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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog

(OR EL DUDERINO IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THE WHOLE BREVITY THING)

-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On Second Thought, Who Needs Script Readers?

Just finished reading an article in Creative Screenwriting magazine about Stand by Me, 19 years later (what, they couldn't wait one more year?). In it, co-screenwriter Ray Gideon tells this amusing story about the coverage Stephen King's novella "The Body" (on which the film is based) got:

The first coverage [from Embassy Pictures] was terrible. It said that no one would ever go to see a movie like this -- who cares about four teenaged boys on a railroad track looking for a dead body? Marty [Shafer, who would later start Castle Rock with Andrew Scheinman] promptly tore up that coverage and took it to the next reader in the department, who hated the book even more. So Marty went to the last reader on the staff and said, "Listen, I'm going to be president of this company some day because Norman Lear has promised me this. [At the time, Embassy was owned by television mogul Norman Lear.] If you don't give good coverage to this book, you're going to be the first person I fire." So the reader said, "What do you want me to write?" [laughs]. Marty put him on the phone with us [Gideon and Bruce Evans], we dictated to him the coverage we wanted, and all of a sudden everyone at Embassy thought that this could be an interesting movie. So they hired us to write the screenplay.

So, moral of the story? If you want to get good coverage for your script, just get someone powerful in your corner, and then dictate the coverage yourself. Easy enough!

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10 Comments:

Blogger Shawna said...

How does the old joke go --

One producer asks another producer, 'so, what did you think of that new script going around?' The other producer says, 'I don't know, no one's told me if it's good yet or not.'

Moral is: many people in Hollywood only go by what other people think about scripts. If a reader hates yoru script, it may never see the light. If a reader likes it, the development person might read it...if they like it, the producer might read it too. More likely than not, the producer will just go with what everyone else says...or so I hear. :-)

9:28 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Yeah, though I will add that if a reader hates your script, but it really is a good script, some other reader will like it enough to pass it along.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

So in a way, what a reader writes about your script is far more important than how well your screenplay is written.

Curious, though, how much commericality plays into coverage - it seems that THE BODY was judged as a non-commercial subject (and in a way, it's not hard to understand why) but is that really what should be included in the coverage (asking you as a writer to a writer, rather than a writer to a reader)? Do you think everyone would be better served if the coverage covered how well the story was told and how involving it was, without marketplace considerations, and let the powers that be above to make that call.

There are a lot of movies who, when made, weren't considered commercial good bets (Stand By Me isn't alone in that regard) until one person decided, fuggit, folks want to see this no matter what the marketing people say.

What are you thoughts on that?

5:02 PM  
Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I try to put a consider on anything that's well-written, generally without worrying about commerciality.

Though some things scream "what's the audience for this???" so hard that sometimes you can't ignore it.

In theory, quality and commerciality should go hand in hand. So yeah, as far as I'm concerned it's up to my bosses to decide. Though sometimes I'll put a consider on a script that isn't that well-written, but has real commercial potential.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Joshua --

Much like Scott, I won't let commerciality be the pure deciding factor, but I definitely keep it in mind, because that's what I'm paid to do! Certainly, if something is decent anyway, I'll give it a CONSIDER or a WEAK CONSIDER, but ti will simply be one more thing I keep in mind while weighing the value of the script. But as Scott said, if it is wildly uncommercial, it is going to have to get a PASS. Similarly, I'd say that if a film is likely to draw a small arthouse audience, but has so many explosions, set pieces, and special effects that its budget is going to be closer to $80 million, it is going to have to get a PASS because it is simply doomed to commercial failure. Flip side of that is that if I see that those elements can be excised without sacrificing the core of the film, I'll mention that and it might still get a CONSIDER.

But none of this really answers your question. You asked me writer-to-writer if I thought that commercial stuff should eb included in a coverage. My answer is still yes. I think that screenwriters absolutely must keep commercial considerations in mind when they write. Making a film is an extremely expensive endeavor, and if you expect someone else to pony up millions of dollars, you'd better be willing to accept their desire that they get a return on their investment. If you want to make art for art's sake, do it independently. But if you are trying to sell a script on spec, you'd better make it commercially viable. Not blatantly commercial drivel that parrots everything else out there, but just viable.

And there's no reason why the reader shouldn't be the one to recognize that, any more than the executives.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Okay, good stuff to know, guys - and I am only now learning about the reader end of things from what you and Scott post, so please know I really value what you're sharing - by asking questions, I'm not trying to put the process on trial or anything, just asking question to know more.

I guess what I always wonder, how can we really know what is truly commercial, in a way, right? By commercial let's say that it should make more (in rentals) than it costs to make -

So was Memento commercial? (I know, an indie) or Stand By Me? We know in hindsight that they were - Pulp Fiction is a famous case as well, all the studios turned it down. Was Crying Game commercial? It certainly turned out to be, but even if I wrote a script now about an IRA guy (change it to another type of freedom fighter) who falls in love with a girl who turns out to really be a guy, I'd be willing to be I'd be told it wasn't commercial, no matter how well it was written.

Not to be Eyore, I just wonder about these things - granted, I don't know what you know about that end of things, and I also have a great love for a lot of types of genre films (heist films, kung fu epics, the like, I love me a good action flick when it's done well) that goes beyond arthouse fare like Memento and The Crying Game . . . Just curious to think about it. The Stand By Me story you posted is telling, and not to blame the readers at all - because, really, they were right at the time, who wants to see a movie about four kids on their way to see a dead body, right? I did, but not because it was about four kids on their way to see a dead body, but because I heard the movie was good and it looked like it was good in previews and when I saw it, it was good.

So do I want to see a movie about four kids who go look at a dead body? No. Do I want to see a really good movie about four kids who go see a dead body? Yes, it seems.

I remember what a friend told me some years back (said friend works in development) that MEMENTO was the talk of Sundance when it premeired there, that everyone loved it but it couldn't find a distributor - everyone loved it, told the producers it was their favoriate but that it wasn't commercial enough, it wouldn't make any money.

The producers disagreed, decided to start their own distribution company and sent the film out themselves. It got great reviews and made a lot of money in its run -

I asked my buddy why his company didn't pick it up and he shrugged and said, "who knew everyone wanted to see something like that?"

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This conversation is interesting a year later.. was just turned down as a script reader for panning The Mist, based on Stephen King.. I have no "commercial eye," they said.. I don't know whether it's commercial or not--just that it's a dreadful, boring script. I don't think the script reader needs to call commercial shots--studios will push whatever they want for whatever reason anyway.. Shouldn't the script reader provide that other voice (of an experienced, independent reader)? Am I supposed to write what they want to hear? How is that predictable?

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if non-Jews have a shot at all in becoming hollywood screenwriters?

This story reeks. It puts a downer on honest people looking to create good stories

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" asked my buddy why his company didn't pick it up and he shrugged and said, "who knew everyone wanted to see something like that?"

All producers out there should just produce my stuff. For example, the movie "next" was completely my idea.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Re: the previous two "anon" comments -- it has been a long time since I've read this post, since I wrote it over two years ago. But now that I have, I'm not sure I see anything in it that makes it relevant to your question about non-Jews making it as screenwriters. I have no knowledge of the religions of these screenwriters, nor do I care what their religions are. And certainly a majority of the screenwriters working today in Hollywood are non-Jews.

Re the previous "Anon" commenter from a ways back... I had forgotten your comment when I recently saw "The Mist" but I think you are 100% correct -- it was pretty bad. Give those producers a call again! ;-)

6:03 PM  

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