What to do when your protagonist changes AFTER the shoot has wrapped

Cry.

Seriously, what else is there to do?

Just to clarify, by ‘change’ I mean stop being the protagonist so someone else can have a go. As in, I don’t think this film should be about Marty McFly, let’s make it about the adventures of Doc Brown’s dog.

Would that make you cry, if you were the writer and the director or producer made that decision?

By now those of you reading this post will probably have split yourselves into one of three groups:

  1. Those who haven’t had anything produced and can’t believe this kind of shit actually happens.
  2. Those of you who have had things produced, but have never encountered this sort of behaviour because everyone you’ve worked with has been extremely capable, professional and competent.
  3. Me. Because, really, does this kind of shit ever happen to anyone else?

I don’t know what your average writer’s quota of pain is, but here are three case studies, in ascending order of ‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’, all of them true and all of which have happened to me:

ONE

I was hired to rewrite the opening of a script. Just the opening scene, so I did. The producer and director liked it and asked me  to rewrite another scene.

And another.

And another.

And … so on. At a certain point I found out I’d rewritten the entire script … which was a bit of a surprise since I still had no real idea what the story was or how it all fit together. But never mind, everyone was happy, everything was filmed and then … the change.

At some point during the editing, someone (or possibly everyone) decided the film shouldn’t be about the protagonist, but about the sidekick and the film was re-edited.

As it turns out, that was probably the right decision. Or rather, it would have been the right decision if it had been made at the script stage.

The downside, in this case, to changing protagonists late in the game: the structure is a bit out of whack and it takes a fair chunk of the film to get to the bit you tell everyone the film is about. Imagine ‘Back to the Future’ if Marty hadn’t gone back in time for an hour and a bit into the film. Not a guaranteed problem, but unless people are really enjoying the journey they’re going to fidget quite a bit. And probably turn it off.

The upside: the film is actually better than it would have been, so … hmm.

TWO

A trilogy of films, written in a very specific way with a very specific triple arc for the main character throughout all three films. Funding is in place (depending on the success of the first film) and everyone is not only happy with the script but excited to be part of the production.

Shortly after the shoot wraps, everyone falls out with each other. Everyone. Well, everyone except me, who was too busy sitting at home and weeping. Suddenly, everyone hates everyone else, big arguments, everyone has their own go at editing the film and it all turns to liquid shit.

Eventually a compromise is reached and the film is finished; but, for reasons which remain unclear, no one wants the protagonist in the rest of the trilogy. They still want the rest of the trilogy (although, personally, I think the funding will disappear with the lead actor) but it now has to be about someone else. Basically, we spend the first film positioning the protagonist for an epic tale … and then ignore him for the sequels.

Great.

Upside: the film is finished and there are no major changes to the story.

Downside: the sequels, the ones with the bigger budgets and therefore bigger fees for me, will never, ever fucking happen. Ever. Because they’re now fucking stupid.

THREE

A script which was designed to do a very specific job regarding pre-existing material (which was then completely cut out of the finished product leaving a big ‘What the fuck was that about?’ hole in the story) is filmed (badly and ignoring the central conceit of the film).

It’s already gone wrong, but there’s worse to come.

For reasons unknown (again) the producer and the director decide they don’t like the actor playing the protagonist. Not his performance, but him as a person. So they cut him out of the film.

Completely.

He’s gone. There is no protagonist any more.

For a week or so, they briefly toy with re-filming bits of the protagonist’s scenes with another character (which makes no fucking sense). Bits. Not all of the protagonist’s scenes, but some of them. Bits of some of them.

Eventually, they work out that’s a fucking stupid idea and, reluctantly, they edit bits of his scenes back into the movie.

Again, bits. Not all, not some of, but bits of some scenes.

Downside: No one knows who the film is about and, as a consequence, what the film is about. This isn’t helped by the decision to remove the point of the film in the first place.

Upside: there is no fucking upside, it’s a pile of shit. The film’s about no one, doing nothing, to something we don’t see.

Jesus.

So what can you do about this? Apart from insist on some kind of moron test for anyone who wants to make a film? Is there really nothing to do but cry? The only other solution I’ve found is to claim, loudly and at great length, that the resulting film is nothing to do with me. I wrote the script, not the film so there.

Hopefully, none of you will ever experience this. No, fuck that, hopefully I’ll never have to experience this again; but because as it stands, it seems like the only sure fire way to escape this kind of shit is to not be me.

Come on, someone, please tell me I’m not alone.

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Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “What to do when your protagonist changes AFTER the shoot has wrapped

  1. I did a rewrite on a script that had been 50% shot. The majority of the changes were met with the response ‘we can’t change that bit, we already filmed it.’

  2. Yeah, I’ve been there too. Frustrating, especially when the bits they can’t change get cut out of the final edit anyway.

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