As writers, we’ve all asked it. Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU weighs in on this most frustrating of topics in the following article:
Have you ever wondered why bad movies get made? I mean, it is hard to believe that some movies ever made it past the first reader, let alone making it to the screen.
Here, I’m not talking about movies like “Jackass,” because liking a movie like that is just a matter of taste (or no taste). I’m talking about movies that should have been good, but were either boring, illogical, and had flawed stories.
With the huge budgets, these movies have all the resources to be amazing entertainment experiences, right?
So how could they fall short like that?
Before I answer that question, let me clarify one thing. Even with bad movies, there are hundreds of people behind the scenes who have worked their hearts out AND have done a great job on their part of the project. I respect their talent, creativity, and hard work.
This isn’t about blaming anyone or even putting down the process. It is just about understanding the cause and what it might mean to you as an up-and-coming screenwriter.
The obvious places to look for problems are these:
In many cases, one or more of those components had major flaws. But there is much more to this and it will help you to understand some of the ways a movie might get messed up.
A. How do bad movies get made?
If you take the standard process for a Studio movie, you’ll see places for mistakes. It goes from writer to small producer to larger producer to Studio execs to funding sources to Directors and Actors. I’ve heard horror stories at each junction of that journey.
Here’s a partial list of true horror stories:
– The A-list actor is available in three weeks to start production. The studio gives you 11 days to write the script.
– The star brings on their own writer who makes improvements in the star’s part without regard for the rest of the story.
– The director decides he wants a writing credit and makes big changes so he can meet the minimum WGA requirement to be included as one the writers.
– An A-list actor wants to get one of his friends into the business and the friend has a script. Why not?
– A director has a 3-picture deal and has always wanted to do a romantic comedy where everyone is murdered by zombies in the end. So him and his buddies write it over a weekend of whiskey and coke.
– A billionaire is offering $30 million to fund a movie… if they use the script his daughter wrote in her Screenwriting 101 class at college.
Getting a movie made is a tough process. If the original story survives the process, it is a miracle.
B. What does that have to do with you as an emerging screenwriter?
First, let me clear up a concern that some writers have. When a movie doesn’t honor the original script, it doesn’t ruin your career. Everyone in Hollywood knows that screenplays get changed along the way.
Even more important, there are many producers, actors, and Studio people who will read the early draft before the movie gets filmed. I know of at least two writers who suddenly became in more demand when the director did his own rewrite and ruined the movie. It really highlighted the quality of their writing…and they got higher paying writing jobs because of it.
But as an emerging writer, what do you do with the bad movies you see? Here’s the beautiful part. You get to decide what impact they have on your writing and your career.
Here’s a few things that can assist you:
1. Use it for motivation.
As you are watching a bad movie, just keep chanting the words “I can write a better movie than that.” In 90 minutes, you should be able to chant this mantra approximately 500 times and your creative unconscious will get the message.
I’m not really joking here. It is important to keep yourself motivated and if you can use a bad movie to do it, then it was worth 100 times the price of admission.
2. Don’t lower your standards because of bad movies.
Ted Elliot (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc) said “Don’t ever let a bad movie become an excuse to write another bad movie.”
That’s good advice. As you saw above, there are many other parts of the process that can cause a movie to go bad. But that doesn’t mean that Agents, Managers, and Producers are willing to look at screenplays that are less than professional.
Even more important, you want the professionals in the movie world to see you as a PEER. Writing great scripts is a way to do that.
3. Learn from their mistakes.
When you watch a poorly done movie, search for ways to solve the problems they had. There are two values to this. First, it is often easier to solve their problems than yours. Second, when you think about another writer’s work, you aren’t obsessed about the story (like you are about yours …hopefully) and can clearly see really works and what doesn’t.
Also, notice the other side. Many times, a movie that won’t work for one reason will have another side that is amazing. Maybe their structure sucked, but the characters were amazing.
Learn what you can from the best and the worst of EVERY movie you see. It will make a big difference in your writing.
4. Get in the door by writing the best movie you can.
Keep reminding yourself that it takes more to get in the door than it does to stay there once you arrive. The job is to write something so good that a studio will choose to bring you into the game.
Before you get in this business, you have the time to write and rewrite over and over again. You may take six months or two years to make sure that your script is amazing. And that script will be your “calling card” that will give you the credibility you need.
Overall, my philosophy is “Use everything that happens as a way of moving forward,” even bad movies.
So next time you attend a bad movie, you can feel good, knowing that in a small way, it just contributed to your future success.