Re-writing hyphenates

It’s a minefield, a fucking minefield.

Let’s be clear here, I’m talking about when one side of the hyphen is ‘writer’.

Producer/director isn’t so much of a problem since all that really means is there are less people to fall out with each other, less chance of conflicting notes (make the lead a man and a woman, make the script shorter and longer … etc.) and less people to use you as a pawn in some bizarre power game whose goal is to create the worst movie ever just to humiliate the other person.

Unless, of course, the producer/director is completely fucked in the head and has fallen out with himself; but that’s relatively rare.

Writer/director or writer/producer – that’s where the problems can lie. I try to be very, very choosy when I’m approached by one because … well, they can be a fucking nightmare.

To be fair, not all of them. LVJ has a writer/director and a writer/producer and both of them are reasonable, pleasant, talented people who genuinely want the best for the film. They should be set in amber now, for future generations to enjoy.

But why can re-writing a writer/director be less fun than removing your own teeth with a circular saw?

Good question: because the person whose you’re re-writing is the one judging your work – they aren’t always objective and can be very, very precious about it.

Think about when you’ve asked someone to read your script and they haven’t liked it.

Stings, right?

Now imagine you’re a raving ego-maniac who thinks he’s a fucking genius and only agreed to hire a ‘writer’ (in inverted commas because no one but you is good enough to be described by that term) at the insistence of someone you don’t respect … and that guy DARES to point out flaws in your life’s work.

See the problem?

Consider the terminology first. I’ve said it many times before, because it’s fucking true: most people in the industry can’t do the job they’ve printed on their business card. Most writers can’t write, most directors can’t direct and most producers can’t do fucking anything whatsoever and have picked producer because they think it’ll get them laid the most.

A writer/director or writer/producer is rarely someone who can do two jobs, it’s more likely to be someone who’s failing at two jobs. All those writer/directors you’re about to name … don’t. You could name a thousand good ones and still only be thinking of less than one percent of the dross out there.

Writing, directing, producing – these are really complicated skills which take years to learn and perfect. A hyphenate is someone whose ego tells them they can do both, frequently without any practice whatsoever.

Again, not always. Maybe they’ve done forty years as a director, had one bash at writing and decided they need help. Maybe they’ve been an actor in film and TV for decades and have learnt both skills by osmosis? Maybe they are just genuinely talented at both?

Usually not, but it does happen. Martin Kemp, he’s done a pretty good job at the writer/director thing with Stalker.

If I don’t mention you here,  by the way, it’s not because I don’t rate you from working with you, it’s because the fuckwits loom so large they block out all pleasant memories.

So when a hyphenate hires you for a re-write, you could be looking at someone who’s failing at two jobs and asking for help on one of them.

Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Unless they’re not actually looking for help.

Sadly, it seems most of them hire a writer to polish (not re-write) on the insistence of the non-hyphenate part of the development triumvirate (writer/director/producer). So you get a situation where a guy who can’t do two jobs is reluctantly paying you to do a job he doesn’t think needs doing.

And then is massively obstructive about the whole process.

He’s a writer/director or writer/producer with zero years experience – there’s nothing you can tell him he doesn’t already know because he’s a fucking genius … at this point he’ll probably compare himself to Tarantino. They all fucking compare themselves to Tarantino. That man may be a genius, but he’s inspired more talentless fucknards than Led Zeppelin.

He doesn’t agree with your opinions on the lack of characters, plot, structure or common fucking sense in the script. He doesn’t think spelling is important nor punctuation nor putting at least two words together which fucking belong in the same sentence. This is his vision we’re dealing with and his radiant genius will magically transform the entire project into one which everyone will flock to see, regardless of stupid things like coherence or ‘a story’. Pulp Fiction doesn’t make sense/have a story/any characters and that did alright.

Pointing out Pulp Fiction had all three of those things won’t help you. He’s seen the movie, but he didn’t understand it.

If he’s the originator of the project, then the project is doomed and all you’re going to get out of it is months of frustration and rage … and maybe some money. The money isn’t worth it, say no. Tell him to fuck off!

Fair enough if the hyphenate in question comes to you and says “I’ve tried writing a script, but it isn’t very good – can you help?” Sometimes it might actually be a good script which just needs a tweak or slight restructuring – that’s fine.

But how do you know? How do you weed out the irritating?

Luckily for you, there’s a simple checklist for getting involved with a hyphenate re-write:

You can download that as a PDF, if you like. Staple it to the hyphenate’s forehead during the first meeting – just so you don’t forget. Basically though, it all comes down to one piece of advice:


… if you can help it.

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Re-writing hyphenates

  1. Whenever I’ve been in a position to choose collaborators, I always choose the non-hyphenates.

    I’m doing the producer role (I suppose that makes me a hyphenate, hm) and I have a Director so let’s find a DoP … DoP-Producer, nope, DoP-Director, nope, DoP-actor, nope. Just DoP! Yeah, let’s ask her.

    Or whatever. Never ever ever ask a hyphenate. As you say, they *might* be okay, but I’m not taking a risk on it.

  2. I think I love you. I will download this immediately.

    I had a ‘conversation’ once with one of these types at a dinner. Or rather he just ranted about how ‘bad’ most television and radio was and how he could do ‘so much better.’ Oh and how nobody appreciated his maverick genius at the BBC or ITV or Channel 4. Of course he’d written a script. Of course it was shit. Of course any suggestion as to how he might improve it was regarded as an attack.

  3. Pingback: 2011 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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