I was in a cafe with two directors recently (a boy and a girl, in the interests of equality) and the subject of re-writing someone else’s script came up. Both of them have had scripts re-written because the initial writer has been unavailable, incapable or (bizarrely) unwilling to make the necessary changes.
I’ve been hired to re-write scripts and I always feel slightly uneasy about it. I usually go through a phase when I want to contact the original writer and tell them I loved their version and am going to try and stay as faithful as possible to the core ideas whilst merely improving the outlying bits or tidying up the structure.
On the other hand, I hate lying to people and ringing someone to tell them their script is shit doesn’t really seem fair.
Being re-written is a horrible feeling. Sadly it’s just part of the business and it happens to everyone, but there’s always that bit of you which wants the other person to fuck it up. Just make the script appalling so everyone knows they were wrong to re-write you.
And one of the joys of having somebody else fiddle with your script is you can blame all the shit bits on them whilst claiming all the glory for yourself. Of course, they will be doing exactly the same thing so it all evens out.
But what about the odd situation where you get hired for an uncredited re-write and the original writer isn’t told? It does happen and the writer sometimes doesn’t find out he’s been re-written until he sees the final product. I’ve done that on several projects. I’m massively uncomfortable with it (not uncomfortable enough not to do it, obviously) and always wonder why the writers in question aren’t more vocal about their work being butchered. Especially since in at least one case it was because he absolutely refused to change a single word of (what he erroneously thought was) his literary genius. The script was fucking awful but there was money tied up in the whole thing, it needed to be changed, he was refusing; but in a clever way which meant the producers were contractually obliged not to hire someone else.
A fucking mess, in other words. I was hired in secret, re-wrote the script, it was filmed, released and … not a peep from the writer.
This is when the boy director chipped in with his ‘two finger tap’ theory.
I swear to any imaginary deity to you wish to conjure up, this is a verbatim(ish) account of his theory.
“It’s just like the two-finger-tap, isn’t it?”
“You know! You’re in bed with your girlfriend, she’s asleep so you decide to crack one off. As you’re nearing the vinegar strokes, you tap her on the shoulder, she rolls over expecting a good morning kiss and you blow your load in her face.”
What the fuck? You do this often enough to have a name for it?
“Uh-huh. She’ll be pissed off and will probably complain about it to everyone she knows. Now, imagine instead of doing it to your girlfriend, you do it to one of your mates.”
“Stroke-stroke, tap-tap, splurge. What’s he going to do about it?”
Beat the living shit out of you?
“Ha! Later, you’re in the pub and your mates notice this guy isn’t talking to you. They ask him why, and he says … what? Nothing. He can’t tell his mates you spunked in his face, can he? So he says nothing.”
Apparently that’s exactly what happens when you secretly re-write someone. If the finished product is good, they can’t turn round and complain about being re-written because then they have to admit their script wasn’t good enough in the first place.
Quite how that equates to juicing someone’s chin is beyond me; but I guess there is a point deep at the heart of the twisted and disturbing tale: you can only complain about being re-written if the finished product is rubbish. If everyone loves the end result then the steps taken to get there must have been necessary.
Even if the other writer is credited, if you say you couldn’t do the re-writes because of other commitments then good script + re-write = great script. The second writer obviously stood on the shoulders of a giant.
If you say the final amazing film is a bastardised version of your idea then you’re basically saying shit script + re-write = great script. The second writer was the giant who kicked the original writer into touch with his massive, size 137 feet.
If the film is shit then you could claim the second writer ruined it; but all they have to say is ‘you can’t polish a turd’ or some such and the ball’s back in your court. Much better if the writers gang up and blame it on the director. Especially if he’s the sort of guy who thinks two-finger-tapping is an acceptable pastime.
So there you go, next time you find yourself re-writing someone, just remember – you’re spunking on their face and there’s a good chance they’ll never say a word.