While no one sets out to make a bad movie, the process from film idea to film release is intricate, with dozens of steps involving hundreds of people; each section of that workflow can knock the final product off course, whether through incompetency, fear, or short-sightedness. A strong screenplay, however, is vital because its effects cascade through the entire project. For comparison, a poor recipe will likely yield an unappetizing dish, no matter how gifted the chef. Therefore, in the interest of scope, this article will focus on two common reasons good movies go bad before the first actor is cast.
The first is favoritism (a blanket term I’m using to cover nepotism as well as its adjacent issues). Near every person in a position of power in Hollywood got to where they are because someone did them a favor. Los Angeles is the O.G. of networking, and favors are given with the expectation of eventual return on that investment.
Sometimes, a favor is called in sounding like this: “My nephew just graduated from film school. Can you read his script?”
This isn’t necessarily an issue because, if our hypothetical nephew’s script sucks, a studio executive can read it, give notes, and continue about their day. The nephew learns a valuable lesson and the exec goes back to the mountain of scripts on their desk.
The problem enters when the favor being granted comes from someone with a lot of power, hellbent on shoving a project forward. Gatekeepers are in place in Hollywood for a reason, but some people have battering rams strong enough to break through.
A somewhat recent example is After Earth, a terrible movie directed by The-Last-Airebender-era M. Night Shyamalan and starring Will and Jaden Smith. Will was ADAMANT that his son become a superstar ASAP, ignoring Jaden’s need to hone his craft while squandering the good will earned from his son’s legitimately promising performances in The Karate Kid (2010) and The Pursuit of Happyness. While attitudes have changed about Will Smith post-Oscars 2022, at the time After Earth was made, he was one of the most respected movies stars and powerful producers on the planet. This film was GOING to get made. It did, and was, of course, atrocious. Thus, After Earth joined the ranks of such passion projects as John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth and Kevin Costner’s The Postman.
Conversely, the studio system sometimes has TOO MANY gates, leading to the other problem: overdevelopment. Many writers, including a 22-year-old me, mistakenly believe that once a studio buys a screenplay, the writer’s work is embossed onto an unalterable gold-leaf illuminated manuscript—like medieval monks crafting a priceless Bible. This notion is obviously deluded; a studio likely purchased this hypothetical screenplay because they thought it would meet an audience’s need or fill a hole in their programming. The development process works to tailor the screenplay to serve that purpose while pleasing as many people involved as possible.
Some of the people that need to be pleased are the lead actors, many of whom bring their own writers to edit an actor’s part into a “brand voice.” Tom Cruise isn’t about to say lines that make him sound like Tom Hanks. Of course, if our screenplay got Tom Cruise attached, other big names might be interested, which would, in turn, attract more investors. These other big names probably ALSO have their own personal writers and management teams who will demand a bigger part and more scenes for their client. The screenplay becomes warped from bending to all these requests, and the end result is a film that looks like a tasteless parody of the original screenplay.
So how can a writer trying to break in overcome these problems? Many use the familiar phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I would amend that to, “It’s who you know, THEN what you know.” Networking is the most important step to a writer’s success in Hollywood, but it isn’t the only step. Proof of an excellent product, conviction in its vision, and patience with its execution are paramount… though it does help to have famous parents.
An abducted boy attempts to escape a serial killer while getting advice from previous victims through a disconnected phone. Having seen the trailer, my gut reaction was that this movie cribbed hard from Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it’s based on a short story from 2005. This movie’s at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, and supposedly has stellar performances and direction.
Jeff Bridges is an AWOL CIA operative, and John Lithgow is the handler who let him escape. That all happened in the 80’s, though, so no one cares, right? The stream of assassins sent to kill Bridges after 35 years of silence proves otherwise, and John Lithgow’s getting really tired of cleaning up the mess.
Fans of this show describe it as Happy Gilmore but anime. (Apparently, episode five contains an assassination plot that can only be foiled via driving clubs.) While I love absurd humor, I was hesitant to recommend this show because I thought the premise might wear thin as it went on. Twelve episodes in, however, Birdie Wing’s only negative is on its scorecard.
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