Occasionally I get asked to write (or re-write) a script by someone (be that producer, director, actor or anonymous other) whose idea “went down really well at Cannes”.
Sometimes they’ve shown this idea to huge celebrity x or massive producer y or ginormous studio z and the response was incredibly positive – they love the idea/treatment/script and said this person should go away and get a script (re)written. Come back and see us when you have!
This used to impress me as much as it impressed the person who wanted to hire me to work on their fabulous idea. I mean, if huge celebrity x, massive producer y and ginormous studio z think it’s a good idea then it’s got to be worth working on! At least the person I’m writing the script for has someone in power eagerly waiting to read it when it’s done! That’s got to be better than writing a script for someone who has no idea what to do with it afterwards, isn’t it? I mean … they love it! Right?
Well, yes … and no.
Yes, because the person doing the hiring has at least worked out how to get the material in front of someone who could, potentially, make it.
And no because if the idea/treatment/script were any good then said important person would have bought it.
The vital bit of the second paragraph is “go away”.
“I love it! Come back when you’ve developed it further!” means “Fuck off and take your stupid fucking ideas with you.”
But this is a polite industry staffed with “artistic” people who react badly to criticism, so no one is honest. Not really. A producer/exec/actor will rarely tell you something is truly awful because they don’t want to offend and they don’t want to risk being wrong.
Just because someone puts a god awful idea in front of you today, doesn’t mean they won’t come up with a work of genius tomorrow. It’s unlikely in most cases, but not every piece of work from a good writer is going to be perfect. Or even good.
Similarly, just because you don’t like an idea doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad – someone else may like it. Several hundred million someone else’s might like it. If they do, then it makes sense to invest in that person’s bad ideas because … well, fuck it. If the idea makes money, it doesn’t matter what your personal feelings are about it.
There are plenty of films I think are appalling which have been smash hits – if I’d been in position to commission those ideas, I’d have lost my studio untold millions. Okay, so that happens; but if you decline politely then at least you’re in a position to say yes to the film maker’s next project. If you tell them to take their talentless shit and fuck off then they’re unlikely to want to do anything other than yell “I fucking told you!” through your letterbox at three in the morning.
So no one says no. Or rather, they say no; but make it sound like “I love it … but it’s not for me.”
Which leaves me in the interesting position of dealing with people who think their idea is awesome because no one’s told them it isn’t.
And in a way that’s fine, because they hire me to fix it.
Sometimes there is a nub of a good story buried in the script/treatment/idea and there’s something to build on – those are the jobs I accept. Sometimes there really isn’t anything to it – those are the ones I politely decline, for much the same reasons listed above.
The problem comes when the hirer believes the “It’s great! Please go away.” means their idea is so amazing it doesn’t need much work. Those projects are tricky because they don’t want to be told what’s wrong with their idea – they know for a fact there’s nothing wrong with it because x, y or z loved it.
It’s really hard to explain to people what x.y or z really meant without upsetting them. I try not to get involved with people like that because … well, it’s just frustrating and pointless. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to determine how immovable people can be on ideas before you sign the contract.
I wish I could. I wish there was some kind of collaboration test I could get potential employers to fill in. Something which would let me know how open they are to new ideas and how clingy they’re going to get to the bits which don’t work.
But there isn’t. Or at least, I don’t think there is.
So instead I’m left with my fallible intuition and the annoying realisation that I will occasionally get trapped in one of these pointless arguments.
I should just tell them the truth.
If they loved it they would have bought it there and then! Money is the only yes!
But I never do. I just swear a lot in private, wait a couple of years and then change their names and genders so I can whine about it on here.
Does that make me a hypercritical coward?