a Ball jar in his desk drawer and every time a mandate came down from the suits, he’d take a sip and in his best Ethel Merman voice, belt out, “there’s no business like show business.” In that spirit, today’s creative tip is this: When someone ‘passes’ on your material, sit with any input you get for just a minute – no more than two – and move on. Move on to the next one or if you feel any resonance with the reasoning (if any was given) address it but don’t obsess over addressing it. In either case, move onward. Not every script is going to sit with every person who reads it and frankly, it shouldn’t. If you’re a writer and don’t get flabbergasted by notes once in awhile, your material isn’t circulating enough. When you do get that WTF moment, don’t take it personally, look under the hood and if they are way off base, close the hood and move on. If you can put your ego aside, you might find that something is loose under the hood and fix it – but either way, MOVE ON. Here are some very famous works that struggled for a long time before the material connected with someone enough to make it to the screen. FROZEN was in development at Disney back in Walt’s day and resurfaced at least three times in the past decade before finally going all the way. (It took that blasted song with the similar theme to Move On, before it found its legs – for better or worse). Pulp Fiction, written by Roger Avery and Quentin Tarantino had a difficult time finding a home. Before that, and before RESERVOIR DOGS, Tarantino struggled writing for 5 years. TRUE ROMANCE was rejected by all the studios. Tarantino was a terrific networker. He loved to talk about movies. Smart movie people started to really take to him. If it wasn’t for his ability to discuss any aspect of any film with anybody, there probably never would have been a PULP FICTION. Finally, Harvey Weinstein at Miramax saw the brilliance in the script. Star Wars was based on George Lucas’ childhood love of space opera serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The script he had been shopping around wasn’t, in fact, that great. The film was also considered too expensive to make. Raiders of the Lost Ark was viewed by most studio executives as a movie about an archeologist looking for relics during World War II. The script was written by Lawrence Kasdan from ideas by Lucas and Speilberg. However, shopping the script, both Lucas and Speilberg were rejected all over town. And this was after the success of Jaws and Star Wars. Finally, after shopping the script again, Paramount agreed to fund it, but only if Speilberg could shoot it for under 18 million. At Fox, Alan Ladd wasn’t really clear on what the film would look like. However, he was a fan of Lucas’. He liked American Grafitti, and it was a huge hit. Fox bought the script and had Lucas reworking the project for two years. Back to the Future, written by Bob Gale, unbelievably, might never have been produced. Disney passed on it because the idea of a teenager going back in time, and fending off advances from his own mother seemed too perverse for them. Somewhere along the line, director Robert Zemeckis became a fan of the script. After filming the hit ROMANCING THE STONE, Zemeckis could choose his next project. He chose Back to the Future, and Universal bought the script. The Blind Side, written by John Lee Hancock, was based on a book by Michael Lewis. The screenplay took a long time to find a home, but it was eventually packaged with Julia Roberts in the lead at Fox. After a while, Roberts dropped out, and the project fell apart. After some discussion, Fox decided to have the script rewritten it with a male lead. They went down that road for a while, then the project fell apart again. The film was dead in “development hell” until Alcon Entertainment (connected to Warner Brothers) stepped in and tried to revive it. They liked the script, and thought Sandra Bullock would be great in the lead role of the wealthy southern woman who befriends an African American football player. Home Alone, written by John Hughes, the script to Home Alone kicked around for years, before finally finding a home at Warner Brothers. Warners wasn’t nearly as excited about the script as they were about working with Chris Columbus, a rising young director. Columbus, however, wanted to direct Home Alone. Warners gave him 14 million dollars to make the film. Unfortunately, Columbus couldn’t see directing the film without bumping up the budget to 17 million dollars. Believe it or not, this relatively minor change in budget killed the project. Warner Brothers apparently didn’t have that much faith in the film. It was dead. Fortunately, Columbus persevered, shopping the script around town, and eventually got lucky with Fox. They agreed to the 17 million dollar budget. Home Alone was revived by Columbus, and the film, and its sequels went on to make almost a billion dollars. Ted written by Seth McFarlane, McFarlane had a development deal at Fox, he tried to get them interested in his script for Ted, McFarlane wanted a 50 million dollar budget. At that price tag, Fox wasn’t interested. In fact, they felt much better about another comedy, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Ted was dropped from Fox’s development schedule. He shopped the Ted script around town for a while, until Universal finally took an interest. They didn’t balk at the 50 million dollar price tag. The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie was rejected by every major and minor studio in town. It was an extremely complex script. No one understood a word of it, except Kevin Spacey, for whom it had been written. A lot of studio executives couldn’t quite follow it. Luckily for McQuarrie, his old friend Bryan Singer, a director, struggled to find the movie a financier. When the film was shot, the jury was still out. McQuarrie remembers another film executive telling him, “remake it with Mel Gibson in there and you’ll have a hit.” Spacey was always the first choice for Keyser Soze. When Miramax finally released The Usual Suspects, film, it was a big hit. It put both Bryan Singer on the map as well as McQuarrie. McQuarrie’s screenplay won the Independent Spirit Award, and both the British and American Academy Awards. Spacey also won the Academy Award for best actor as Keyser Soze. The film was recently voted one of the 100 Greatest Screenplays by the Writers Guild of America. MEET THE PARENTS got horrible coverage notes from studios all over town, I have a copy of some of them somewhere. With stories like this happening EVERYDAY it certainly makes me shake my head at the shite that does make it to the screen and contradictory notes that cross my desk, but it also drives me to MOVE ON. You can’t get anything made by arguing or dwelling on a point. Breathe out the disappointment and MOVE ON. Persist. Where intention goes, energy flows. Have a great weekend!

Owen Mowatt

"Nobody knows Anything" - William Goldman Certainly seems ludicrous (and shocking) some of the classic films that couldn't raise any interest. Having said that, I love The Usual Suspects, but have to agree with the studios on this one, I cant make much sense of it. :) There looks a great complex story in there, but I'll be damned if I can find it!

Don Dobrez Jr

Great stuff! I have to remind myself almost daily to keep pushing on, and articles like this help tremendously!

Laurie Ashbourne

Thanks, Osaji! I am sure there are hundreds if not thousands that could be added to this list. Getting films made is like having one magnetic spec in an ocean of polar opposites. You just need one more spec to attract and start the build up of like minded support needed to become the magnet of the masses.

Simon A. Kristiansen

Inspiring stuff, really helps to read about these things to get your motivation going!

William Martell

About 1 out of 10 screenplays that are bought (or developed as assignments) make it to the screen. 90% of the time you are writing for the shelf, where the script gets dusty and old and everyone forgets about it. Note: MEET THE PARENTS is a remake. (They bought an award winning indie film, recast it with stars, remade it.)

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